By Cliff Rold
There’s no need to play make believe. What Nonito Donaire did on Saturday was not impressive. He knocked out a fighter he was supposed to in about the easy fashion anyone could have expected. Jorge Arce has been a fun fighter for years. He hasn’t been a particularly good one in a very long time.
On his best day, Arce was limited and well managed.
It might be the holiday season, but there is no need to hand out cookies and milk to Nonito Claus for doing exactly what he was supposed to do. As a capper to a 4-0 year though, it might be time to hand out some awards.
Let’s go the report card.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Donaire A; Arce B/Post: A; B-
Pre-Fight: Power – Donaire A; Arce A/Post: A; B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Donaire B+; Arce C-/Post: B+; D
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Donaire A; Arce A/Post: A; B
The chatter was clear before the opening bell. The knockout in round three confirmed it: Donaire is the leader for Fighter of the Year. The BoxingScene predictions for the fight also asked the staff to weigh in on the leader in the field. Donaire had the edge.
There is good reason for that.
At 4-0, all of his wins against legitimate top ten types in his division, Donaire had the sort of year we just don’t see often anymore. It was a year where one guy went about his business in a single weight class and stayed active throughout.
In 1998, the BWAA and Ring Magazine split on their Fighter of the Year picks. The former favored Shane Mosley, who defended the IBF Lightweight belt with five stops in five starts. The latter favored Floyd Mayweather, 7-0 on the year as he went from prospect to champion to defending champion with a bullet.
This year, Donaire beat a former titlist in Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. for a vacant belt, unified with Jeffrey Mathebula, and upended the longtime leader of the class in Toshiaki Nishioka. All were solid wins, the latter two of quality in terms of where those foes rated in the class (and all one can do is fight the top of their class).
Arce was the payoff fight on the back end, a career high purse and a completion of a trifecta of knockout wins in his career against arguably the three most notable sub-Bantamweight fighters of the last decade on this side of the Pacific (Vic Darchinyan and Fernando Montiel).
While the end on Saturday was no surprise, it managed not to be too exciting even for the short time it lasted. Arce came out with a deer in headlights look form the start. Typically a pressing type fighter, he was playing keep away for as long as he could. The first round knockdown was a little bit about balance. The finish in the third, coming as Arce willed himself to try a little, was concussive.
Arce has given at the office over the years and not rushing headlong into fate right away can’t be held against him. He stepped into a fight he had to know he couldn’t win and took the shots like a man. For all the action he’s provided, he gets a doff of the cap.
So is it enough for Donaire to take the honors? Those who vote for such matters have a tough question to ask. Before last week, it would have been pretty easy. After Juan Manuel Marquez stopped Manny Pacquiao, it’s not easy anymore.
As good as 4-0 is, 2-0 with a knockout of one of the great fighters ever, to top off one of the great rivalries ever, counts for a lot. Outside the small mass of hardcore fistic faithful, the Fighter of the Year will seem pretty clear. Magnitude matters. Marquez moved the needle.
Donaire is still building an audience. In his favor, his 4-0 brought him the vacant lineal designation as World Champion with the Nishioka win. Marquez ends the year with only a middling belt at 140 lbs.
Let the debate begin.
And let the future come soon. After the fight on Saturday, Nonito Donaire made clear he wants a showdown with Abner Mares and both men are calling for their promoters to work it out. He stated that, short of Mares, he’s ready to face Guillermo Rigondeaux.
For the Cult of Rigo fan base out there, who lost their moment this weekend when quality foe Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym was denied a license based on the results of his pre-fight medical tests, a Happy New Year may be soon at hand.
Report Card Picks 2012: 62-23
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com