Never underestimate the heart of a very hungry champion.
South African Simpiwe Vetyeka is the reigning World Boxing Association (WBA) featherweight (126 pounds) champion, but going into his first defense of the title this coming weekend in Macau, it is the challenger, Filipino Nonito Donaire Jr., who has been getting a lot of media mileage.
Thus far, all the talk has been on Donaire quest for a fifth division world title. Following his reconciliation with his father/trainer Donaire Sr., fight fans are bracing themselves for the return of the “Filipino Flash” to his vintage form. Lost in the pre-fight discussion is the possibility of Vetyeka acting out the role of a spoiler.
Vetyeka is not one to complain about the lack of attention. Truth be told, the WBA champ has been battling to earn the respect of boxing aficionados since he turned pro in January 2002. Vetyeka was crowned South Africa’s bantamweight champion within 3 years after turning pro and was a world title challenger in 2007, but the lopsided loss he suffered to then World Boxing Council (WBC) bantam king Hozumi Hasegawa seriously affected his confidence. Vetyeka won his next 5 fights after the Hasegawa fight, but went inactive in 2010.
When he returned in 2011, Vetyeka struggled to regain his form. After he dropped an 8-round decision to countryman Klaas Mboyane in June 2012, Vetyeka called up his manager Andile Sidinile and talked about retiring from the game. Sidinile, however, convinced Vetyeka to delay any retirement plan until he gets a shot at the featherweight crown.
In December 2013, Vetyeka took the boxing world by surprise when he stopped Indonesian star Chris John in 6 rounds for the WBA featherweight plum. John had been undefeated in 51 fights (48 wins, 3 draws) and was making his 19th defense of the title when he succumbed to the power shots of Vetyeka.
Vetyeka expected nothing less than a hero’s welcome upon his return to his South Africa, but to his surprise he was ignored by the government. Not a few even belittled Vetyeka’s victory and claimed that John was already a shot fighter when the two crossed mitts.
Vetyeka, 26-2 with 16 knockouts, is out to prove his critics wrong when he takes on Donaire. At 5’7,” Vetyeka is some two inches taller than Donaire and is a picture of a more confident boxer these days. Vetyeka, 33, is a boxer-puncher who is not afraid to mix it up at close range. He owns a good left jab and packs a lot of power in his right straight. Vetyeka’s defense is suspect though; as he tends to drop his guard low and lean forward with his head wide open for a counter hook. Then again, porous his defense may be, Vetyeka owns a dependable jaw.
Vetyeka also does not carry with him a lot of excess baggage. He does not smoke, drink or party and adheres to Christian values. So focused is Vetyeka on Donaire that he even left his wife behind to fully focus on the fight.
Donaire enjoys the clear edge in terms of skills, power and quality of opposition. Donaire’s last 10 fights have been against either reigning or former world champions. With the exception of John, Vetyeka has mostly feasted on tomato cans. Still, Donaire is far from being the overwhelming pick to prevail. He has struggled in his last few fights, losing to Cuban Guillermo Rigondeaux and barely dodging defeat with a last-round knockout of Armenian Vic Darchinyan. Instead of utilizing footwork and combination punching, Donaire, in his most recent fights, has acquired the habit of coming forward without first clearing the path with his left jab. The “Flash” had become seemingly obsessed on getting that one-punch knockout. With American trainer Robert Garcia out of the picture and Donaire Sr. taking his place, all point to Donaire flaunting his lethal form.
Of course, as far as Simpiwe is concerned, it is not going to be that simple.
* * *
For comments, the writer can be reached at email@example.com.