If fighters were in charge of matchmaking, fight such as Saturday's 122-pound unification fight between the WBO's Nonito Donaire and the IBF's Jeffrey Mathebula would take place far more often. Elite fighters have a mindset of invincibility fueled by intense pride and they believe fights such as these will bring out their very best performances.
Will Donaire enhance his top five pound-for-pound standing or will Mathebula score the signature victory of his career? Their respective CompuBox histories offer these clues:
The Anti-Rodney Dangerfield: If a picture is worth a thousand words, a monumental one-punch knockout is worth a thousand servings of respect, something the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield yearned for his entire career.
Donaire's chilling two-round stoppage of Fernando Montiel prompted his two subsequent opponents -- Omar Narvaez and Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. -- to fight far more cautiously.
Narvaez, whose whirlwind attack earned him the nickname "El Huracan," took no chances against Donaire. Averaging just 24.9 punches per round -- more than half the 60.2 junior featherweight average -- he hid behind his defensive shell and effectively blunted Donaire in the process (14.9% overall, 5.3% jabs, 27.2% power). Still, Donaire out-landed Narvaez 99-74 (overall) and 85-33 (power) to blunt the Argentine's 41-14 edge in connected jabs.
Against Zsolt Bedak and Ivan Hernandez, Vazquez averaged 74.9 and 75.2 punches per round respectively and but against Donaire his volume dropped to 45.7 and only 29.8% of his 548 punches were power shots (power shots comprised 39% of Vazquez's offense against Bedak and 46.7% against Hernandez).
Conversely, the four opponents before the Montiel knockout (Manuel Vargas, Hernan Marquez, Volodymyr Sydorenko and Rafael Concepcion) tried far more power punches (48.7% of their combined offense) than Donaire's two post-KO foes (a combined 32.9%). Will Mathebula take more gambles or will he shut down in the name of self-preservation?
Hard Luck Losses: In April 2009, Mathebula attempted to seize Celestino Caballero's WBA and IBF belts in Caballero's native Panama. Despite out-throwing (787-619 total, 340-309 jabs, 447-310 power) and out-landing Caballero in every category (165-136 total, 70-47 jabs, 95-89 power), Mathebula was unable to wrest the belts away. Perhaps it was Caballero's 28.7%-21.3% edge in power punch marksmanship, or maybe it was his Panamanian nationality and the fervent crowd support.
A similar scenario unfolded during Mathebula's first fight with Takalani Ndlovu in September 2010 (a split decision loss that was avenged in his most recent fight). Averaging a robust 99.7 punches per round (of which 63.1 were jabs), Mathebula pounded out connect edges overall (198-192) and in jabs (89-66) but Ndlovu emerged victorious because he led 126-109 in power connects and was the more accurate fighter (25.2%-16.6% overall, 15.4%-11.8% jabs, 37.7%-24.8% power).
To upend Donaire -- especially on the road -- the lanky 33-year-old Mathebula must find a way to keep the 29-year-old Donaire at arm's length while also assuming enough risks to overcome Donaire's skill set and star power.
Prediction: Mathebula's height, reach and busy jab will present a stylistic puzzle to Donaire in the early rounds. But "The Filipino Flash" will eventually close the distance and assert his skills en route to a distance victory.