(Nonito Donaire; photo credit: Chris Farina, Top Rank)
Thursday afternoon in San Carlos, Calif., multi-division titlist Nonito Donaire concluded his sparring in preparation for his fight with South African beltholder Jeffrey Mathebula, which takes place in southern California at the Home Depot Center in Carson on July 7, televised by HBO.
Working with Donaire in sparring at Undisputed were a pair of much larger fighters in veteran Gilberto Sanchez Leon and Robert Rodriguez, whom Donaire trainer Robert Garcia brought with him from Oxnard.
“We have good sparring partners. We couldn’t find guys that tall at 122 so we had to look for guys that fight at 135,” Garcia told TQBR on Thursday afternoon. “These guys are well over 140 but that is the best we can do. Gilberto Sanchez Leon is very experienced and has been in there against great names and the experience he brings, the style that he brings is similar to what we will see in our opponent. We also have Robert Rodriguez from Colorado who is also very tall and gives us a lot of pressure and good work.”
Garcia was present in assisting Donaire along with Brian Schwartz and Mike Bazzel, who run Undisputed on a day-to-day basis. Nonito went seven rounds and although he still has to take off about 10 pounds in the next week and a half, he looks ready to make his second appearance on HBO this year. Donaire outpointed tough former junior featherweight titlist Wilfedo Vazquez Jr. in February underneath Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.’s tough middleweight fight with Marco Antonio Rubio in San Antonio.
Nonito looked extremely sharp in countering his heavier and taller counterparts, even buzzing them a number of times despite being outweighed by at least 10 pounds.
After finishing his sparring session, TQBR had a chance to catch up with Donaire and find out where his head is at now that he is in the process of wrapping up his training camp.
“I feel good, I feel strong,” Donaire said confidently. “I don’t think I’ve ever worked this hard for a fight before. They say as you hit 30 that you are supposed to start to decline, but I feel like with every fight I am only getting better and better.”
This past weekend saw Josesito Lopez pull off a major upset in stopping welterweight Victor Ortiz at the Staples Center. Donaire will face an opponent in Mathebula who similarly has nothing to lose — except his meaningless alphabet trinket.
With a limited amount of footage to look over on Mathebula, he is also much more of a question mark than many of his previous opponents. When Donaire fought Omar Narvaez last year, for instance, his team had at least a half dozen of his fights on DVD to look over. For Mathebula, it has been relegated to only a handful.
Garcia is charged with the difficult task of working the corner in back-to-back televised fights as recent southern California transplant Kelly Pavlik fights Will Rosinsky in the televised super middleweight co-feature. Garcia had difficulty in working Brandon Rios and Antonio Margarito’s corners consecutively last December on an HBO pay-per-view card that prompted a slight delay in between fights.
“We had enough time and Brandon won his fight,” recalled Garcia. “They rushed me in the dressing room to glove up. It is not like we actually had to wrap him. Before I left for Brandon’s fight I had Margarito’s hands wrapped. As soon as we leave for Kelly’s fight, Donaire will be wrapped. I won’t even stay for the decision, I’ll just run to the dressing room and glove up Donaire and finish up with warming up. We’ll have at least 15 minutes in between.”
Is there a chance of a letdown fight with the possibility of bigger fights looming in wait for Donaire should he pick up the win as expected? Though the names of Abner Mares, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Toshiaki Nishioka and Jorge Arce were thrown out there in passing by the Bay Area based fighter, he didn’t come across as someone looking past his opponent.
“We never think about that, Nonito is a warrior,” said Garcia. “That’s not my worry. We do have to be careful, we are in against a world champion and we can’t take him lightly. That is why Nonito is probably in the best shape of his career since I worked with him. He is very strong physically, mentally and is gonna go out there to give a very good performance and not let the IBF champion upset us because that is not in our mind at all.”
Against Vazquez Jr., Donaire suffered a ripped vein that caused quite a bit of bleeding in his wraps. Garcia told TQBR that all is well on that front, saying his hand is in perfect condition.
When asked if Nonito’s stop at 122 will be as brief as it was at 118, Garcia made it clear he will likely stick around as a junior featherweight for a bit.
“There’s always been talk of him fighting at featherweight, junior lightweight and all that,” said Garcia. “Everyone knows he has the size, the skills, the power to do that but we are taking it fight by fight right now. We are at 122 and he is very comfortable at 122 and there are a lot of big fights at this weight division so we won’t be going to featherweight anytime soon.”
At that point Nonito jumped in with an idea that is far-fetched but shows just how badly he wants to fight the best out there.
“We should do a tournament where I fight [Abner] Mares and then [Guillermo] Rigondeaux will fight [Toshiaki] Nishioka and the winners will fight each other,” he proposed.
As much as Nonito thinks it could happen, boxing fans will hold their breath until there is some dry ink on a contract. Until then, like Nonito and his team, boxing fans will just have to take things one fight at a time.
As a side note, one of the storylines to the Ortiz-Lopez fight from this past weekend was the Garcia family dysfunction. Robert’s brother Danny trains Ortiz, Eduardo and Robert used to train him. As discussed in some pre-fight features on TQBR, Eduardo Garcia gave Henry Ramirez and Lopez some pointers on how to fight his former charge. When asked about the situation, Robert only had a few things to say:
“I know Henry, I’ve known him for awhile, he is a good friend. He did call me a couple days before the fight and said he had already talked to my dad and I said my dad is right. If you have someone who can take a punch and has a heart and keeps coming then that’s Ortiz’s weakness. We knew that and that is exactly what they came out and did.
“Lopez had a great game plan, they fought a great fight. He had to come out and give his best performance and he did. He came out with his heart and landed some great shots. I think the best shots that were landed came from Lopez even though Ortiz was ahead on the cards. Victor was clearly winning by two or three rounds I think. It was a very good fight.
“My dad was telling me Josesito was a tough kid, could take a punch, and had a big heart. The way he fights with all his heart and gives it all in the ring and having a good chin, that itself are good qualities to win the fight. He is one of those fighters who had nothing to lose and is always in the gym and was ready.”
Mark Ortega can be reached via e-mail at and followed via Twitter. Mark also contributes to renowned boxing publications RING Magazine and Boxing Monthly, and is a member of the Boxing Writer’s Association of America and RING Ratings Advisory Panel.