When WBO junior featherweight titleholder Nonito Donaire enters the ring for Saturday night’s HBO-televised unification bout with IBF beltholder Jeffrey Mathebula, even he knows that he’ll be facing a difficult opponent.
“Well, he’s very tall,” said Donaire of Mathebula (26-3-2, 14 knockouts). “He’s 5-10 [Donaire is 5-foot-5 1/2] and he’s IBF champion. He knows how to box and he knows how to use his reach.”
“But I can’t say for certain what type of fight we’ll be fighting, because I’ve never fought a guy this tall or with this much range. So it will be interesting. I’m anxious to see what sort of fight that he’ll try to make it.”
A three-division beltholder, Donaire (28-1, 18 KOs) has his sights set beyond Mathebula on high-profile opponents such as Toshiaki Nishioka (39-4-3, 24 KOs), WBA titleholder Guillermo Rigondeaux (10-0, 8 KOs), WBC beltholder Abner Mares (24-0-1, 13 KOs) and perhaps four-division titlewinner Jorge Arce (60-6-2, 46 KOs).
But all of that could go awry if he loses to Mathebula, whom Donaire’s promoter, Top Rank CEO Bob Arum, considers to be no walkover.
“This is a very tough fight,” said Arum. “Mathebula is a very good boxer, he’s very, very tall, and he’s got a lot of experience and a tremendous amateur background.”
“As a professional, he’s very hard to hurt, so this is a tough, tough, very difficult fight for Donaire, who is a head shorter than Mathebula.”
But Norm Frauenheim, www.15rounds.com offers a different take:
“Promoter Bob Arum talks about Mathebula’s warrior roots, his Zulu ancestry. Translation: Nobody knows much about the South African. That might be the biggest advantage for the 122-pound South African, who doesn’t appear to have the power or record to stop Donaire’s design on multiple titles.”
Mathebula won a rematch over Takalani Ndlovu in March to win his current title, and also proved himself in a disputed split-decision loss to current WBA featherweight Celestino Caballero in April of 2009.
Will Mathebula be able to use his physical advantages to overcome the odds-on favorite and become the first South African to unify world titles? Ringtv.com polled 17 boxing insiders to get their predictions:
Nonito Donaire W 12 Jeffrey Mathebula: Nonito Donaire is very determined to show he is one of the sport’s true elite fighters and I look for him to fight an intelligent, mistake-free fight and control the action from start to finish against Jeffrey Mathebula.
Jeffrey Mathebula SD 12 Nonito Donaire: Nonito Donaire is very fond of opponents who blindly move forward toward him. Jeffrey Mathebula has no interest in doing that.
At times, Donaire has been downright whiny about fighters who don’t move at him, considering his disinterest in fighting Guillermo Rigondeaux. Mathebula couldn’t care less about a boring fight.
He moves his head and his upper body constantly, and he throws punches at odd times. He may engage Donaire.
But not long enough to get caught with something crazy. I think he wins a “controversial” split decision that has a lot to do with avoiding enough of Donaire’s punches.
Nonito Donaire TKO 6 Jeffrey Mathebula: The tale of the tape says Jeffrey Mathebula taller than Donaire. Promoter Bob Arum talks about Mathebula’s warrior roots, his Zulu ancestry.
Translation: Nobody knows much about the South African. That might be the biggest advantage for the 122-pound South African, who doesn’t appear to have the power or record to stop Donaire’s design on multiple titles.
Despite his age, 33, he also doesn’t have enough world-class mileage. His bout against Donaire in Carson, Calif., is his first in the U.S.
He is 0-1 away from home with a loss in 2009 to Celestine Caballero in Panama. That road record is headed to 0-2.
Nonito Donaire UD 12 Jeffrey Mathebula: Nonito Donaire is too skilled for Jeffrey Mathebula. He will outclass him and win by a wide unanimous decision.
Nonito Donaire UD 12 Jeffrey Mathebula: I’m picking Nonito Donaire over Jeffrey Mathebula by unanimous decision. Mathebula’s height and reach advantages should at times make it difficult for Donaire to do damage inside.
But Donaire’s speed and superior skills should help him out-point an opponent whose average power won’t deter Donaire from continually coming after him.
Nonito Donaire KO 9 Jeffrey Mathebula: Nonito Donaire is a stronger, more explosive fighter. I think eventually he wears down Jeffrey Mathebula in the late rounds. Donaire in nine.
Nonito Donaire KO 8 Jeffrey Mathebula: I like Nonito Donaire. Hes a complete fighter who is hungry and has a lot loftier goals than Jeffrey Mathebula. Donaire by knockout in the eighth round.