While my “colleagues” were wetting their Jack Dempsey Underoos last year at the idea of boxing’s expansion into China, I was concerned about the possible shenanigans of a poorly-regulated sport diving into a completely unregulated gaming black hole like Macau.
After seeing the festering bag of bullshit that passed for a “super” WBA featherweight title fight Saturday morning (U.S. Time), I’d love to let out a great big “I told you so,” but the fact of the matter is that this screw job could’ve happened in Macau, Manhattan, or Mexico City and it, really, speaks more to the nature of how the sport is regulated than to the home commission’s level of competence.
But let’s backtrack a bit:
Nonito Donaire was set to challenge Simpiwe Vetyeka for the “super” WBA featherweight belt the South African took from long-time champ Chris John last December.
On the surface, it looked like a pretty straightforward pre=designed belt pickup for “The Filipino Flash.”
Vetyeka, despite the win over John, is not exactly a world-killer. Coming into this Macau Top Rank showcase, one could consider him little more than a solid fighter with solid skills and a big recent score, marched into a hostile land for the distinct purpose of handing over his belt to Donaire.
And once the opening bell sounded, the machinery began grinding along, moving the belt closer and closer to Donaire. Once the gears are put in motion, there’s no going back.
At the very end of the first round, a long cut was opened over the left eye of Donaire. The Top Rank-paid broadcast team immediately assumed that the cut was from a headbutt. The HBO crew later that afternoon assumed the same. Replays, however, were inconclusive.
In any case, chronically inept referee Luis Pabon may or may not have made a call as to what caused that cut. If he did, none of us watching at home were made aware of it. The live broadcast crew of Col. Bob Sheridan and Larry Merchant, boxing’s equivalent to two old men wandering the streets in their pajamas, never picked up on it. Later on that afternoon, HBO’s main broadcast crew also never bothered to pick up on that crucial detail.
The match went along as planned from there. Donaire was bothered by the cut and made frequent plays for sympathy from Pabon, overreacting every time Vetyeka’s head made any sort of contact with his own.
Still, Donaire fought well and kept pace with the solid but obviously unspectacular South African.
The bout appeared to be fairly even going into the fourth round, until Donaire landed a perfect shot that dropped Vetyeka and put him on wobbly legs.
Vetyeka immediately began to be sucked into the black hole.
Donaire stopped the bout pretty much on his own at the end of the fourth, to have the doctor check out his eye. Larry Merchant, who would go on to conduct a good chunk of a post-fight interview with Vetyeka before realizing that Vetyeka couldn’t speak English, would heap praise on Donaire, saying: “This is one of Donaire’s finest moments as a fighter, the way he’s dealing with this situation right now.”
Well, Donaire’s way of dealing with the situation was to bail, now that the knockdown made it a sure thing that he’d get the technical decision (and the belt).
After the bell, and knowing that the fight was official after the fourth round had completed, Donaire and his team decided that the injury was too much to bear and “reluctantly” bowed out. Obviously, they assumed that the fight would go to the scorecards after the fourth round and that, after pulling ahead in the fourth with the knockdown, this was the perfect time to bail out.
If Pabon had not ruled the cut to be caused by an accidental foul (and there’s no concrete, during-the-fact proof that he did), it should’ve been a TKO loss for The Filipino Flash.
Yeah, right. Vetyeka was not brought into Macau to beat Nonito Donaire– especially via screwy four-round TKO.
WBA officials conferred with Pabon (Actually, they looked to be telling him what to do– Pabon [in Spanish]: “So, it’s official?”). Pabon would then call for the bell to begin the fifth before officially waving off the contest, this way guaranteeing that the fight was officially stopped after four rounds.
Even the scorecards were botched, issuing a pro-Donaire fifth round on all three judges’ scorecards despite there being only four rounds completed.
All in all, this was what it appeared to be from the very beginning– an excuse to lure Vetyeka into a dark alley and take what’s his.
Donaire, who sounds less and less sincere with each passing fight these days, lamented the cut and the stoppage in his post-fight interview with Larry Merchant and pledged a rematch to Vetyeka. One suspects, though, that even in a fair fight, Donaire would be just too good. And that makes this dark alley set-up in Macau all the more shameful.
True, Donaire did nothing illegal to win this bout. He rode the rule book like a guy looking for the quickest and easiest win within his reach.
But when you add that convenient grasp at the gold to the fact that the odds were so overwhelmingly stacked against the defending champion from the very beginning, there sure wasn’t a lot of honor involved in this victory.
You can email Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org or simply say snarky things about him on Twitter. You can also buy his book, Notes from the Boxing Underground! Paul is a full member of the Burger King Kids’ Club, a born iconoclast, and an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church.