Nonito Donaire: One might be tempted to dismiss Donaire’s performance against Jeffrey Mathebula on Saturday as so-so because he struggled to find his target much of the fight and failed to put him away. The fact is Donaire (29-1, 18 knockouts) did an excellent job in difficult circumstances. The 5-foot-11 Mathebula is a nightmare of an opponent, one with in impossibly long jab – designed to keep his foe at bay – and more all-around ability than might be obvious at first glance. Donaire had to work extremely hard – bobbing, weaving, leaping – to get inside Mathebula’s defense and do damage. That he succeeded more than enough to win a one-sided decision and unify the WBO and IBF junior featherweight titles was an impressive accomplishment. Donaire is more than ready for anyone in or near his weight class.
Jeffrey Mathebula: The South African did better than the scores would indicate, scoring regularly with his long jab and at times with his power hand and making himself difficult target to hit. Once again, we shouldn’t attach too much significance to CompuBox stats but they have some meaning. Consider: Mathebula (26-4-2, 14 KOs) threw more than 400 punches than Donaire (919-515) and landed 80 more (231-151). And the power punches were comparable: 91 of 308 for Mathebula and 102 of 261 for Donaire. I believe Donaire won the fight because his power punches were more powerful and eye-catching but Mathebula was a riddle who wasn’t easily solved. He also proved that he’s tough, rising from a nasty knockdown to remain competitive. He deserved more credit than he received after the fight.
Kelly Pavlik’s victory: Pavlik (40-2, 34 KOs) got the job done against capable Will Rosinsky (16-2, 9 KOs) on the Donaire-Mathebula undercard Saturday, winning a one-sided decision in a 10-round super middleweight fight. It was his third consecutive victory since returning the ring full time. The former middleweight champion did little to suggest he is ready for the top 168-pounders, though. He fought aggressively and was fairly busy – landing 227 of 661 punches – but landed precious few punches that stood out, the exception being a short right that put Rosinsky down in the second. Pavlik also took more solid shots than one might’ve expected, although Rosinsky probably is somewhat underrated. Afterward, Pavlik said he wants to face the likes of Lucian Bute, Carl Froch, Mikkel Kessler and Andre Ward. Nothing we saw on Saturday would suggest he’s ready for such a challenge.
BIGGEST WINNER II
Wladimir Klitschko: Same old story. Klitschko, who stopped Tony Thompson in six rounds Saturday in Switzerland, now has made 12 consecutive successful title defenses. That’s third all time among heavyweights behind Joe Louis (25) and Larry Holmes (20). Klitschko (58-3, 51 KOs) also made five successful defenses during his first run as a titleholder, giving him 17 overall. Those are remarkable numbers. The big Ukrainian is about as unbeatable as a fighter can be, particularly in light of the relatively weak state of the division. Klitschko will be remembered as a very good heavyweight and reach the International Boxing Hall of Fame on the first ballot but he’ll always be dogged by the fact that he never even faced a Hall of Fame-caliber heavyweight. Still, he is the most-accomplished big man of his era. And that’s saying something.
BIGGEST LOSER II
Tony Thompson: Thompson (36-3, 24 KOs) looked like a 40-year-old who hadn’t been in the ring in more than year, which was the case on Saturday. The Washington, D.C., fighter, who had gone 10-plus rounds with Klitschko in 2008, showed some defensive ability but fought tentatively and offered very little in the way of offense. In other words, he ended up like the rest of Klitschko’s recent opponents: ill-equipped to cope with the world champion’s imposing ability and firepower. Of course, no one outside of Thompson’s camp expected him to win. However, Thompson came in with a decent performance in their first fight, has considerable experience and is almost as tall as Klitschko. Thus, we had some hope – however minimal – that he might put up some resistance. Alas, nothing.
Brook vs. Jones: Carson Jones (34-9-2, 24 KOs) should never have been seen as a pushover going into his fight against Kell Brook on Saturday in England. Still, in light of Brook’s rapid ascent, we expected a clear victory for the Briton. Instead, we got a war from which Brook was lucky to escape with a stunning majority-decision nod. Brook, who apparently had trouble making weight, acknowedged afterward that he needs to push himself harder in training. That could explain why he seemed to fade after a strong start. The good news is that Brook (28-0, 18 KOs) survived a test of his mettle, which included a broken nose in the seventh or eighth round, to pull out a victory. The bad news is that he probably shouldn’t been in that position in the first place. Is Brook ready for the best 147-pounders? Maybe … and maybe not.
Javier Fortuna: One could understand on Friday why so many people are excited about the junior lightweight from the Dominican Republic. Fortuna (20-0, 15 KOs) blasted out Cristobal Cruz (39-14-3, 23 KOs) in two rounds in Las Vegas, putting the Mexican down twice in the process. We knew about Fortuna’s fire and explosiveness, as well as his punching power. The most impressive aspect of his performance was the caliber of his victim, a tough, clever veteran who hadn’t been stopped in 10 years. That includes two fights against Orlando Salido and other top-tier opponents who couldn’t put Cruz away. It’s too early to label Fortuna a star; he’s only beginning to make his mark against recognizable opponents at 22. However, all the variables seem to be in place. This guy is definitely one to watch.
Kell Brook, to ESPN.co.uk: “It was a tough fight but I came through it and got the result after 12 hard rounds. I think the nose is broken and it affected me. I was tired halfway through. I think I got the diet right but I need to get top men involved so I can sustain it through the whole fight. Things need to be addressed. I’ll come back stronger.”
Photos by Naoki Fukuda
Michael Rosenthal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org