[UPDATE: HBO has aired the fight. Some commentary on that below.]
This is a post about what happened in the Nonito Donaire vs. Simpiwe Vetyeka featherweight fight in Macau, China. Since the fight will air live on HBO this afternoon, anyone who doesn’t want a spoiler should stop reading now.
That was a travesty. Donaire won a technical decision over Vetyeka at the exact moment he could, at the end of the 4th. There was so much that was wrong here. There was no sign that referee Luis Pabon ruled Donaire’s cut from a head butt, even though it wasn’t absolutely clear it was from a punch or elbow (I’d say elbow) or even a head butt. The doctor checked it out multiple times throughout the fight, and then Pabon chose the moment of the end of the 4th so it could go to the scorecards. Or maybe the WBA officials he consulted with told him to do that.
And Donaire wanted the fight to end at that point, which he admitted in a post-fight interview. He scored a knockdown in the 4th and could’ve gone for the kill, but instead turned away and motioned toward his eye, prompting Pabon to have the doctor check him out once more (and apparently for the last time). That knockdown sealed the win for him once it could have gone to the scorecards at the end of the 4th, assuming a head butt ruling was properly issued after the 1st round, or assuming that somebody figured they could get the ruling anyway. Without a proper head butt ruling, it should’ve been a technical knockout for Vetyeka. Vetyeka had won the first two rounds, before Donaire came alive in the 3rd and scored what should’ve been ruled by Pabon a knockdown since Vetyeka held himself up by the ropes — yet another mistake in a whole plethora of them for Pabon, whose career as a referee is so atrocious he’s now easily the worst big-fight referee in the sport. Vetyeka rallied in the 3rd, and maybe that spooked Donaire. Vetyeka came out extra hard in the 4th, and that gave Donaire his opening, with his patented counter left hook dropping the bigger man and Pabon ruling it thus.
We’ve seen this from trainer Robert Garcia before, exploiting the rules like this when a fight is going the wrong way for his man, as with Mikey Garcia-Orlando Salido. I wouldn’t be surprised if he made the case. It’s not stupid to do these kind of things from the standpoint of getting the W, but it heaps shame on him and his boxers from fans who expect their ring heroes to give their all under all circumstances.
We need to know what Pabon was thinking, though, and whether he ruled it a head butt at the end of the 1st, which he apparently did not; we need to know who made the call to end the fight at the moment it was chosen, which is highly suspicious. Somebody, or multiple somebodies, engineered a shady outcome that just happened to benefit the headliner on Top Rank’s card, a Filipino fighting in Asia… it just looks like too many coincidences.
Donaire said he’d give Vetyeka a rematch. I hope he meant it. Because this win is going to be something of a stain on his career unless he rectifies it.
UPDATE: HBO’s team clearly was pretending they were watching the fight live when they already knew the results, and their commentary was very, very shady. Immediately, they talked about how Donaire was head butted. They never — never — discussed what Pabon’s ruling was. They just acted as though the head butt was a foregone conclusion. And from that moment on, HBO’s Jim Lampley wouldn’t stop talking about the rules for a fight going to the scorecards after the 4th round. Yet they had rules expert Steve Weisfeld on, and he never talked about the critical aspect of whether the fight goes to the scorecard after four: It’s based on whether there was a ruling on a foul. If there was no ruling, then it’s presumed to be from a punch. If they did indeed know the outcome of the fight beforehand, they most likely were deliberately leaving out this critical aspect of the ruling. Then, once the fight ended, Lampley, Roy Jones and Max Kellerman didn’t give any serious attention to how disgusting this fight outcome was: They mainly rambled about whether their earlier Sugar Ray Leonard comparisons for Donaire were apt.
I’ve never disliked HBO’s broadcasting team as others do. Everything that happened on this broadcast was fishy and, I’d allege, aimed at protecting the reputation of the bigger-name fighter who’s allied with their main promotional partner, Top Rank.
(Also, I had not noticed in the original broadcast that Pabon called for the bell to be rung to start the 5th. This was either unnecessary corruption or a way to ensure that the fight was ruled as “at the end of the 4th.”)
On the undercard, Nicholas Walters wrecked Vic Darchinyan with a highlight reel knockout to both herald his official arrival as a featherweight threat and probably bring Darchinyan’s career as a top fighter to an end. He’s had numerous rebirths, has Darchinyan, but that’s two ferocious knockout losses in a row and it’s hard to imagine him reestablishing himself once more. If he calls it a day, which would probably be wise, it’s a Hall of Fame-worthy career. Walters’ power, meanwhile, is such that he would make appetizing fights with anyone in the division.
Also, Evgeny Gradovich survived a knockdown to win by decision in his featherweight clash with Alexander Miskirtchian. The knockdown wasn’t much of one — it came in the 6th when Miskirtchian caught Gradovich squared up, and Gradovich wasn’t badly hurt. Otherwise, it was a typically one-sided Gradovich performance, who showed improvement in his defense and is a really nice mix of grinding, boxing and bludgeoning. He doesn’t knock people out much but he bruises and bloodies their faces. Miskirtchian didn’t perform badly, and caught Gradovich here and there. It’s just that Gradovich is a handful.