By Chris Robinson
Earlier this week my colleague Dennis Guillermo caught up with WBC and WBO bantamweight champion Nonito Donaire as he attempted to get some insight into the Fil-Am fighter’s immediate plans. Fresh off of the news that he had re-signed with Top Rank Promotions after an ugly court battle over his services, Donaire offered up some surprising sound bites about who he would like to face next.
On October 1st WBC junior featherweight champion Toshiaki Nishioka defends his title against former two-time champion Rafael Marquez inside of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and Donaire seems to feel that the winner would make for the perfect candidate for his initial foray into 122 pounds. While Nishioka has defended his belt impressively over the past few years, including a May 2009 3rd round TKO over Jhonny Gonzalez, it is Marquez who is far better known to American fight fans because of his greater exposure on HBO and Showtime, penchant for the knockout, and his memorable encounters with Israel Vazquez.
The possibility of Donaire-Marquez is intriguing and it just so happens that I was thinking of a topic to discuss with boxing historian Bert Sugar of HBO Sports for our ongoing column. I asked Bert what it was like upon hearing the news of Donaire’s return and he started off with some sarcasm.
“I think it’s exciting to have Donaire back,” stated Sugar. “He’s one of the best pound for pounders and his reentry is more than welcome. After the Klitschko-Haye fight I need any excitement. I mean, talking to you is more exciting than that fight. I got to tell you, my foot went to sleep in the seventh round and I think I followed suit in the eighth. I don’t know what the hell was going on.”
And what exactly is it that makes Donaire so special? For one, it seems to be his tremendous pop, as Sugar reflected back to July of 2007 when the ‘Filipino Flash’ laid out crude Armenian Vic Darchinyan with a counter left hook in the fifth.
“He’s got a dynamite punch. Look what he did with Darchinyan. One punch and Darchinyan still doesn’t remember being hit with it. At his weight, which is very, very small, he’s got the punch of a middleweight or a heavier weight,” Sugar continued.
Donaire has won titles at 112, 115, and 118 pounds and has flirted with the idea of an eventual move to the featherweight class of 126 pounds in the future. So, how far can Donaire rise?
“Before Mayweather claims he is on steroids?” Sugar quipped, taking a poke at Floyd. “I don’t know. But, you know, fighters don’t get smaller. I think the only one I remember was Jake Lamotta, who had won the New York Golden Gloves as a light heavyweight and trained and fasted himself down to a middleweight. But most of them rise up. He could probably go up one or two more weight classes, but wherever he is, he’s exciting.”
And the thought of a Nonito Donaire-Rafael Marquez match is obviously something that Sugar would welcome.
“That fight would be a war. That would be an excellent fight for the fight fans. I’ve got to see him one more time to tell you how he’d do against Marquez and on the other hand I need to see Marquez one more time. But both of them are in there to war. There’s no standing back, they both come at you. You could hold that fight in a phone booth,” Sugar stated with conviction.
Marquez seemed a bit lethargic in his last outing as he slowly broke down journeyman Eduardo Becerril after five rounds in Cancun, Mexico earlier this month and one fight prior he suffered an 8th round TKO loss to Juan Manuel Lopez when he was systematically broken down last November at the MGM Grand. I asked Sugar if the 36-year old Marquez was perhaps close to being washed up but he wouldn’t buy into it.
“Oh, he’s very dangerous. He might be on the downside of his peak years but never sell him short.”
If there has been one thing that has stayed with Marquez it would likely be his crippling power, as evidenced by some of his highlight-reel knockouts and the 36 stoppages he has amassed in 40 victories. I have always been curious how Donaire will take a punch from a heavy hitter in the higher weight classes and it’s a question that can’t be overlooked for fighters moving up in weight.
“Obviously, and I’ve got the Newton Boxing Law of Gravity, which is that the heavier man you fight has a harder punch that hurts you more and your punch hurts him less,” Sugar added. “So there’s going to come a wall, and it doesn’t quite work. Bobby Foster, the great light heavyweight champion, never lost a light heavyweight fight but never won a heavyweight fight. There is a wall that you come to.”
Donaire himself has flirted with a possible move to 126 pounds, a division currently creeping with dangerous champions such as Cuba’s Yuriorkis Gamboa, Gonzalez, and Orlando Salido, who could be facing off with former WBO kingpin Juan Manuel Lopez in rematch this fall. I wondered who exactly in that class could give Donaire the most trouble.
“That’s a tough question. Gamboa might be a problem. It’s his speed. Forget what they said about the drug wars that ‘Speed kills’; it does in the ring too,” Sugar pointed out.
Before our talk was over I didn’t want to overlook Cuban standout Guillermo Rigondeaux, the reigning interim WBA champion at 122 pounds. The dynamic southpaw may have disappointed last November with his tepid points win over Ricardo Cordoba but he has produced some electrifying finishes in his short professional career and Sugar could see him as a legitimate challenge to Donaire.
“I think he’s very dangerous. He punches, he boxes, he does everything; a complete fighter.”