Nonito Donaire And Kelly Pavlik Pushed Hard Despite Commanding Decision Wins On HBO


The last few weeks of boxing have served as a sort of prelude to what most expect to be an excellent next few months for the sport. Last weekend’s three-bout exhibition on Showtime about lived up to expectations, which were understandably low, though Friday Night Fights filled in some gaps with solid action a few weeks in a row.

Still, it would be a nice deviation from the expected course to see a few bigger names sternly tested, wouldn’t it?

Junior featherweight Nonito Donaire and super middleweight Kelly Pavlik got exactly that in battling through moments of struggle to notch unanimous decision wins over foes Jeffrey Mathebula and Will Rosinsky, respectively.

Much of it wasn’t all that aesthetically pleasing, and as usual the HBO commentary was sometimes more hilarious than appropriate, but both fighters succeeded in advancing towards what they insist are longer-term goals of tangling with the absolute top echelon of their divisions.


Nonito Donaire, 29-1 (18 KO), marched into the Home Depot Center in Carson, California donning the same colors as Bruce Lee sported in a climactic fight scene against the much taller Kareem Adbul-Jabbar in “Game of Death” — a fitting spectacle considering both his height disadvantage against Jeffrey Mathebula and affinity for Bruce Lee philosophy.

It was a much more tactical match than the IBF/WBO beltholder Donaire intended, based on his effort to end the fight with most punches he threw, but not devoid of action and competitive sequences.

The height disparity was negated early in the 1st as Donaire leaped forward whipping shots that probably didn’t do as much damage as they appeared to, and largely due to Mathebula’s awkward movement and stumbling. But some of his hooks and crosses landed, revealing that it wouldn’t be nearly as difficult to find Mathebula as many had predicted. A jab and stiff right hand aided Mathebula in the fight to control distance in round 2, even as Donaire managed to force hooks to land, and often through Mathebula’s gloves.

Cruising some, Donaire followed in the early go of the 3rd and found himself on the end of Mathebula’s work. Donaire still threw as if he felt ending matters with one punch were a sincere likelihood, but just missed with most of his bombs. And in round 4 Mathebula worked his jab well despite getting caught here and there, and Donaire’s forehead and eyes began to redden, but not before Mathebula’s nose sprung a leak. Donaire found success to the body, though, and closed the round well with crunching downstairs stuff before landing a terrible left hook that put Mathebula down and hard. Essentially saved by the bell, Mathebula waggled back to his corner appearing next to done.

Donaire pursued the stoppage in the 5th, winging wide left hooks and uppercuts in an attempt to finish off the lanky South African, and Mathebula wound up actually landing some of his best stuff as Donaire dismissed caution to seize glory. Mathebula absorbed some bombs surprisingly well, but couldn’t do much damage nor stave off his man.

Slippery and squirrely as ever, Mathebula dodged much of Donaire’s whistling shots and landed a nice right hand in round 6. The shot was avenged with Donaire’s own right, but Mathebula got frisky to finish out the round and appeared to be more comfortably snagging it when he ate a left hook in the middle of an exchange. Much of Mathebula’s subtle defensive moves were lessening the effect of Donaire’s punches in the 7th, though he did take some left hands and wasn’t offering much offense himself aside from his long-as-hell jab. And that same jab visibly frustrated Donaire in round 8, as he looked to flash footwork to create openings when none were really presented for him. And it didn’t work that well.

Things looked as they had in the 9th, with Donaire punching with Mathebula to make something happen, but the big man jabbing and staying out of range of Donaire’s power. Mathebula wasn’t easily winning rounds, by any means, but Donaire’s natural tendency to slow pace and work things out puffed his face in the meantime. An early rush in the 10th had Mathebula bucking for a moment, but the pace resumed, for the most part. Jabs and occasional rights flicked into Donaire’s face as he tried for home runs and usually just missed in a round that was 30 seconds shy of complete.

Round 11 marked the moment where Donaire put together back-to-back snapping shots while Mathebula did very, very little — especially in comparison to his earlier impressive output. The HBO commentating crew speculated that Mathebula had broken his jaw, and indeed he was fighting in a manner that suggested he was protecting his face defensively.

Justifiably reluctant to allow a decision, Donaire landed hard shots in the 12th round and Mathebula contented himself to just endure early before getting scrappy and landing with straight rights. But Donaire kept up the assault and finished effectively, getting the better of an exchange.

Scorecards read 117-110, 118-109 and 119-108 for Donaire, who recognized his inability to secure a stoppage and his sometimes weary pace in the post-fight interview.

There was something less-than-satisfying about Donaire’s alphabet unification win. Maybe it’s that he’s spoiled us with sensational knockout wins over worthy opponents in the past, and that’s simply what we’d like to see from him every time out, and maybe it’s that he’s crept into “not very active” territory and we then expect more impressive performances to balance out the relative inactivity. And maybe it’s a combination of the two. Either way, talk of Donaire facing WBC titlist Toshiaki Nishioka next is refreshing, as Nishioka is a very solid fighter and should at the very least present issues stylistically.

Mathebula, now with a 26-4-2 (14 KO) record, reportedly suffered a cracked tooth in the 11th round rather than a broken jaw, but nonetheless fought through getting tagged a lot late in the fight and rose from a eye-popping knockdown to throw his two cents into the bout. It wasn’t enough, and he’s awkward as all get out, but he delivered Donaire a thing or two to think about.

Kelly Pavlik, 40-2 (34 KO), showed he still has some work to do in the co-feature, though the focus is still on his shaky recent past, as evidenced by a pre-fight segment featuring Pavlik spilling his guts about the sins that landed him in rehab.

Still, he proved that no amount of switching from orthodox to southpaw and back again could win Will Rosinsky a decision as Pavlik fought with a little more spirit and drive than the busy battler.

Rosinsky’s apparent nervous energy seemed to catch Pavlik off guard in the 1st round, and he bounced all over the place, but not without purpose as he was able to smother Pavlik inside with combinations and land surprising lead rights and counter hooks from farther out. Pavlik tightened up towards the end of the round though, and carried momentum into round 2. After Rosinsky continued his high-paced assault, Pavlik got in a smacking right hand that put the shorter man down briefly, for only the second time in his career. Rosinsky grooved some before round 2 was up, though.

Rosinsky, a late-ish sub when a Brandon Rios vs. Mauricio Herrera junior lightweight bout fell through due to injury, appeared to be stunning Pavlik with lead rights , and not in the sense that Pavlik was at all hurt, but merely surprised, and that opened the door for him to out-work Pavlik in close before pivoting or sliding away. Interestingly, Rosinsky moved well and largely avoided danger inside and out in the 3rd, but at a mid-range, he was taking the shorter, snappier punches.

Prior to round 4, Pavlik’s trainer Robert Garcia asked for better activity from his fighter — advice Pavlik didn’t immediately follow, instead approaching conservatively as Rosinsky neglected to stay still for long.

Going into 5th, a close-up of Pavlik’s corner revealed two badly-placed cuts — one over each eyebrow — likely caused by the head clashes. Pavlik fought with greater urgency and maybe even a little pissed off as he did a better job of finding Rosinsky in round 5. He continued to measure his strikes better in the 6th, and while Rosinsky wasn’t passive in there, movement and lighter shots weren’t winning rounds.

Round 7 saw Pavlik landing heavy leads and counters, and especially to Rosinsky’s midsection late in the stanza. Rosinsky landed, and cleanly, but the heavy shots had him slowing and more flat-footed in the 8th, which actually helped him for whatever reason, as he wound up standing his ground and out-foxing the former middleweight champion over the length of the round. He continued to touch up Pavlik in the 9th as well, but Pavlik’s shots in between were thudding and convinced Rosinsky to restart. But Rosinsky wasn’t going out with a whimper, and he swiveled Pavlik’s head a number of times.

Likely sensing that his opportunity to impress was passing him by, Pavlik pressed once more and landed a few nice rights before Rosinsky tricked his way into landing a few aggravating combinations in the 10th.

Pavlik’s mug was slightly swollen and a lovely crimson hue, reflecting the toughness of a fight that was probably a bit closer than scorecards of 97-92 and 98-91 twice indicated.

Ultimately it was a meaningful fight for Pavlik, though, and he adjusted a few times in addition to imposing his physicality over an inferior but very game opponent. Including his June bout against Scott Sigmon, this is two guys in a row who showed up looking at long odds to beat Pavlik and fought hard anyways. And both revealed that he’s not ready for the absolute elite at 168 lbs. yet. Pavlik’s still on a comeback.

It should be noted, though, that Rosinsky whipped out just about every move in his trick bag to make something happen, and that with a 16-2 (9 KO) record, he should find his way back onto television. His effort was honest, he just didn’t have the punching power to exploit the openings he saw and make his punches count for more than what they did. And at the end of the day, there’s not much shame in losing to the former middleweight champion.

There shouldn’t be many complaints in terms of the amount of action, as many punches were thrown over the course of 22 rounds and action was better than most expected for a “showcase” type of card. There’s still some quick griping to do, though.

While Pavlik is on a legitimate comeback, Donaire has managed to make so many of his recent bouts feel like comebacks even though he’s never really gone anywhere. It’s probably an unfair assessment, but watching a good, highly talented and skilled fighter linger before departing divisions where challenges were left unchecked is frustrating for fans in its own right. Jumping in with Nishioka straight away would do wonders for his street cred, and here’s hoping it’s that fight and not the Jorge Arce clash that’s been hinted at numerous times in recent months. Arce deserves a nice payday for simply being a badass, but at 122 lbs., that’s not a fight most fans should accept from a pound-for-pound level fighter, and especially not with the signature layoff from Donaire.

Both men found ways to look brilliant and vulnerable within a matter of minutes, but the gritty performances from both were welcome departures from mismatches and foregone conclusions that are oft complained about.

Sometimes bruising tests are just what fighters need.

Follow Patrick on Twitter at @Integrital

About Patrick Connor

Patrick Connor is a long time boxing fan and historian. He is additionally a voice actor and co-host of TQBR Radio, Queensberry-Rules' boxing podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Vine: @VoiceOfBeard