Donaire unifies super bantam titlesBy Marc Anthony Reyes
Philippine Daily Inquirer
CARSON, California—As darkness fell on their outdoor battlefield, Nonito Donaire Jr. chased after Jeffrey Mathebula like a hungry predator looking for a quick kill.
He ended up running after his elusive, wounded prey until the final bell.
With everybody expecting a knockout win, Donaire had to settle for a unanimous decision over the tall South African on Saturday night (Sunday morning in Manila), unifying the World Boxing Organization (WBO) super bantamweight title that he already owns and Mathebula’s International Boxing Federation (IBF) crown.
“One more belt and I’m off to go to 126 pounds,” declared Donaire, who knocked down Mathebula late in the fourth round but failed to pull off the abbreviated victory almost everyone expected of him.
The decision disappointed the predominantly Filipino-American crowd who trooped to Home Depot Center here, even though the judges had the Filipino Flash the clear winner over the South African, who had a four-inch advantage in height and reach.
South African judge Deon Dwarte saw it 119-108, California’s Steve Morrow had it at 118-109, and Filipino-American Jonathan Davis ruled it 117-110, all in favor of the 29-year-old Filipino champion, who many predict will follow the trail blazed by Manny Pacquiao.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer scored it 119-108 for Donaire, giving just the third round to Mathebula, who stayed clear of Donaire’s lunging attacks with nifty jabs.
The Associated Press also favored Donaire, 116-111.
Donaire was so eager to knock out his foe that he abandoned his usual combinations in favor of a “home run punch” that mostly missed its mark and only sapped his energy in the later rounds.
The crowd-pleaser that he is, Donaire admitted he was actually looking for a stunning stoppage at the get-go and was “surprised” that (Mathebula) was tougher than advertised.
“I didn’t cut him with a right,” Donaire said. “If I did it could have ended earlier.”
Throwing leaping uppercuts and wide punches, Donaire finally connected with a left that sent the 5-foot-10 South African to the canvas seconds before the fourth round ended. But the bell rang before referee Pat Russel could finish the count.
That got the crowd going, but the quick end they expected never materialized.
The fourth-round left hook recalled Donaire’s knockout punch against Vic Darchinyan in July 2007, the fight that catapulted him to stardom. Mathebula’s feet left the ground when he tumbled into the corner right before the bell.
From the fifth, Mathebula became like a frightened gazelle, while Donaire pressed on with one-shot bombs instead of cutting him down slowly as his trainer Robert Garcia had told him from his corner.
“Hey, we have 12 rounds, don’t get too excited,” Garcia yelled. “Throw jabs, shift from side to side. I wanna see short punches inside.”
Mathebula, slowly recovering as the fight wore on, battled back with combinations and jabs on the run, inflicting welts on Donaire’s lower cheekbone and forehead.
“You know what, he got me off the jab very well, he’s a good champion,” Donaire said. “I tried to get to the body, but that didn’t work. So I tried to pressure him and keep attacking.”
“Everything we practiced was carried out,” added Donaire, whose other big moment came in the 11th round when he slammed a solid right to the jaw that didn’t fell Mathebula but instead broke his tooth.
A doctor later attended to Mathebula, who at first appeared to have sustained a broken jaw.
With Mathebula spitting blood and the crowd of 3,200 at the tennis stadium calling for the coup de grace, Donaire pressed for a knockout with two- and three-punch combinations in the last round. But the gazelle proved elusive to the end.
In a blare of techno-rap music, Donaire entered the ring garbed in flamboyant yellow, which matched the color of the dress of his pretty wife Rachel, who turned heads at ringside. A few seats beside her was Black Eyed Peas’ Filipino-American member apl.de.ap.
Donaire picked up $750,000 for the fight, which he hoped would serve as launch pad for megabuck fights in the coming months. The bout was carried by HBO through its Boxing After Dark feature, and Donaire is expected to crash the network’s pay-per-view realm soon, just like Pacquiao and the other ring superstars.
The Internet was flooded with tweets about the fight, a testament to Donaire’s savvy in social networking site to reach his fans. He has more than 37,600 followers on Twitter.
More punches, jabs
According to CompuBox, which handed out statistics at press row, Mathebula, who fought mostly on the run after the fourth round, threw more punches than Donaire, 919 to 515. He connected 231 times for a 25-percent accuracy while Donaire landed 151 for a 29-percent clip.
The taller fighter also fired 611 jabs, connecting on 140 (23 percent), compared to the 254 of Donaire, who was on target 49 times (19 percent).
Ironically, Mathebula also accounted for more power punches with 308, 91 of which found their mark (30 percent). Donaire had 261 of power punches, connecting 102 times (39 percent).
Mathebula’s camp said the pain from his cracked tooth affected his attack. The Marvelous Mongoose had won his belt with a split-decision victory over Takalani Ndlovu in March, but he was fighting outside South Africa for just the second time in his career.
“It’s very hard to box a very tall fighter like that, but he (Donaire) broke him down round by round,” trainer Garcia said. With a report from AP