Jeffrey Mathebula (right) is knocked back to the ropes by Nonito Donaire Jr. during the WBO and IBF superbantamweight title fight at The Home Depot Center in Carson, California on July 7. Donaire won in a unanimous decision. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
MANILA — Nonito Donaire Jr. endured cramps in both legs starting the sixth round and put on a dominating performance over hapless South African Jeffrey Mathebula to unify the WBO and IBF superbantamweight titles via a unanimous decision at The Home Depot Center in Carson City, California Saturday night.
Donaire, 29, admitted to the Philippine Star in an overseas phone interview shortly after the fight that he overdid his warmups and it probably caused the stiffening of his legs.
“I rushed my warmups in the dressing room when I was told to get ready sooner than I thought,” he said.
“I felt my legs go to sleep a little bit starting the sixth then it was on and off. My calves began to tighten up in the later rounds, too. I didn’t want to show I was in some kind of pain, I didn’t want to let on. That’s how it is in boxing. It was very difficult to fight someone as tall as Mathebula. I just did what I had to do to win.”
Donaire’s trainer Robert Garcia said he wasn’t worried about the cramps.
“Nonito complained about his legs in the sixth,” he said.
“Still, I thought it was a great performance. Nonito put on a show. It never looked like he had cramps out there. He did a good job taking Mathebula out of his game.”
Donaire said he dedicated the fight to the late Bruce Lee whose Filipino student Dan Inosanto, now 75, was in his entourage walking to the ring.
Inosanto was one of only three students whom Lee anointed to teach his martial art system.
Inosanto himself taught Lee’s son Brandon the finer points of kung fu fighting and also listed actors Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker and Chuck Norris among his students.
Entering the ring, Donaire’s team wore yellow headbands with Japanese inscriptions translated to “The Filipino Flash” provided by a journalist from Japan.
It may be an indication that Donaire’s next fight will be against WBC emeritus superbantamweight champion Toshiaki Nishioka who was at ringside to witness the action.
Nishioka, 35, has a 39-4-3 record, with 24 KOs, and won the WBC crown in 2008.
So far, Nishioka has repulsed six challengers in a row.
A confusing element is the WBC recognizes a second 122-pound champion, Abner Mares of Mexico.
“I think the best guy in this division whom I want to prove myself against is Nishioka,” said Donaire.
“I think that Nishioka is the best of all these guys. He’s proven himself and I promised I would fight him. So maybe, if everything goes well this year, I can fight him. But after Nishioka, I want to fight guys who have the belt. I’ve told my manager Cameron Dunkin that we want to fight all of those guys. I want to be undisputed.”
Donaire’s promoter Bob Arum said the unified champion’s next fight will be against Nishioka or Mares or WBA titleholder Guillermo Rigondeaux of Cuba or Mexican buzzsaw Jorge Arce.
Cramps or not, Donaire was masterful in conquering “The Marvelous Mongoose” whose U.S. debut was far from impressive.
The judges had no difficulty choosing the winner.
Jonathan Davis, a Cebu-born Filipino who relocated to the U.S. in 2008, saw it 117-110 and Steve Morrow 118-109 for Donaire.
Surprisingly, South African judge Deon Dwarte had the widest margin, 119-108, for the Filipino.
Dwarte’s reputation for bias was enhanced in two blatant scoring anomalies involving countrymen in 2009.
In the fourth round, Donaire dropped Mathebula with a counter left hook to the jaw and it looked like the South African was done for the night.
He got up at the count of seven on wobbly legs and was saved by the bell. Donaire, however, couldn’t finish him off in the next round.
Jeffrey Mathebula reacts as referee Pat Russell prepares to give him an eight count after he is knocked down by Nonito Donaire Jr. during the fourth round of the WBO and IBF superbantamweight title fight. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Mathebula hardly threw his right from that point on, using it to protect himself from Donaire’s killer left hook, and ran the rest of the way.
Donaire tried every trick in the book to loosen up Mathebula’s defense or invite him to engage.
He dropped both hands, opened up his arms and stood in front of Mathebula like a statue.
Still, Mathebula wouldn’t oblige and preferred to keep a safe distance away, using a poking left jab to fend off Donaire.
Showing no respect for Mathebula’s power, Donaire even took some hits deliberately for the chance to move in.
Donaire’s left cheek was puffy in the end.
Donaire slowed down in the seventh, probably due to cramps, and was content to throw one punch at a time as if to look exclusively for the knockout.
He held back on combinations and instead of moving side to side, charged in.
With his lateral movement compromised, Donaire went straight in to find his target but Mathebula just kept retreating, backing off and covering up for dear life.
For most of the fight, Mathebula was on survival mode.
He was clearly intimidated from the onset and lacked the heart of a champion to battle Donaire toe-to-toe.
Before the fight, Mathebula vowed to break down Donaire because “I’m smart, cute and faster.”
He sparred over 300 rounds to prepare for the fight and the hard work went down the drain.
Donaire said his motivation is to keep rising.
He anticipated Mathebula “to play the distance” but was ready for it. “My challenge is as I grow older, I’ll keep rising,” said Donaire.
“My body and my mind can do it.”
Nonito Donaire Jr. celebrates a unanimous decision over Jeffrey Mathebula. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)