“Beaten but far from disgraced,” was the emphatic assertion of BSP promoter Branco Milenkovic on 31-year-old Jeffrey Mathebula's unification title loss against Filipino Nonito Donaire, in Los Angeles on Saturday night.
In the process of a clear-cut points defeat – the judges had it 117-110, 118-109, and 119-108 in favour of the Filipino – Mathebula surrendered his International Boxing Federation (IBF) title to the lethal, tearaway World Boxing Organisation (WBO) champion.
Milenkovic, who handles Mathebula's promotional affairs, says Donaire is rated one of the leading pound-for-pound boxers in the world and the bruising fight was “a lot closer than the scorecards suggest”.
“This is certainly not the end of the road in Mathebula's quest for major titles,” said Milenkovic.
The BSP promoter suggested a rematch against fellow-South African Takalani Ndlovu, from whom the fighter nicknamed “The Mongoose” snatched the IBF title in an evenly-matched, split points thriller in March, could be the next step.
“Both Mathebula and Ndlovu are considered to be among the top 10 fighters in the world in their division,” added Milenkovic, “and a rematch between them would seem a logical step and real crowd-puller, with the winner seeking to regain the super bantamweight belt for South Africa from dual champion Donaire.”
Milenkovic, however, admitted tying down Donaire for another fight might not be easy, with the Filipino having proclaimed an intention to go after the World Boxing Association and World Boxing Council titles held by Cuban former Olympic champion Guillermo Rigondeaux and Abner Mares respectively – and uniting the super bantamweight division by holding all four major belts.
Milenkovic complimented Mathebula for entering into the unification contest with Donaire, in spite of some observers proclaiming he was “taking on more than he could chew”.
“If you have ambitions to be the best,” said Milenkovic, “you have to beat the best and Jeffrey proved his mettle by earning whole-hearted praise from Donaire for using his height and speed to good advantage and making it a difficult fight.”
Milenkovic said Mathebula had also earned a purse that would have been out of his reach in South Africa, and his handlers were right in agreeing on the Donaire fight for this reason as well.
The contest, at the Home Depot Center, turned the way of the Filipino in the fourth round when Mathebula was floored and badly shaken by Donaire, who has 19 knock-out wins to his credit among his 28 victories.
Mathebula again demonstrated his courage by fighting clinically until the end after another thunderous Donaire left hook resulted in a blow to the jaw that broke a tooth in the 11th round and left the South African in considerable pain. – Sapa