By Ivan G. Goldman
Is it possible to make a bigger impression than Cuban phenom Guillermo Rigondeaux did last month with his brutal fifth-round knockout of Teon Kennedy? Nonito Donaire will be out to try this Saturday when he takes on South African Jeffrey Mathebula in a title unification match on HBO.
Rigondeaux, Donaire, and Abner Mares sit atop a sizzling junior featherweight division whose biggest names have yet to fight each other. In the meantime they jostle for position, looking to improve their bargaining position by not just winning, but winning spectacularly.
Photo Credit : Chris Farina – Top Rank
Both Donaire and Mares have a more varied arsenal than southpaw Rigondeaux, 10-0 (8), whose strategy consists of getting in one solid left hand, which is generally all it takes. But all three provide excitement and pack heat. As for Mathebula, 33, he’s plied his trade in a backwater, never competing in the U.S. or Europe. He’s lost two of his last six bouts, both by split decision. In fact, four of his last six outings ended with split decisions, which may be some kind of record.
He’s competed outside South Africa only once, losing to Celestino Caballero in Panama — by split decision, of course. This time his locale will be the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, smack in the middle of one of the biggest concentrations of Filipinos in America. Philippines-born Donaire, 28-1 (18), has lived in California since age 11.
The venue’s capacity is 8,000, and if more than a hundred fans are rooting against “The Filipino Flash” it would a surprise. It’s hard not to see this bout as a sacrificial outing by an outclassed Mathebula, 26-3-2 (14), whose IBF title will be staked out like a lamb to WBO champ Donaire. Donaire, 29, has stopped 10 of his last 14 opponents, one of them being the previously unbeaten Vic Darchinyan.
On the other hand, Victor Ortiz was supposed to be unbeatable when measured against last-minute replacement Josesito Lopez, who stopped him June 23, thanks to Ortiz’s severely cracked jaw. When two grown men start throwing punches at each other, unpredictable events can follow. Incidentally, Mathebula won his IBF belt by defeating Takalani Ndlovu, another South African, in an elimination bout in March. How? You guessed it. By split decision.
You could say Top Rank’s Bob Arum is sitting pretty with both Donaire and Rigondeaux in his stable, but he faces an all too familiar problem. If they fight each other, one of his own guys has to lose. Mares, who won a lopsided decision over Eric Morel in April, is promoted by Golden Boy, which remains stupidly snared in a feud with Arum. You’d think Arum, a Harvard law grad, and Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, a former Swiss banker, would stop behaving like Hatfields and McCoys and arrange some great fights, but their stop-and-start disgust for each other never abates for long. Although they occasionally work together, I’m not sure they could bring themselves to fight on the same side if we were invaded by extraterrestrials. They’re not the only promoters whose peevishness hurts the sport.
When Donaire kayoed Darchinyan in 2007 both fighters, promoted by Gary Shaw, talked rematch, which almost certainly would have brought them tidy purses. But Donaire quit Shaw to sign with Arum, and suddenly Shaw said he didn’t want to make the fight because Donaire was, get this, “disloyal.” In fact, I was in the room when Shaw referred to Donaire as a “little dog” coming around seeking a handout. He seemed to think signing with another promoter was a worse crime than anything O.J. or Charles Manson could ever conceive of.
Now that Darchinyan is 36 and has lost his last two fights, he’s more like a speed bump than a big barrier. Mares has beaten him too.
Rounding out the HBO telecast is come-backing Kelly Pavlik, (39-2 (34), against New Yorker Will Rosinsky (16-1 (9). Perhaps Arum, who recently pronounced the decision for Tim Bradley over Manny Pacquiao as the “death knell” for boxing, will attend in mourning attire.
Ivan G. Goldman’s latest novel Isaac: A Modern Fable came out in April 2012 from Permanent Press. Information HERE