Mathebula was 'not disgraced'
"BEATEN but far from disgraced", was the emphatic assertion of BSP promoter Branco Milenkovic on 31-year-old Jeffrey Mathebula's title unification loss to Filipino Nonito Donaire in Los Angeles on Saturday.
In a clear-cut points defeat - the judges had it 117-110, 118-109 and 119-108 - Mathebula surrendered his International Boxing Federation title to the lethal, tearaway World Boxing Organisation champion.
Milenkovic, who handles Mathebula's promotional affairs, says Donaire is one of the leading 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 of Mathebula's quest for major titles," said Milenkovic. He suggested a rematch with fellow South African Takalani Ndlovu, from whom the fighter nicknamed "The Mongoose" snatched the IBF title in a thriller in March, could be the next step.
"Both Mathebula and Ndlovu are considered among the top 10 fighters in the world in their division," said Milenkovic. "A rematch would seem a logical step and real crowd-puller, with the winner seeking to regain the super bantamweight belt for South Africa from 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 the unification contest with Donaire, in spite of some saying he was "biting off more than he could chew".
"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.
The contest, at the Home Depot Centre, turned the way of the Filipino in the fourth round when Mathebula was floored and badly shaken by Donaire, who has 19 knock-outs to his credit among his 28 victories.
"He didn't expect it. Once he got hit with that, he was like everyone else," Donaire said. "He kept his hands up the rest of the night."
Mathebula, making good use of his height and reach advantage, stayed active, his work rate keeping him in the contest even as Donaire landed the harder blows.
"He was tough. I didn't expect him to be. He was faster than I thought," said Donaire. "It was difficult to counter him. If it had been easy to counter him it would have been an easy fight."