Can the Filipino Flash Keep From Fading?

Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland

By Nat Gottlieb

In the split co-feature on the May 31 Boxing After Dark, four-division world champion, Nonito Donaire, will be trying for a fifth weight class title against recently-crowned featherweight champ, Simpiwe Vetyeka, a relatively unknown boxer from South Africa, at the Cotai Arena in Macau. More is at stake for the 31-year-old Donaire (32-2, 21 KOs) than just another division belt. In all likelihood the Filipino's career as a longtime elite boxer could end with a loss here, especially after two straight lackluster performances.

In April of last year, Donaire lost his super bantamweight title in a unanimous decision to unbeaten Cuban slickster, Guillermo Rigondeaux. That defeat ended a string of 30-straight victories for the former pound-for-pound fighter. Seven months later he moved up to featherweight for the first time to take on 37-year-old, former world title holder, Vic Darchinyan. Although Donaire stopped the Aussie in the 9th round, he hadn't looked good up until that point, which was reflected in the scorecards. Expected to have a relatively easy fight with the fading Darchinyan, at the time of the TKO, Donaire was shockingly behind on two scorecards, 74-78, and tied on a third, 76-76.  Something seemed "off" about Donaire, and later it was discovered that he had sustained a fractured orbital bone during the fight.

Even using the fracture as an excuse for his performance, Donaire cannot afford in any way to lose to the 33-year-old Vetyeka (26-2, 16 KOs). After fighting his first 26 bouts against obscure opponents in South Africa, Vetyeka finally stepped up in class to face former world title-challenger, Daud Cino Yordan, who was 30-2 at the time. Easily ahead on the cards, Vetyeka put an exclamation mark on his coming-out party with a 12th round TKO.

In his next fight, Vetyeka really burst onto the international scene by knocking out longtime reigning featherweight champion, Chris John, who was 48-0 at the time. The defeat ended John's 10-year reign as champion and his 18 successful title defense. But some of the luster came off that victory when the 34-year-old John retired 13 days later. Clearly John was no longer in his prime. If Vetyeka is going to step into elite status, he'll need to beat Donaire first.