Photo Credit: Chris Farina - Top Rank
By Tim Smith
Nonito Donaire was the 2012 Fighter of the Year. In 2013 he could have been voted “So-So Fighter of the Year," as he lost his world title to Guillermo Rigondeaux on a decision and had to rely on his power to erase the scorecards in a ninth round TKO victory against Vic Darchinyan.
Donaire wanted to prove that he still belonged among the upper echelon of pound-for-pound fighters when he stepped in against Simpiwe Vetyeka in a 12-round WBA featherweight championship fight at the Cotai Arena at the Venetian Resort in Macao, China on Saturday night.
He didn’t quite accomplish that, but Donaire did climb back into the championship ranks, scoring a fourth round technical decision against Vetyeka to take the title. Following an accidental head butt in the first round that opened a deep cut on Donaire’s left eyelid, referee Luis Pabon had the ring doctor check the eye three times in four rounds before deciding to stop it.
Donaire (33-2, 20 KOs) pulled ahead of Vetyeka on the scorecards after dropping the 33-year-old South African to the canvas in the fourth round. All three judges – Raul Caiz, Francisco Martinez and Levi Martinez – had Donaire ahead on the cards 39-36. The two point swing from the knockdown in the fourth round was key to Donaire’s victory, which has now given him world titles in four different weight classes.
It was a very unsatisfying ending for Donaire, who apologized to the many Filipino fans who made the trip from the Philippines to Macao to root for him. When the fight was over, Donaire made his way to Vetyeka and promised him a rematch.
“I can’t take the victory for this unfinished business. I have the utmost respect for him. I will give him the rematch,’’ Donaire said.
It was a disappointing turn of events for Vetyeka (26-3, 15 KOs), who had pulled off a major upset against Chris John to win the WBA featherweight title on Dec. 6. Vetyeka pummeled John and forced him to quit on his stool in the sixth round, bringing an end to his 10-year reign as champion.
Vetyeka, a lanky bomber who lands accurate shots, never got a chance to get his rhythm going against Donaire. It was Vetyeka’s head that played the major role in the fight.
At the end of the first round Donaire was stunned by the accidental head butt that dropped him to his knees and opened a deep cut on Donaire’s left eyelid. It was the worst place to have a cut, especially that early in the fight.
Sensing that he was in trouble because of the cut on his left eye, Donaire came out aggressively in the third round and began throwing power shots. He landed a right hand that staggered Vetyeka midway through the round. Vetyeka had to hold the top rope to keep his balance and to keep from hitting the canvas. Donaire relied on power to bail him out in his last match against Vic Darchinyan, whom he stopped by TKO in the ninth round last Nov. 9.
That power came into play in the fourth round when Donaire nailed Vetyeka with a short right hand and then unleashed a massive left hook that sent Vetyeka spilling to the canvas.
“I knew I had the power for this weight class. I was able to do what I need to do in the ring,’’ said Donaire, who was moving up to 126 pounds for the first time.
Vetyeka knew the cut was bad, but he thought he could exploit it later in the fight.
“I didn’t think it was a head butt (that caused the cut),’’ Vetyeka said. “I thought as the fight would go on I’d open the cut more and they would stop the fight.’’
Vetyeka thought if the fight went on and the cut got worse, that he would be ahead on the scorecards. It might have worked out that way too, if Donaire hadn’t dropped him in the fourth round.
“That was my fault,’’ Vetyeka said. “I got careless because of the cut.’’
Immediately after the cut was opened, Pabon asked Donaire if he could continue and Donaire said yes. But as the fight went on, Donaire said he knew he was at a disadvantage because the ointment used to close the cut was seeping into his eye and blurring his vision.
“I knew I was at the biggest disadvantage. I could see what was coming from the right side, but I had to guess on the other (left) side,’’ Donaire said.
Pabon made a crucial decision after the third round. He decided to allow the fight to continue for one more round so that it could go to the judges’ scorecards in the end of a stoppage. Donaire made it work in his favor by sending Vetyeka to the canvas for a 10-8 round.
It looks as if a rematch is in order.