Make no mistake, Nonito Donaire Jr. wanted an emphatic ending to his showdown with South African Jeffrey ‘Mongoose’ Mathebula for the combined World Boxing Organization (WBO) and International Boxing Federation (IBF) super bantamweight titles. For 12 rounds, Donaire kept throwing bombs in the hope of sending Mathebula to kingdom come.
In the dying seconds of the fourth round, Donaire nearly pulled the curtains down when he knocked down Mathebula with a left hook. Unfortunately for the ‘Filipino Flash,’ Mathebula was able to regain the equilibrium in his legs and survive the assault.
Fighting in survival mode, Mathebula stayed on his feet until the 12th and final round. The official scores – 117-110, 118-109 and 119-108 – were wider than expected, but there was no doubt Donaire won. Still, not a few fans went home wondering why Donaire failed to put Mathebula away.
There are several reasons why Donaire settled for a unanimous nod from the judges. After scoring a knockdown in the fourth round, Donaire went KO hungry. Instead of taking Mathebula out brick-by-brick, Donaire kept swinging for the fence. In between rounds, trainer Roberto Garcia advised Donaire to throw straight punches and refrain from throwing lunging, wild types. Donaire was also advised to invest on body punches to slow down the fleet-footed Mathebula, but the former opted to go head-hunting, no doubt emboldened by the fourth-round knockdown he scored.
Donaire is at his best concocting combinations, but this he failed to do because of Mathebula’s towering ceiling and pesky left jab. Mathebula’s jab prevented Donaire from getting into a punching groove.
It should also be pointed out that for the Mathebula fight, Donaire was not in his comfort zone. A natural boxer-counterpuncher, Donaire prefers to run rings around smaller foes and keep them at bay with his ramrod left jab. Against Mathebula, a fighter four inches taller and with a wingspan that could block the sun, Donaire had to go out of his shell and play the aggressor’s role. He had to repeatedly stalk Mathebula and barge his way and this change of approach prevented Donaire from planting his feet properly to set up his killer combinations. At the end of the bout, Donaire claimed he could barely feel his legs.
Mathebula’s refusal to stand toe to toe and trade punches added to Donaire’s predicament. Mathebula, who cracked his tooth in the 11th round, chose to stay on his bicycle and just rely on his jab after the close call in the fourth. Donaire was relegated to throwing one haymaker at a time. Still, the Filipino put up a better work rate compared to the passive Mathebula.
Donaire went home with the WBO and IBF super bantamweight belts, but for the third straight time he has been forced to settle for a decision victory. Donaire, 29-1, 18 knockouts, has not put anyone to sleep since February 2011, when he sent Mexican Fernando Montiel to dreamland in two rounds.
The Mathebula fight is the first of a three-fight plan for Donaire to emerge as the undisputed ruler of the super bantamweights. World Boxing Council champion Abner Mares or World Boxing Association titlist Guillermo Rigondeaux could be next in Donaire’s agenda, but not a few experts believe that it will serve Donaire well if he can insert a title defense against Mexican Jorge Arce.
Arce, 60-6 with 46 knockouts, is a no-nonsense brawler who will take the fight to Donaire. Against Arce, Donaire does not have to leave his comfort zone, that of being an excellent boxer. Styles make fights and Donaire versus Arce is a guaranteed slam-bang affair, a scaled down version of Ali versus Frazier. Arce is the type of fighter who will bring out the best in Donaire.
Donaire needs an electrifying performance to help sweeten the pot for his eventual unification showdowns with Mares and Rigondeaux. The Arce fight may just be what the fight doctor has in mind.