On Saturday night at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, pound-for-pound entrant Nonito Donaire, 29(18)-1, unified the WBO and IBF super bantamweight titles, winning a unanimous decision from South Africa's Jeffrey Mathebula by scores of 119-108, 117-110 and 118-109.
I had the fight closer, scoring 115-111 for the Filipino Flash. I thought he gave away entire rounds eating the nearly 6' Mathebula's jabs while looking to set up one big shot.
The strategy nearly paid off for him in the fourth, when he floored Mathebula with a left hook at the bell. Mathebula was able to get up and return to his corner, but he looked to be close to out cold.
With the fight seeming to grow close, Donaire's trainer Robert Garcia urged him to get busier in the championship rounds. Donaire responded, seeming to flip a switch. He hurt Mathebula badly in Round 11 and followed it up by winning an exciting Round 12.
Mathebula was a useful opponent for Donaire for a couple of reasons. In the first place, the victory allowed him to solidify his championship status in the 122-pound division by adding a second belt.
Beyond that, the 5'11" Mathebula provided Donaire with experience against a larger opponent, after a career spent usually being the bigger man at flyweight, super flyweight and bantamweight.
The practice should pay off down the line. While there's still business for Donaire in the loaded 122-pound division, as long as he keeps winning, there will be ever growing clamor for him to move up.