By Cliff Rold
What if this is just who he is?
Throughout the fight last Saturday, and after Nonito Donaire saved a looming likely points loss with a knockout win over two-time rival Vic Darchinyan, social media and message boards were afire with chatter about what they’d seen.
Has Donaire lost himself after the loss in April to Guillermo Rigondeuax?
Is Donaire slipping?
For the most part, it’s a lot of hogwash. Donaire is capable of some spectacular stuff. His speed and power are uncommon. The good is good enough to make some ignore obvious flaws that have always been there.
Let’s go to the report cards.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Donaire A; Darchinyan B/Post: A; B+
Pre-Fight: Power – Donaire A; Darchinyan A/Post: A; B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Donaire B; Darchinyan C+/Post: B; B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Donaire A; Darchinyan A/Post: B+; A
Lost amidst all the hand wringing about Donaire is what Darchinyan did right on Saturday. He trained hard, and sparred a lot of rounds, and it showed. He’s had six years to think about what went wrong on the night in 2007 when Donaire separated him from a Flyweight crown.
That night, and the many tough nights he’s had since, allowed the game Armenian banger to come up with his best battle plan since a title unifying knockout of Cristian Mijares at Jr. Bantamweight. He was obviously wary of the left hook from the get go and did not attack right away. Darchinyan warmed to the task and waited for some openings.
He began to find them in round four, the first round of the fight he clearly carried. All of it played on an understanding of what makes Donaire dangerous and what makes him vulnerable. Going back to some of the success Moruti Mthalane had against Donaire at Flyweight, it’s been evident that a fighter who boxes Donaire can find chances.
Come to him and he will eat you alive; just ask Wladimir Sidorenko or Fernando Montiel. Be patient, and he can become a little befuddled. The Donaire we saw against Darchinyan wasn’t remarkably different from the one we’ve seen since the Fernando Montiel fight. Clashes with Omar Narvaez, Wilfredo Vazquez Jr., and in spots Toshiaki Nishioka have all seen a lot of down time.
Granted, some of those guys just weren’t fighting back much. But Donaire doesn’t seem comfortable making other men fight. He plays a part in how those fights play out. The only recent fight where one can point to some in-ring adjustments, some adaptability, was the fight with Jeffrey Mathebula and Mathebula couldn’t hurt him.
Oscar De La Hoya was often open to the same criticism. Like Donaire, what he did right worked against all but a handful of foes. Ultimately on this night, Donaire found a way to win.
Darchinyan couldn’t help himself. He let himself get into an exchange after jarring Donaire with a big shot, left an opening, and it was over. Donaire deserves some credit for that. Darchinyan has faced a who’s who of the scale from 112-122 and only one man has stopped him.
That he over performed on expectations was a credit. Darchinyan did better because he is better than Narvaez, Vazquez, and Nishioka. He has a whole career full of examples to prove it. Because he’d lost some recent fights, and the calendar said he was old, assumptions were made that proved untrue. Darchinyan still had enough pop to get Donaire’s attention. He still has speed that is ever underrated. He’s still cagey.
He still had too much fighter in him to avoid the inevitable.
What remained true for the victor is that if you open up and fight Donaire, if you give him the openings and he finds them, he can still beat anyone around him on the scale.
After all these years, that’s good enough to beat almost anyone. It wasn’t good enough to beat Rigondeaux and the Cuban would likely have more confidence in a rematch. Donaire’s promoter has expressed little interest in doing it again even if Donaire says he’s ready.
We’ll see which way it goes. For now, the hesitant Donaire, the one who has a boxing IQ that can be questioned, showed up again this weekend. So did the one with a sturdy chin and monster punch. The ‘pound-for-pound’ accolades that have followed him since the first Darchinyan fight may well have played with the heads of viewers. They see flashes against the right style and ignore the evidence of other fights, assuming he can do what he did to Montiel to anyone.
Maybe he can’t.
He is who he is. Perhaps it’s best to accept that and see where it goes from here.
Report Card Picks 2013: 49-24
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org