NONITO Donaire, Jr. looked a bit heavy on the belly when this writer recently sat down with him to talk about his May 31 showdown in Macau with World Boxing Association (WBA) featherweight (126 pounds) champion Simpiwe Vetyeka. To some extent, the extra luggage is understandable considering that Donaire Jr. has not fought since November 2013 and has been kept preoccupied by a far more demanding profession - fatherhood.
Then again, any apprehension over the extra weight instantly vanished the moment Donaire Jr. started hitting the punching bag. The fire in his eyes was evident as Donaire Jr. punished the sandbag like a construction worker drilling the hapless pavement with a jackhammer. Without a title since April 2013, when he yielded the World Boxing Organization (WBO) junior featherweight (122 pounds) championship to Cuban slickster Guillermo Rigondeaux, Donaire is bent on ending the drought with a spectacular performance against Vetyeka.
“He’s (Vetyeka) a good fighter, he defeated Chris John, one of the longest reigning champions in the featherweight division,” noted Donaire Jr. “He’s taller than me, but not that much, so I don’t see it as a problem.”
Vetyeka, 33, totes a record of 26-2 with 16 knockouts. He is a protégé of former junior featherweight champ Vuyani Bungu and initially fought for the World Boxing Council (WBC) bantamweight (118 pounds) championship in 2007, losing to Hozumi Hasegawa of Japan on points. He fought only once in 2009, went inactive in 2010 and was fighting eight-rounders as late as 2012, even losing one to countryman Klaas Mboyane. Vetyeka’s career was on a downhill trek when he instantly revived it last December when he bamboozled John of Indonesia.
This early, Donaire Jr. (32-2, 21 knockouts) is the smart money bet to prevail over Vetyeka, but the Filipino is leaving no stone unturned this time. Donaire Jr. blamed last year’s pedestrian performance to lack of focus, a mistake he does not intend to repeat. For the Vetyeka fight, Donaire Jr. is training under the watchful eyes of his father Donaire, Sr. with whom he has patched things up. Donaire Sr. was at his son’s corner when the latter defeated Vic Darchinyan in July 2007 for his first world title, the International Boxing Federation (IBF) flyweight (112 pounds) crown. “When I started, kami lang naman talaga eh,” said Donaire Jr., who made it clear that his old man is now his head trainer.
Donaire Jr.’s showdown with Vetyeka marks his arrival in the featherweight division. Officially, Donaire Jr. has won three regular world titles in the flyweight, bantamweight and super bantamweight divisions. He briefly held the WBA junior bantamweight (115 pounds) crown, albeit the interim version only. Vetyeka is recognized by boxing publications as the genuine king of the featherweight division, having dethroned John who ruled the weight class for a decade. The title Vetyeka holds is actually recognized as the WBA ‘super’ featherweight belt, as John had been previously elevated to ‘super’ champion status by the WBA by virtue of his long reign. Vetyeka sits as the ‘super’ featherweight champ while the ‘regular’ WBA featherweight champ is Nicholas 'Axe Man’ Walters of Jamaica. It creates a lot of confusion, but suffice it to say, the WBA belt Vetyeka holds is the real deal.
If he prevails over Vetyeka, Donaire Jr. is mulling on unifying the 126-pound crown. WBA ‘regular’ champ Walters will appear in the card in Macau to defend his version of the title against Alejandro Perez while IBF titleholder Evgeny Gradovich is tapped to face a still unnamed challenger. This early, Donaire Jr. has expressed interest in taking on IBF champ Gradovich, even if the latter is trained by Roberto Garcia, Donaire Jr.’s former trainer. “He (Gradovich) has been calling me out and I have no problem with it,” said Donaire Jr.
If Donaire Jr. succeeds in unifying the IBF and WBA belts, he will be left with WBC champ Jhonny Gonzalez of Mexico and the vacant WBO throne which is expected to be disputed by Ukraine’s Vasyl Lomachenko and American Gary Russell, Jr.
The road to being the sole ruler of the featherweight class figures to be a bumpy one, but Donaire Jr. feels he is up to the task. He even talked about moving up to as high as welterweight (147 pounds) and taking on American superstar Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Yes, Donaire sounded very serious about Mayweather Jr.
“I just have to gain weight the right way, by adding muscles and not losing my speed and power,” said Donaire, Jr.