Zolani Tete faces mighty Filipino Donaire
World Boxing Super Series semifinal promises a close fight.
Nonito Donaire has beaten three SA boxers in his career, and helped a fourth to a world title.
Zolani Tete, the World Boxing Organisation bantamweight champion, will be the fifth SA fighter to cross paths with the Filipino legend, holder of the World Boxing Association belt, when they compete in Lafayette, Louisiana, on Saturday.
This is the first semifinal of the World Boxing Super Series aimed at unifying the world bantamweight crown, with tournament favourite Naoya Inoue of Japan taking on Puerto Rican Emmanuel Rodriguez in the other fight-off next month.
Tete, 31, is considered by many SA fight fans to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the country at the moment, and downing 36-year-old Donaire, a world champion at five weights from flyweight to featherweight, could make that claim legitimate.
It's easier said than done. Donaire boasts the scalps of Moruti Mthalane, SA's other claimant to the pound-for-pound crown, Jeffrey Mathebula and Simphiwe Vetyeka. Donaire rates Mthalane, the International Boxing Federation (IBF) flyweight king, the best.
"Mthalane was the one who was very difficult," Donaire told the Sunday Times in an interview from his base in Las Vegas.
"He was the toughest of the guys."
He rates Vetyeka's style the closest to Tete. "Tete, he's very rangy ... And he's good at what he does with his distance and jabs and straight [punches] and even uppercuts as well.
"I've fought a lot of guys similar to that type of style and I can read that type of style easily."
Apart from bashing SA dreams, he has also built them, recently aiding Dee-Jay Kriel before his successful challenge for the IBF strawweight crown earlier this year.
They are stablemates under coach Kenny Adams.
Kriel had sparred with Donaire ahead of the Filipino's last bout in November.
While he was in hard training early this year, Kriel was gobsmacked to see Donaire arrive at the gym to give him sparring.
"Dee-Jay was helping me out and Dee-Jay's a great kid with a big heart," said Donaire.
"He really truly wanted to win this and so I gave him what I thought was going to be a big help to him."
Kriel, not on Donaire's sparring roster for this fight, caught up with Tete this week after he arrived in the gambling capital to be fine-tuned by Floyd Mayweather snr.
"That man is very experienced," said Tete. "He taught us a lot of defence... I will have to neutralise him [Donaire]. I need to be patient, I must keep him at bay."
Donaire and Tete have two opponents in common. One is former Argentinian star Omar Narvaez, who lost every round against the two of them.
The second is Mthalane, who gave a great account of himself against Donaire in 2008 before his challenge was halted in the sixth round because of a cut above his left eye.
In 2010 Mthalane handed Tete the only stoppage defeat of his career to date.
"He was very good in the first two rounds," Mthalane said of Tete. "I was frustrated because of his style, he's tall and southpaw, but when I got my range," he said, clicking his fingers, "I was able to catch him."
Mthalane reckons Saturday's showdown will be close."It's 50-50. Anyone can win this fight, they're both very tough."Mthalane believes Tete can win if he keeps Donaire on the outside."He mustn't allow Donaire to get inside because then he can fire. He's got too much power. I can give it to Tete, maybe by a split decision."He must make sure his guards are always up because Donaire can punch ... he's got a strong left hook."Mthalane tasted that particular blow while catching it on his right glove. "I could feel when he hit - Yoh, he's got power."Donaire has 39 wins, 25 inside the distance, and five defeats, and Tete has 28 victories (21 KOs) and three losses.