By Ron Jackson
The odds are heavily stacked against South Africa’s Jeffrey Mathebula when he challenges Celestino Caballero of Panama for the IBF and WBA super bantamweight belts at the Arena Roberto Duran in Panama City on Thursday. The 32-year-old Caballero 31-2; 22 has just come off an outstanding victory over Steve Molitor in November last year when he added the IBF belt to his WBA belt that he won in October 2006 when he stopped Somsak Sitchatchawal in the third round.
He has subsequently made successful defences of the WBA belt against Ricardo Castillo, Jorge Lacierva, Mauricio Pastrana, Lorenzo Parra and Elvis Mejia before his fourth round stoppage win over Molitor.
Caballero made his pro debut on November 18, 1998 with a four round points win over Victor Perez and the only losses on his record were against Jose Rojas in May 2003 who stopped him in the third round and Ricardo Cordoba in May 2004 who beat him by wide margins over 12 rounds for the NABA and Panamanian super bantamweight titles.
Mathebula 22-1-2; 12 who has not fought at the same level as the defending champion became the mandatory challenger after outpointing Julio Zarate over 12 rounds in August last year. He will also be having his first outside South Africa.
The 29-year-old challenger who has been a pro since February 2001 won the WBC International featherweight title in September 2005 with a points victory over Osumanu Akaba and has made successful defences against Aaron Melgarejo, Themba Tshicila and Yoshinori Miyata.
His only loss came against Thomas Mashaba in September 2003 who stopped him in the sixth round in a clash for the South African junior featherweight title.
Both fighters are tall for the division and like to fight from long range. However, Caballero has more power and the South African will do well last the distance.
There are many talented fighters in the super bantamweight division and winner could set up a major fight against the WBO champion Juan Manuel Lopez or Toshiake Nishioka the WBC belt holder.