Everyone loves Nonito Donaire. Read this interview by Donald McRae and see how he comes across – what’s not to like, right? He is one of boxing’s good guys. He is also a great fighter. During his 12 year unbeaten stretch he picked up belts in the fly, super fly, bantam and super bantamweight divisions. Plus he entertains. In 2007 and 2011 Ring awarded him Knockout of the Year gongs and he was their 2012 Fighter of the Year. Boxers who are hugely likeable (and thus marketable) outside the ring and thrillingly devastating inside it are a promoter’s dream. In the Filipino Flash’s case, he is Bob Arum’s and Top Rank’s dream.
A combination of all of the above, plus Froch Groves II dominating the headlines, is why mainstream media outlets have allowed yesterday’s events in Macau to pass relatively unnoticed. It appears that the farcical Nonito Donaire v Simpiwe Vetyeka contest has been quietly filed away in the boxing archives with a Post-it saying, best not to dig any deeper. Thankfully boxing blogs are not so quick to turn a blind eye when something smells off and two of the better ones, The Queensberry Rules and Bad Left Hook, were quick to voice their concerns.
In truth, the fight was a shambles from start to finish. Champion Vetyeka, looking bigger and stronger than his opponent, began well, bullied Nonito around the ring and won the opening round. It was at the end of the first that the fun and games really began.
As the bell rang and referee Luis Pabon stepped between the two men, Nonito briefly winced and dropped to his knee before arising and walking to his corner with blood flowing freely from a deep gash along the top of a left eye that was already well on it’s way to swelling shut. Pabon, not for the first time in his career, hadn’t the faintest idea what had happened.
To be fair to the hapless ref on this occasion, even with the benefit of numerous replays, there is nothing 100% conclusive on what opened Donaire’s flesh, nor what caused him to drop, wince and complain at the bell. Scan the boxing forums and within minutes you’ll find Vetyeka’s head, elbow and fist being labelled the culprit for the cut. Likewise, Nonito’s reaction was down to a low blow, a late shot to the back of the head, or the alleged head butt that cut him, depending on who you speak to. In short it is all about as clear as a jug of Weissbier at Oktoberfest.
Watching it live on BoxNation, via HBO cameras, ref Pabon appeared to make no ruling or judgement whatsoever on what had occurred. By not clearly indicating an accidental clash of heads, Pabon presumably believed the damage to Nonito’s eye was caused legitimately by the gloved hands of his opponent. That being the case, any stoppage due to said cut would have to result in a TKO victory for the champion. Apparently that wasn’t the case however.
The fight continued and became more confusing with every passing round. There were further complaints from Nonito about Vetyeka’s use of the head but, in truth, there did not appear to be anything out of the ordinary going on in that department. The champ was coming forward aggressively and heads certainly came together, but this was a title fight not a tickling contest and I have seen a lot worse go unpunished over the years. Was Nonito milking it, making sure ref, judges, doctors and fans had Vetyeka’s head at the forefront of their thinking on the fight?
By the third round Nonito was battling like a man who knew time was against him – perhaps further evidence that at that point he wasn’t sure what Pabon’s ruling on his cut eye was. He caught Vetyeka and Vetyeka caught the top rope to keep himself upright. It was a clear knockdown but somehow Pabon missed it.
In the fourth Nonito nailed him again and Vetyeka went down. Right down to the canvas floor this time to make life a little easier for Luis Pabon. The predominantly pro-Donaire crowd went wild as they expected their man to finish off the South African and throw his name in the hat for Ring magazine’s 2014 Knockout of the Year award. To the surprise of everyone, Nonito did the exact opposite. He stood off his man and allowed him to recover while simultaneously gesturing to his gashed left eyelid and beckoning the doctor to take another look. I’m no medic but it did not look to have changed one iota from how it was nine minutes previously at the end of the first round. By this stage it was clear that the Filipino’s corner knew this was going to the scorecards at the end of the round.
The fight ended with a confused whimper as Pabon called it off at the first opportunity to go to the judges. It appears that at some point throughout the contest, the ref made up his mind that Vetyeka’s head did indeed cause the damage. And that this information was passed on to Nonito’s wily trainer Robert Garcia who then knew exactly what to do.
The farce continued with the ring announcer awarding Nonito the technical decision with all three judges scoring it 49-46 in favour of the Filipino. Some going in a four round fight. Not do be outdone in the comical stakes, Larry Merchant then appeared to believe he could understand Simpiwe Vetyeka speaking in his native tongue until someone whispered into his ear, “Larry, the guy’s not speaking English”. It was in danger of turning into a slapstick comedy event. Carry On Boxing if you like.
At the end Nonito looked a little embarrassed and promised a rematch. Vetyeka was confused but took it all with amazingly good grace. Bob Arum and Top Rank, on the other hand, were absolutely delighted. I’ll leave it there for you to make your own mind up on the madness in Macau.