By Bert Eljera
LAS VEGAS – Nonito Donaire Jr., the Filipino Flash, wants to rule the 122-pound weight class in boxing. He wants to be the best junior featherweight – in the world.
He has to climb a tall ladder to get there.
That first step in the ladder is South African Jeffrey Mathebula, who looks much taller than his 5’10 frame, with long arms in a 122-pound, well-chiseled body.
The 5’6 Donaire and Mathebula clash over 12 rounds Saturday at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. to unify their 122-pound titles. The Filipino is the World Boxing Organization (WBO) junior featherweight champion and Mathebula holds the International Boxing Federation (IBF) belt.
“He’s definitely tall, and he uses his jab really well, kind of like Thomas Hearns did at welterweight, ” Donaire told Doug Fischer of Ring Magazine at a work-out Tuesday. “I’m really, really excited knowing I’ll be in with a taller fighter and one who is good.”
A native of Bohol in the Philippines, Donaire got his Filipino Flash nickname for his agressive style of boxing and the speed he dispatched many of his opponents. He knocked out 18 opponents in 29 fights, and lost only once.
In his last fight, he beat highly-rated Wilfredo Vasquez Jr. by split decision in February at the Alamodome in Texas.
Often compared to another Filipino boxer, Manny Pacquiao, Donaire has set his sights on dominating the super bantamweight and junior featherweight divisions, where talents abound.
“My goal is to be the undisputed champion of this division,” Donaire said. “Jeffrey Mathebula is who is in front of me now because he’s the IBF titleholder, he was available to fight and he was willing to make the fight happen.”
Next up could be Guillermo Rigondeaux, of Cuba, the World Boxing Association (WBA) titleholder, who is undefeated in 10 fights, or World Boxing Council champion Abner Mares, an American, with an impressive 24-0-1 record.
There is also Toshiaki Nishioka of Japan (39-4-3, 24 KOs) Ring’s No. 1 junior featherweight and the venerable Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym of Thailand (47-2-0, 37 KOs.)
Robert Garcia, Donaire’s trainer, said the 29-year-old boxer, wants to fight anyone, anytime, anywhere, but it will be his manager, Cameron Dunkin, who will decide.
“Cameron knows who’s out there and he’ll know when the right time is to fight these guys,” Garcia told Fischer. “Nonito wants to fight them all. He wants to eventually fight the best in the 122-pound class.”
The tall Mathebula, a virtual unknown in the U.S. despite his remarkable 26-3-2 record with 14 knock-outs, presents a big challenge to the Filipino champion.
The 33-year-old South African is one of the tallest ever in the junior featherweight division, and has shown remarkable resilience and skills in beating countryman Takalani Ndlovu for the IBF junior featherweight title in March.
To prepare for Mathebula, Garcia had Donaire spar with 5’11 Mexican veteran Gilberto Sanchez Leon and Robert Rodriguez, a taller boxer .
“We got some quality rounds in the gym,’ Garcia said. “Donaire was able to land his counter-punches easily against the taller opponents.”
Now based in San Leandro, Calif. and expected to enjoy the support of the fairly large Filipino-American community in Carson, Donaire said he’s hopeful for the best.
“Another world title would make the Philippines proud,” he said.