CARSON, Calif. – With a little more thought and a little less showmanship, Filipino Nonito Donaire might have had a much shorter Saturday night at Home Depot Center.
Instead, Donaire spent 12 rounds looking to land the one big left hand that would knock out South African Jeffrey Mathebula. He put Mathebula down with a left hook at the end of the fourth round and figured he could do it again.
But Mathebula hung in there, and Donaire settled for a unanimous 12-round decision that gave him Mathebula’s IBF junior featherweight belt to go along with his own WBO title.
Donaire could have, and should have, worked the body against the lanky, 5-foot-11 Mathebula, then looked to throw his lethal left hand. But he spent much of the fight standing and loading up, then lunging with an uppercut or a hook. Occasionally, they landed, but never with the force to put down Mathebula again.
“We practiced with tall fighters, going to the body,” said Donaire, who is 5-6. “But after a while, we realized it wasn’t working. He just kept running. So after the fourth round, we decided to change our fighting style.”
Donaire’s quest to unify the junior featherweight division leaves him with plenty of opportunities, including Guillermo Rigondeaux and Toshiaki Nishioka, the WBC titlist who was in attendance and offered to face Donaire. But the most appetizing bout – a unification fight with Abner Mares – probably won’t happen because the two are represented by opposing promoters, Donaire by Bob Arum’s Top Rank and Mares by Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy.
Mathebula (26-4-2) landed more total punches by a 231-151 margin, but Donaire (29-1) connected on more power shots, 102-91. His biggest punch, the devastating left hook in the fourth, came 10 seconds before the bell, leaving Mathebula groggy as he stumbled back to his corner.
It left Donaire with a perfect chance to put away his opponent in the fifth or later, but he was unable to flatten Mathebula again despite his every effort.
Judge Deon Dwarte had Donaire in front 119-108, Steve Morrow had it 118-109 and Jonathan Davis scored it 117-110.
On the same card, former middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik took another step in his comeback, but he didn’t much look like he was ready for a super middleweight title bout after scoring a unanimous 10-round decision over Will Rosinsky.
Pavlik (40-2) put Rosinsky (16-2) down with a short right hand in the second round and was in control throughout although he didn’t look overpowering. In fact, it was Pavlik who was bloodied by a cut on his left eyelid that he suffered in the fourth round after being hit by the heel of Rosinsky’s glove.
Still, he was the more aggressive fighter, getting the better of brief exchanges and making his best effort to land punches on the shorter Rosinsky, who moved and ducked well.
Pavlik was making a quick turnaround after fighting just one month earlier in a seventh-round KO of Chris Sigmon in Las Vegas. Now he believes he can take on a more formidable opponent such as Lucian Bute, Andre Ward and Mikkel Kessler.