Examining the controversial finish to Nonito Donaire’s win over Simpiwe Vetyeka

Credit: Chris Farina - Top Rank

Donaire wins, but the wrong way:

As high expectations simmered ahead of the Carl Froch and George Grove’ rematch last Saturday, an important but somewhat overlooked bill in Macau ended unsatisfactorily as Nonito Donaire won a fifth round technical decision over Simpiwe Vetyeka, taking the world featherweight title in the process.

This was a fight that significantly affected the featherweight scenery, establishing Donaire as the legitimate champion of another division, and positioning him for many big fights against the division’s elite.

There is little to complain about in Donaire’s performance, but the same cannot be said of referee Luis Pabon’s uncoordinated showing. The scorecards did not raise eyebrows when announced in Donaire’s favor, but how we got to those scores being read out in the first place seemed at best confusing and at worst incompetent.

In the first round Donaire reached in and was met by a strafing jab and right uppercut before his head appeared to collide with Vetyeka’s. As the two backed away Donaire bent over and held his face, where it emerged he had been cut over his left eye. The bleeding was difficult to staunch, and Donaire had to bravely battle on without full vision.

His gameness was matched by skill in the fourth when he knocked an unbalanced Vetyeka to the canvas with a left hook. Clearly the quicker man, Donaire troubled the South African champion throughout, but occasionally took some solid whacks in return. It was bubbling into an intriguing contest when at the end of that fourth round; Donaire’s best of the fight, Pabon called a halt to proceedings and uncertainty ensued.

There was little enunciated clarity on behalf of the officials as to how Donaire’s cut had been accrued in that game-changing first round. Had it been caused by a head clash the fight would have been ruled a no contest before four rounds had been completed, but would go to the judge’s scorecards after then. Had it not been ruled a head clash Vetyeka would have retained his title by way of technical knockout.

It then became apparent that an accidental clash of heads had in fact been called by Pabon, though there was little indication of this at the time of the incident. It all meant a rather convenient ending for this championship fight with Donaire. He was by far the bigger name in this particular contest, and he ended up receiving a technical decision victory.

There’s also the issue of Pabon ringing the bell for the 5th round, which meant that the scorecards could even be tallied to begin with. Why the fight lasted two seconds into the 5th instead of being waved off between sessions is hard to fathom. That alone may be the biggest, and oddest, problem with the way this fight ended.

Some might criticize such cynicism, but when a title changes hands it is better that it does so conclusively. Donaire’s cut was terrible for four rounds, and he deserves praise for fighting on as blood seeped into his eye, but why was the fight specifically stopped as soon as Donaire was able to win on the scorecards, and not beforehand? The cut didn’t exactly get better as the bout wore on, but was it not bad enough when Donaire was whisked to the ringside doctor on multiple occasions to have what was clearly a vision-effecting cut scrupulously inspected?

In the post-fight interviews Donaire’s brow was furrowed, and that was not because of the cut alone. Clearly unhappy at the way proceedings ended, Donaire squinted through Larry Merchant’s questions without the elation expected of a newly crowned champion. Merchant asked why Donaire’s answers seemed apologetic, but there was no such innocent eyelid-batting from the Filipino Flash, who affirmed his desire to rematch Vetyeka so that a more satisfactory conclusion may be reached.

In an age where people are clamoring for the use of technology to inform refereeing decisions in all sports, boxing finds itself behind the times. But sometimes all that is needed to settle a controversy is a second fight – just ask Carl Froch and George Groves. If Donaire lives up to his word and puts his newly won title on the line against the man he won it from, a more decisive ending can be reached for all involved, and no apologies would be necessary.

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