LOS ANGELES – Nonito Donaire was practically a giant in the flyweight division, where he won his first major title in 2007. Standing a little over 5-foot-6, the ultra-talented Filipino-American carried his height advantage over all of his foes as he climbed in weight to the bantamweight division.
However, that won’t be the case when he faces fellow junior featherweight titleholder Jeffrey Mathebula on Saturday in Carson, Calif. Their 122-pound title unification bout is the main event of an HBO Boxing After Dark broadcast from the Home Depot Center.
Mathebula, who is listed at 5-foot-10 (but appears even taller), is visibly taller and rangier than Donaire (28-1, 18 knockouts). And he 33-year-old South African, who outpointed rival countryman Takalani Ndlovu for the IBF junior featherweight title in March, isn’t just tall. He can fight.
It’s safe to say that Mathebula (26-3-2, 14 KOs) is the most capable freakishly tall boxer to campaign at junior featherweight since Celestino Caballero, who he battled to a disputed split decision loss in Caballero’s native Panama in 2009.
However, Donaire, who earned the vacant WBO junior featherweight belt with a decision over Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. in February, says he relishes the challenge – one of many that exist in the talent laden 122-pound division.
“I’ve seen one of Mathebula’s fights on tape, the fight with Ndlovu, and it was a good fight,” the former 112- and 118-pound titleholder told reporters at a Tuesday media workout held at Fortune Gym.
“He’s definitely tall, and he used his jab really well, kind of like Thomas Hearns did at welterweight. I’m really, really excited knowing I’ll be in with a taller fighter and one who is good.”
Many hardcore American fans, however, do not share Donarie’s enthusiasm for Mathebula. They’ve never seen or heard of the South African (which begs the question of how “hardcore” they really are) and they believe that other 122-pound standouts – mainly WBA titleholder Guillermo Rigondeaux and WBC beltholder Abner Mares – would present sterner challenges as well as more meaningful fights.
Patience, says Donaire. He’ll get to them.
“My next fight could be against Rigondeaux or Mares,” he said. “My goal is to be the undisputed champion of this division. Jeffrey Mathebula is who is in front of me now because he’s the IBF titleholder, he was available to fight and he was willing to make the fight happen.
“I know Rigondeaux and Mares are out there, and I know they’ve called me out. There are five or six guys calling me out, saying I’m scared to fight them, and they are all good fighters. All I can say is that they have to wait their turn. I will get to them.”
However, Donaire added that making a fight is a two-way street.
“They have to do their part to make the fight and be realistic when negotiating,” he said. “You can’t call someone out and then ask for the world. Pardon my French, but you don’t s__t gold, guys.”
Donaire’s trainer Robert Garcia says the 29-year-old star of his stable will fight anyone, anytime, anywhere, but reminds fans that it’s the manager’s job to guide the fighter’s career.
“If it was up to Nonito he would be fighting Rigondeaux on Saturday, but it’s up to his manager, Cameron Dunkin – who we feel is the best manager in boxing,” Garcia said during Tuesday’s media gathering.
“Cameron knows who’s out there and he’ll know when the right time is to fight these guys. Nonito wants to fight them all. He wants to eventually fight at featherweight but he told me that he wants to win every title at 122 before he does that.
“Rigondeaux is a great fighter. He’s skilled and talented and he won a major title before his 10th pro bout. Very few have done what he did, so we know he’s special. When they fight it will be a dangerous chess match because both are very smart counter punchers and both can punch. But having said that, if Nonito were fighting Rigondeaux on Saturday instead of Mathebula, I’d be just as confident as I am now of victory.”
Garcia adds that Mathebula will not be a walk in the park.
“Mathebula is tall and awkward, so I know it’s going to be a difficult fight but we prepared Nonito well with our sparring,” said Garcia, who claimed 5-foot-11 Mexican veteran Gilberto Sanchez Leon and young Colorado prospect Robert Rodriguez gave Donaire quality rounds in the gym.
Garcia says Donaire is able to land his counter punches easier on a taller opponent, but the fighter knows that he’s still got a dangerous foe to face on Saturday – whether U.S. fans realize it or not.
“The fans who count Mathebula out and say that he isn’t as good as Rigondeaux or Mares say that because they don’t know who he is,” said Donaire, who was a huge underdog when he challenged then-undefeated Vic Darchinyan for the IBF flyweight title. “When I fought Darchinyan, nobody knew who I was. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t a threat.”
Former middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik continues his comeback with a super middleweight bout against once-beaten New York prospect Will Rosinsky in the co-featured bout of Saturday’s Boxing After Dark broadcast.
Both fighters are guaranteed to be in good shape for their scheduled 10 rounder as they fought just last month. Pavlik (39-2, 34 KOs) stopped determined club fighter Scott Sigmon in the seventh round of an ESPN2 Friday Night Fights main event on June 8. Rosinsky (16-1, 9 KOs) fought less than three weeks ago, outpointing Aaron Pryor Jr. over eight rounds in the main event of a Broadway Boxing card in New York City on June 14.
Pavlik, who has won three in a row since losing his middleweight crown to Sergio Martinez in April of 2010, says the quick turnaround is a good thing.
“I came out of my last fight healthy, so there was no reason not to fight again as soon as possible,” said Pavlik, whose fight with Rosinsky replaced the Brandon Rios-Mauricio Herrera fight that was cancelled when Rios injured himself in training. “I felt like I could have fought another 15 rounds right after I stopped Sigmond. I wasn’t going to pass up fighting on HBO.”
Pavlik, who has trained with Garcia in Oxnard, Calif., since the beginning of the year, expects a tough fight from Rosinsky, whose only loss is a 10-round decision to undefeated super middleweight prospect Edwin Rodriguez in a fight that was far more competitive than the unanimous shutout scores indicated.
“He reminds me a lot of Sigmon but he’s a lot more skilled than Sigmon,” said the 30-year-old veteran, who says training with Garcia has helped him round out his boxing game. “I expect him to be very motivated. This is a big opportunity he’s getting. He’s fighting a former world champion on HBO. I’m going to have to use a lot of the tools Robert has me working on in the gym on Saturday.
“We’ve been working on everything – boxing, slugging, jabbing from a distance, fighting on the inside with proper leverage on my punches and using angles. I’m not going to be a totally changed fighter; I’ve only worked with Robert for six months, but I’m making progress that you should see on Saturday. I won’t be so stiff, I’ll bend my legs when I throw my uppercuts. I was always good at blocking punches, but now I’ll block and fire back.
“I won’t just rely on my power.”
WHO IS WILL ROSINSKY?
Rosinsky, a 27-year-old resident of Ozone Park, N.Y., who only recently dropped down to the 168-pound division from light heavyweight, isn’t worried about Pavlik’s power or newfound skill set.
The 5-foot-9 prospect, who won four New York Golden Gloves titles and the 2005 U.S. amateur championship in the 178-pound division, isn’t concerned about Pavlik’s height, either.
“From 178 pounds to 168, I’ve always been the shorter fighter,” said Rosinsky, who negated the height and reach of Pryor, who stands 6-foot-4. “I’ve been handling height my whole career.”
He believes a high punch output and his underrated quickness are his keys to neutralizing Pavlik.
“Speed is the killer in this fight,” said Rosinsky. “If it goes 10 rounds my job is to make sure I’m the clear winner in every round. Looking back on the Rodriguez fight, I let some rounds be closer than they should have been. I didn’t fight the full three minutes. For this fight I’m going at it for the full three in every round.”
He says he won’t back away from exchanges.
“I know he’s got power, but being the naturally bigger man, I don’t fear it,” he said. “I’m going to control the pace with a mix of boxing and brawling.”
Rosinsky arrived late to Tuesday’s media day at Fortune Gym wearing a blue T-shirt with the words “Who is Will Rosinky?” on the front.
“I’m the unknown guy in this matchup so it’s the question everyone’s asking,” he said. “I’m going to answer that question on Saturday.”
Photos / Chris Farina-Top Rank