MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE 2) -- Nonito Donaire knocked down South Africa’s Jeffrey Mathebula in the fourth round en route to a unanimous decision victory in their super bantamweight clash at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California Saturday (Sunday morning in Manila).
|Nonito Donaire (R) of the Philippines fights Jeffrey Mathebula of South Africa.
Donaire won with scores of 117-110, 118-109 and 119-108 to become the unified World Boxing Organization (WBO) and International Boxing Federation (IBF) super bantamweight champion.
"It was tough. He got me off the jab really well. That jab really took me out of my power range," Donaire told ESPN.
"He's a great champion. He wouldn't let me get in there and let me work," he added.
"The Filipino Flash" nearly ended the fight when he knocked down Mathebula with a cracking left hand towards the end of the fourth round.
Donaire connected with a strong left hook to Mathebula’s chin, sending the South African to the canvas. It was similar to the punch that knocked out two of Donaire's previous opponents, Vic Darchinyan and Fernando Montiel.
But with little time remaining in the fourth round, Mathebula was saved by the bell, and managed to take the fight to the distance.
Donaire, who is considered as one of the five best fighters in the world pound-for-pound, had some trouble dealing with Mathebula's height and reach, as the South African boxer carried a five-inch height advantage.
But Donaire countered with his superior handspeed and movement, often landing punches at awkward angles. His constant lateral movement and footwork also trouble Mathebula, who had trouble connecting even with his reach advantage.
"It's very hard to box a very tall fighter like that," said Donaire's trainer, Robert Garcia. "But he broke him down round-by-round."
Despite getting knocked down in the fourth round, Mathebula was more active in the fifth and sixth rounds. He landed some good combinations on Donaire, once again using his reach to great effect.
But Donaire showed a strong chin as he shrugged off majority of Mathebula’s punches. “The Filipino Flash” kept on coming forward, looking for an opening to unleash a knockout punch.
By the later rounds, Mathebula was on defense mode, covering up with his gloves and moving out of Donaire’s reach.
|Referee Pat Russell gives Jeffrey Mathebula of South Africa a 10-count in the fourth round of Mathebula's super bantamweight clash against Nonito Donaire.
The South African was on his skates in the 11th round after eating several power punches from Donaire, including a huge right hand that reportedly cracked Mathebula's tooth.
Donaire, who clearly wanted to end the bout on a spectacular note, stalked Mathebula throughout most of the latter rounds, even keeping his hands at his sides to invite the South African to engage. But Mathebula proved to be an unwilling partner, and Donaire looked frustrated at times as he could not get past Mathebula’s defensive shell.
"The better man won. I respect him," Mathebula said in an ESPN interview. "I believe I showed that I had the heart of a warrior."
"I made it a competitive fight in every round, and I showed it wasn't just a one-way track."
Donaire's record improved to 29 wins against one loss, with 18 wins coming by knockout.
Although he did not get the impressive knockout that he wanted, Donaire still earned his second 122-pound belt in only his second fight at that weight class.
"The Filipino Flash" has made no secret of his intention to unify all the belts in the weight division, and even invited Japanese champion Toshiaki Nishioka up to ring following the fight.
"I have great respect for Nishioka, he'a very good champion," Donaire said, referring to the Japanese fighter who is the World Boxing Council’s "emeritus champion."
"I believe I have to beat him in order for me to be the best. I believe he's the best in the division until I fight him and prove which one is best between us," he added.
But Donaire is also open to fights against Abner Mares, Guillermo Rigondeaux and Jorge Arce.
Top Rank Promotions chief executive Bob Arum did not say who Donaire's next opponent will be, only saying that the fight will be on HBO, and "it's going to be against one of these great fighters."
Mathebula’s record dropped to 26 wins, four losses and two draws, with 14 knockout victories.