Nonito Donaire, a former bantamweight champion, is stepping up a weight… (Steve Marcus / Las Vegas…)
Nonito Donaire appeared to be on the precipice of boxing stardom last year when he scored a sensational second-round technical knockout of veteran champion Fernando Montiel.
Donaire's performance, with a mix of speed and power, compared favorably to his Filipino countryman Manny Pacquiao.
But since then Donaire (28-1, 18 knockouts) has lost some of his career momentum.
First, he squabbled with his promoter, Bob Arum, and didn't fight for eight months, then Donaire returned to gain a sluggish decision followed by a split-decision in claiming the World Boxing Organization junior-featherweight title.
Saturday night, Donaire seeks to add a second 122-pound title when he fights South Africa'sInternational Boxing Federation champion Jeffrey Mathebula (26-3-2, 14 KOs) at the Home Depot Center.
Donaire weighed in at 121.4 pounds Friday, Mathebula at 121.8.
The HBO-televised card will also include a scheduled 10-round super-middleweight bout between former world middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik (39-2, 34 KOs) and New York's Will Rosinsky (16-1, nine KOs).
The 5-foot-11 Mathebula will test how well former bantamweight Donaire's power will translate now that he's moved up a weight class.
But the buzz for this bout is a flicker of what it would be if Donaire were fighting World Boxing Council 122-pound champion Abner Mares of Hawaiian Gardens.
Yet, Donaire and his advisors said a fight with Mares is unlikely until at least 2013, with Donaire instead eyeing popular Mexican opponent Jorge Arce andJapan'sworld super-bantamweight champion Toshiaki Nishioka, who is expected to be ringside Saturday.
"This is how the game is played," Donaire said when asked about the lack of urgency to fight either Mares or another exciting opponent in the weight class, Cuban refugee Guillermo Rigondeaux. "They've got to wait. They're not the only ones calling me out. I'll get to them."
Arum and Donaire's manager, Cameron Dunkin, said the negotiating process for Mares is problematic, given the friction between Arum and Mares' promoter Golden Boy. "We want Rigondeaux and Mares, but as you've seen with Floyd Mayweather and Pacquiao — the negotiation can be difficult, and a fight everyone wants to see can fail to happen," Donaire said.
So Donaire is content with the challenge of trying to knock out the tallest man he's ever fought in Mathebula.
Mathebula, 33, expressed confidence his height and reach will bother Donaire.
"He wants to attack," Mathebula said. "OK, attack. I'll hit him with my jab, and I'm not sure he can get his jab to me being the smaller guy. He had power in lighter weights, but what about my power? I've been here 11 years. This will be his second fight at 122. And now he faces the champion."