By Hamilton Nolan
Nonito Donaire is one of the most beautiful fighters in all of boxing. He stalks his opponents with the footwork of an NBA guard doing cone drills. He dips, whirls, bounces, dodges and attacks comfortably from a gyroscope's worth of angles. And he throws a perfectly horizontal left hook that hits like a bowling ball on a chain. It's why, after some of his more impressive wins, Donaire has flirted with the #3 spot on some pundits' pound-for-pound lists, right behind the very best.
But few would rank Donaire there now. Not because his skills have eroded or because he's been in any danger of losing, but because some of his own flaws have become clear. Last October, Omar Narvaez exposed Donaire's lack of effective body punching simply by covering his head in a stubborn shell for 12 rounds and then leaving the ring beaten but unscathed. And in his last fight, in February, Donaire proved that cockiness does not equal defense, allowing his face to be lumped and swollen by Wilfredo Vazquez, who did not fall for the mesmerizing head movement of The Filipino Flash. In order for Donaire to re-ascend the pound-for-pound rankings, he will need to win a superfight. And there are superfights to be made: with Guilermo Rigondeaux at 122 pounds, or with Yuriorkis Gamboa or Mikey Garcia at 126 pounds. In order to get one of those superfights, Donaire needs another convincing signature win. That means he must direct all of his attention toward destroying Jeffrey Mathebula.
Mathebula is a strong and competent 122-pounder, who's proven able to hang with some of the best in that division - but unable to separate himself. He's coming off of two straight split-decision victories, the last against fellow South African veteran Takalani Ndlovu. At 33, Mathebula is a respected fighter ensconced solidly in the middle-upper tier of his weight class, slightly over the hill and easing into late-career inactivity. He's the perfect victim: solid on paper, but perhaps without the real-life reflexes to handle someone with world-class explosiveness. Donaire must prove not only that he can beat contenders in this higher weight class, but that he can dominate them, in proportion to his own physical gifts. And he must prove to fans that he is not content to simply put rounds in the bank against men he is capable of rendering unconscious. The career of Manny Pacquiao is coming to a close; there are hundreds of millions of Filipino fans who will soon be looking to Donaire to pick up the mantle as his country's greatest fighter on the world stage. Donaire's promoters would desperately like him to deliver a nice, head-shattering knockout that can be used to boost public interest for a showdown with a true big-money opponent. Anything less should be considered a disappointment.
The stakes are just as high for a breakout performance on the night's co-featured bout. For all of the heartbreak surrounding the career of Kelly Pavlik - onetime Great White Hope of the moment, the All-American pride of Youngstown, Ohio - it is hard to believe that he has only been beaten twice in the ring (by Sergio Martinez and Bernard Hopkins, and there is no shame in losing to either). He was damaged much more by his fights outside the ring, against alcohol abuse and general life instability. Guessing whether or not Pavlik has sorted himself out enough to be a real contender again has been a boxing parlor game for years now. Since his 2010 loss to Martinez, he has beaten three sub-contender level opponents, all while teetering back and forth into personal disaster territory of canceled fights and flakiness. It's not too late for Kelly Pavlik to get himself into position for at least one or two more big-money fights in the deep 168-pound division. But he needs to keep progressing, as he has probably run out of second chances.
Will Rosinsky is a tough but unspectacular Queens-born fighter who fights regularly in the New York area but is mostly untested at a national level (At 16-1, his only real quality opponent has been Edwin Rodriguez, who beat him, though it was competitive.) Just weeks ago Rosinsky, who is 5'10, defeated the tall and long-limbed Aaron Pryor Jr., which will, perhaps, prove to have been good practice for Pavlik, who is also tall and long-limbed, though much harder-hitting. Look for Rosinsky, who is not exceptionally fast or elusive, to try to move inside and fight Pavlik up close; look for Pavlik to try to keep Rosinsky at arm's length and land one of his killer straight rights, assuming he is, in fact, focused and ready and still in possession of the skills that got him here. A win, and Pavlik can convincingly build a case as an inspirational figure who's ready again to fight the world's best, after conquering his own personal demons. A loss, and Kelly Pavlik's big time career is effectively over.