“Filipino Flash” Wins UD Over Jeffrey Mathebula
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“If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. THERE ARE NO LIMITS. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.” -Bruce Lee
Nonito Donaire first began his prizefighting career weighing in at just 115. After earning numerous flyweight, super flyweight and bantamweight titles, the Filipino icon has now added his second championship strap in the super bantamweight division. In the words of his hero Bruce Lee, he is not limiting himself. And after Saturday’s victory over former IBF champ Jeffrey Mathebula, Donaire plans on nabbing one more belt at 122 before moving up to campaign at 126.
But first things first. After the “Boxing After Dark” broadcast, the fighter from the Philippines admitted to HBO’s Max Kellerman that Saturday’s clash was a “tough fight.” The Top Rank event was a doubleheader also featuring the Kelly Pavlik-Will Rosinsky contest. Held in the outdoor Home Depot Center in Carson, California, 3,200 fans came out to catch the action under the stars.
And for one Filipino star (29-1, 18 KOs), it was a very tall order he faced in squaring off against former 2000 South African Olympian, Jeffrey “Mongoose” Mathebula (26-4-2, 14 KOs) in the main event of the evening. A lanky champ, Mathebula stands almost five inches taller than his counterpart, has a four-inch reach advantage, 101 amateur bouts to his name and has the famed trainer Nick Durandt in his corner. At 33 years old, the “Mongoose” is four years older than Donaire.
Donaire vs. Mathebula was scheduled for 12 rounds to unify the WBO and IBF titles the pair held. For the partisan crowd in Southern California, the fans were hoping for a knockout victory from the NorCal hero, the “Filipino Flash.”
Entering the ring, the two warriors both looked ready for battle. The South African visitor sporting leopard trunks came out to the strains of Shakira’s anthem “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” while Donaire walked out in his “Game of Death”-inspired bright yellow and black striped trunks and boots custom made by Everlast. In his corner was Bruce Lee disciple Dan Inosanto for extra inspiration. Donaire’s camp, including trainer Robert Garcia, also sported yellow headbands to complete the tribute to the Asian legend.
While the pro-Nonito crowd were hoping for a “One-Inch Punch” performance by Donaire, they had to settle for a full 12 rounds of action. After the Filipino’s stunning knockout of Fernando Montiel, the crowd was no doubt waiting for another KO like that virtuoso 2011 performance. They almost got their wish in round four. Using speed, angles and slick footwork, Donaire landed a left hook that floored Mathebula toward the end of this fourth frame. All indications showed that it would be an early night for the sluggers. After referee Pat Russell administered the count, some weren’t sure if the “Mongoose” would be able to rise up and get back in the game–but the tall and tough boxer did just that.
As Donaire was forced to reach up at his much taller foe, the South African continued to employ his jab and use his defense to evade the Pinoy idol’s power punching. The night continued to be a tall challenge for FilAm’s “Life in the Flash Lane” star. Throwing body shots and hard rights with bad intentions Nonito aimed to give the crowd what they wanted, but Mathebula continued to stand tall, not backing down. As the minutes ticked by, the crowd began to chant for the Bay Area Boxer to explode: “Knock him out, Nonito!” Trying to get off his shots, Nonito was frustrated by the South African; Donaire’s nemesis proved to be a wily opponent. As sporadic “boos” rained down from the crowd, the knockout never came.
And as Nonito’s face showed the results of the awkward Mathebula’s long stiff jab finding its target, it became clear this one would go the distance.
While fans clamored for a knockout, the “Filipino Flash” got a unanimous decision with emcee Lupe Contreras announcing scores of 117-110, 118-109 and 119-108 from the three ringside judges.
“The jab really took the elements out of my power; he wouldn’t let me get in there and work,” the General Santos City fighter told HBO‘s Max Kellerman right after the decision was announced. “It was a tough fight.”
Now campaigning in this junior featherweight division, what’s next for the 29-year-old promoted by Hall of Famer Bob Arum?
Saying he wants to be the “undisputed champion” at 122 before moving up in weight, boxing fans are already salivating for possible future collisions against Abner Mares, Toshiaki Nishioka, Guillermo Rigondeaux or Jorge Arce. Mares and Nishioka were both ringside Saturday night.
Currently fighting at super bantamweight, Nonito Donaire earned his 29th victory as a pro.
As the Filipino continues his fistic journey in these higher divisions, the champ will adjust as he focuses on attaining additional world titles–and continuing to make his mark in the sport.
“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” -Bruce Lee
Photos by Marlene Marquez
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