By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Good for Nonito Donaire.
Even though the “Filipino Flash” looked comprehensively ordinary for eight rounds against repeat foil Vic Darchinyan on Saturday night in Corpus Christi, he still managed to get all his ducks in a row before the subpar performance really cost him anything substantial.
He woke up the echoes of a banner 2012 in the ninth round, dropping the Australia-based Armenian to his knees with a sweeping left hook and following up with a clever barrage that ultimately prompted referee Laurence Cole to intervene at 2:06 of the session.
Given that two judges had him well behind with only two rounds to go, it was clear the stoppage came just in time to save the fight. And given the commentary spewed by analyst HBO’s Max Kellerman as the bout progressed, it was exactly what was needed to save his street cred, too.
Few would question that it was cause for revelry for an emotionally relieved competitor.
But it wasn’t long before that revelry wrote a check his skills show no evidence he’ll cash.
Upon being asked by Kellerman who’d provide the perfect encore to a second defeat of the awkward “Raging Bull” in six years, Donaire clearly let the amalgam of euphoria, testosterone and concussion get the better of him before issuing a more reasoned reply.
“That’s your boy,” he sneered at Kellerman, an unapologetic bard of sublime super bantam Guillermo Rigondeaux, particularly after his clinically one-sided defeat of Donaire seven months ago at Radio City Music Hall. “You know that’s who I want.”
You’ve got to love the enthusiasm. And I surely respect the desire to right a wrong.
But no, Nonito, you really don’t.
And even if you think you do, you’ve got to think someone as smart as Bob Arum doesn’t.
Though some headlines have lauded the reigning Boxing Writers Association of America fighter of the year’s recovery from the brink of career-confounding loss, the clearest takeaway of the night was less about the rally and more about the reasons it had been needed to begin with.
Even Kellerman, who sang Donaire’s praises as loudly in 2012 as he’s carried the tune for his Cuban conqueror this calendar year, was less celebratory than cynical about his ex-flame.
“He’s still a fighter, but he’s not the same fighter,” the tuxedo-clad authority said, while comparing Donaire’s fall to that of a post-Buster Mike Tyson. “Donaire was a guy who rarely lost rounds against the best lower-division fighters in the world before he knocked them out. I don’t know if fighters are going to be scared of him anymore.”
Whether the belted featherweight ilk populated by Chris John (WBA), Jhonny Gonzalez (WBC), Evgeny Gradovich (IBF), Orlando Salido (WBO) and Simpiwe Vetyeka (IBO) harbors fear from Donaire’s reigns at 112, 118 and 122 is debatable—and perhaps not unwarranted—but what’s unmistakable is the fact that Rigondeaux, when faced with that menace, stylistically spit in its face.
Think it’s a coincidence that while Donaire was beating his chest about another go with the man who outclassed him, Arum was already talking up 126-pound "regular" champion Nicholas Walters?
Unofficial HBO judge Harold Lederman gave the Cuban 11 of 12 rounds in their springtime match, rewarding the prohibitive underdog for an intermittent right jab and just enough flashes of a sharp, straight left to keep his normally ferocious foe at a manageable distance.
Meanwhile, Donaire, who’d thrown 515 punches in his previous 12-round fight nine months earlier, attempted only 352 and landed only 82—an average of less than seven per round.
It was a far cry from pre-fight press conference banter, in which a future-focused Donaire said he’d have rather faced Abner Mares—formerly the WBC’s champion at 122 pounds—and claimed that a stoppage of Rigondeaux was what he sought while aiming to impress the midtown masses.
“I want people to have fun and I will always go for the knockout,” he said. “You're going to see the best of Nonito Donaire on Saturday night.”
Instead, the aftermath started a torrent of excuses that began trickling again both before and after the vanquishing of Darchinyan, with Donaire claiming a lack of focus, an ebbing of hunger and an imprudent tactical decision to pursue a KO was what beat him, not a fighter who was simply better.
Maybe he really believes it was those shortcomings. Maybe he’s simply trying to save his ego’s skin.
Regardless, it’s clear that Arum isn’t the only one who knows the real score.
The sky’s not falling on Donaire when it comes to Rigondeaux. It’s precisely where it’s always been. And all of a sudden, I feel a lot better about voting for Danny Garcia as 2012’s top fighter.
“I like Donaire a lot,” said Todd Thorpe, boxing writer for the Calkins Media Group in suburban Philadelphia, after the April fight, “but he was outclassed by a well-schooled guy with a style.”
Saturday night rally or no, that’s the sort of reality that just doesn’t change.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBC super flyweight title – Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (champion) vs. Hirofumi Mukai (No. 15 contender)
Sor Rungvisai (22-3-1, 20 KO): First title defense; Thirteenth fight against above-.500 foe (9-3)
Mukai (9-2-1, 1 KO): Second title fight; Technical draw in WBC title fight at 112 (November 2011)
Fitzbitz says: “Though the Thai champ is remarkably light on quality wins – as evidenced by 10 fights against foes in their pro debuts – he’s probably better than a 12-fight guy, too.” Sor Rungvisai in 9
WBA super middleweight title – Ontario, Calif.
Andre Ward (champion) vs. Edwin Rodriguez (No. 3 contender)
Ward (26-0, 14 KO): Sixth title defense; First fight since September 2012
Rodriguez (24-0, 16 KO): First title fight; First fight in California
Fitzbitz says: “Ward’s one of the best in the world regardless of weight, but this one may be a step back in terms of style points if there’s rust and/or lingering shoulder issues.” Ward by decision
Last week's picks: 4-1
2013 picks record: 67-33 (67.0 percent)
Overall picks record: 530-185 (74.1 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.