by David P. Greisman
The sky isn’t falling.
You’d think the truth to be otherwise, given some of the reaction following Nonito Donaire’s rematch win over Vic Darchinyan this past Saturday. You’d read some of the responses and believe there to be just cause for Chicken Little-style panic.
The sky isn’t falling, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be cause for concern in Donaire’s camp. Changes are needed. And it was Donaire’s victory against Darchinyan that accentuated this truth far more than Donaire’s loss to Guillermo Rigondeaux did this past April.
We’re fickle folk, us boxing fans, us observers whose opinions veer to the extreme and rarely fall in-between. Perhaps that’s understandable in a sport that concludes with polar opposites, with a winner and a loser. Yet there are shades of gray. Not all losses are created equal. Nor are all wins.
That is why Manny Pacquiao will soon headline another major pay-per-view in his first fight back following last year’s winless campaign, when he lost a highly controversial split decision to Timothy Bradley and then was on the receiving end of Juan Manuel Marquez’s dramatic one-punch knockout.
It is why Ruslan Provodnikov can look back on his 2013 and recognize that his one win and one loss were both good for him. And it is why Gabriel Rosado can look toward 2014 and believe that he can build on a year in which he went 0-2 with a third defeat overturned into a “no decision.”
Donaire will finish 2013 at 1-1 for the year. Yet the win over Darchinyan comes off as far worse than the loss to Rigondeaux. That conclusion shouldn’t be treated as yet another case of boxing fans overreacting to the results. Instead, it needs to be seen as a wake-up call.
It’s quite a change from last year, when Donaire won four fights and earned the Boxing Writers Association of America’s award for “Fighter of the Year.” He was honored at that organization’s annual gala on April 11 of this year. Two days later, he stepped into the ring against Rigondeaux and lost a unanimous decision.
That loss to Rigondeaux can be somewhat excused. Rigondeaux, after all, is a masterful Cuban boxer who won Olympic gold in 2000 and 2004 and has looked just as capable and crafty since he turned pro in 2009.
Nevertheless, there were worrisome quotes from Donaire following that defeat. Normally they might just be treated as the usual round of excuses from a losing fighter. Instead, they sounded like symptoms of a boxer who wasn’t truly giving himself the best chance to win. Despite his physical gifts between the ropes, Donaire has allowed for distractions and disadvantages from outside of the ring.
He’d say afterward that he’d lost the drive, the hunger to perform and succeed at the highest level. He had a habit of not spending much time training with the man who would corner him on fight night, choosing to work out of his own gym instead of being closer to trainer Robert Garcia.
His wife also was pregnant with their first child. And then there was a lingering shoulder injury, for which he underwent surgery after the Rigondeaux fight.
“With Rigondeaux, I think that the lack of focus, the lack of hunger, that was a crucial mistake,” Donaire told HBO in an interview prior to this past weekend’s fight with Darchinyan. “When you reach the top, you feel that no one can beat you. You take off your shield and your mask and your helmet and everything else, to realize that you didn’t put it back on when you went to battle.
“Instead of digging deep into the fight, studying the fight, I opted to think, ‘You know what? This guy has no chin. We might land the one punch and the fight might be over.’ I was able to catch up to him. I was able to be in front of him. But I just couldn’t pull the trigger the way I wanted to in my mind. It wasn’t so much of what he was able to do. It was more of what wasn’t I able to do.”
It was terrible timing for him to be lacking in motivation. Despite the award for 2012, this was an even bigger fight and a far tougher test.
Yet Donaire is not alone. While many boxers have the fire to continue to push themselves year after year, others begin to detach themselves after dedicating so much of their lives to the sport. We’ve seen many fighters never seem the same again after a defeat. The work — the tedium of camp, the boredom of discipline, the physical toll of training and sparring and dieting — is worth it when you’re winning, not so much when you’re losing.
And Donaire admitted to HBO that the fire still wasn’t fully back after the Rigondeaux loss and before the Darchinyan rematch.
Donaire might not have seen a problem with not being wholly motivated for this bout. After all, he’d already knocked out Darchinyan once, scoring a one-punch stoppage more than six years ago in a win that first began Donaire’s star turn. They were flyweights at the time. Since then, Donaire had continued to find success as he went up through the weight classes, while Darchinyan had lost four more times, all in bouts against top bantamweights. This rematch was at featherweight.
Donaire seemed to have taken Darchinyan lightly. Darchinyan, a still-competent veteran, fought as if his career hinged on this win. Darchinyan had tightened up his style over the years, sometimes slugging with more strategy instead of attacking recklessly. This would particularly be the case against Donaire; Darchinyan didn’t want to make the mistake again of running into a counter left hook.
Darchinyan was winning after eight rounds, ahead on two judges’ scorecards with a 78-74 tally, or six rounds to two. The third judge had the bout even at 76-76. This was a 10-round fight, which meant that Donaire was two rounds away from walking out with another loss.
Donaire didn’t know the scores at the time, but he must have been aware of his subpar performance, that he had allowed Darchinyan to last much longer than in their first encounter, and that Darchinyan was tagging him too often. He sought to change the course of the bout,
With about two minutes to go in the ninth round, Donaire landed a good right hand on Darchinyan and followed him toward the ropes. Darchinyan wisely countered with a left uppercut and began to roll away from the ropes and back toward the center of the ring. In the process, however, he moved himself directly into the path of Donaire’s vaunted left hook. Darchinyan went down, then rose back up at the count of four, still unsteady on his feet.
Donaire loaded up on power punches, target practice that ultimately forced the referee to step in with 54 seconds left in the round.
He’d pulled out the victory.
He never should’ve allowed himself to be in that position to begin with.
Donaire spoke afterward of facing Rigondeaux again in a rematch. It is a brave idea — but it might also be a bad one.
Donaire had not given himself the best possible chance against the best 122-pounder in the world, Rigondeaux. He also nearly let himself down against Darchinyan.
This is a dangerous sport, one that requires its combatants to remain focused in training and focused on fight night. If you let your mind wander, you can end up separated from your senses.
Donaire must heed this wake-up call. The sky isn’t falling just yet — but Donaire’s stock sure is.
The 10 Count
1. Magomed Abdusalamov remains hospitalized following his Nov. 2 decision loss to fellow heavyweight prospect Mike Perez.
At first he’d been placed in a medically induced coma as doctors treated a blood clot on his brain. He’s since suffered a stroke, and his family members not only are worrying about the life of their loved one, but also about their ability to afford his treatment.
And this prominent tragedy has brought out plenty of hindsight and conversation about the events of that night, about fighter safety and about the nature of our sport.
Some have rewatched Perez-Abdusalamov and felt that there was no specific time that the fight should’ve been stopped. Others tweeted that very night during the bout that the referee or the corner could’ve stepped in.
We hold in such high regard the fighters who are willing to go out on their shields, and we often decry fighters for quitting. We are often unforgiving of quitters, and we also hold losses against boxers. Indeed, Abdusalamov would’ve had plenty of opportunities open for him had he won, and he would’ve faced a major setback with the loss.
Yet we need to understand that asking every boxer to be Arturo Gatti or Diego Corrales means we are holding him to too high a standard; there are reasons why Gatti and Corrales were special. We need to recall that a warrior in Israel Vazquez quit during his first fight with Rafael Marquez, and that proved to be the right decision.
Mixed martial artists can tap out when they know the fight is over, when their bones are about to snap or their consciousness is about to be choked away. Boxers should be allowed to preserve themselves as well. The loss will still be a loss. But I’d rather see the fighter able to have another chance instead of seeing him absorb punishment that will change his life forever.
It’s still incumbent on the referees and ringside physicians to pay close attention. It’s still incredibly important that trainers and camp members recognize when the challenge has become insurmountable — and the damage continues to accumulate.
It’s still impossible to ensure that no tragedy ever happens again. But it’s proper for us to look back on what could’ve been done differently. Even though we cannot change the past, we can continue to work to make sure that this kind of sad incident happens even less often in the future.
2. According to a news release that went out last week, a trust is being set up in Abdusalamov’s name. Until then, donations are being accepted through these avenues:
Via PayPal: email@example.com
Via check: Made payable to Magomed Abdusalamov, and mailed to: Bakanay Abdusalamova, PO Box 90174, Brooklyn, NY 11209.
3. On another note, shortly after the Oct. 26 fight between middleweight titleholder Peter Quillin and Gabriel Rosado ended on a cut despite Rosado’s protest that the fight could’ve gone on, I sought some expert insight from Dr. Margaret Goodman into what ringside physicians look for when examining such wounds.
Goodman, formerly the chief ringside physician for the Nevada State Athletic Commission, is now the president of the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association. We spoke in general about such situations, and not about the specific handling of Rosado’s cut.
“The indication for a ring physician to stop a fight on a cut is: 1) the cut is in such a dangerous location that allowing the fight to continue could cause permanent disability to the fighter, or 2) the fighter is not protecting himself either due to blood or the actual location of the cut, and as a result it is giving his opponent an unfair advantage,” Goodman wrote via email. She also added: “3) The fighter seems to be losing most of the rounds, and why allow the athlete to take continued punishment?”
In the case of No. 3, the physician works with the referee to determine when that time has come, she wrote.
“Obviously, since I haven't examined Mr. Rosado, it is difficult to comment,” Goodman wrote. “But with that said, if the fighter has been cut in that area before — you inform the athlete at the weigh-in, it may open up again or an adjacent area might open up. You want them to be prepared. Cuts around the eye can be tricky to make an ultimate determination, but although Rosado’s cut looked bad, the ring doc can only really assess the seriousness by fully opening it up to assess the depth. Knowing the depth can help the doc make an informed decision.
“When the doc examines the fighter, you have to determine if the eye itself could be injured—that might necessitate a stop,” she wrote. “Just because a cut looks bad, doesn't mean the fight has to stop. All the factors I described above have to be considered. In other words: How is the fighter's vision? Does the eyeball move normally, and he can raise his lid? If any of those things are damaged or present a problem, that might fall under the potential permanent damage concern category. A fighter can always fight with a closed eye, if the doc has examined the eye between rounds, before it closes.
“In most instances, a cut fighter can continue as long as it isn't impairing his performance and the doc keeps a close ‘eye’ on it and continues communication with the referee between rounds.”
4. And sticking with the topic of fighter safety, the Cleveland Clinic and VADA are hosting a forum this Friday, Nov. 15, at the Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas.
According to a flyer, the free two-hour forum will discuss how to recognize concussions and the effects of repetitive head trauma; understanding performance-enhancing drugs and the latest trends; and maintaining optimal nutrition amid the challenges of rapid weight loss. There also will be talk about developing and maintaining a winning attitude.
The event is open to pro and amateur boxers and mixed martial artists, as well as managers and trainers. For more information, go to keepmemoryalive.org/fight.
5. This has been a year full of dubious scorecards and questionable refereeing. And this past Saturday added another name that we need to keep an eye on in the future: Javier Alvarez, who somehow had Vanes Martirosyan beating Demetrius Andrade by a score of 115-112.
Thankfully, the right man won. Andrade picked up the victory via split decision, thanks to the 117-110 scorecard from Jesse Reyes, and a 114-113 tally from Don Griffin that still seemed too close.
Just because we’ve gotten used to controversy during and after so many major fights in Texas doesn’t mean we have to accept it when it happens. It’s not isolated just to that state — but in this state, this kind of incident is far from an isolated occurrence.
6. Our old friend Scott Harrison has been suspended by the British Boxing Board of Control due to his many legal problems, according to newspaper The Evening Times (of Glasgow, Scotland).
Harrison was supposed to provide documents regarding open court cases against him, and regular followers of this column know that there have been many. The troubled former featherweight titleholder will have his fate decided this Wednesday (Nov. 13).
The 36-year-old last fought in April, when he lost a unanimous decision to lightweight prospect Liam Walsh. That defeat dropped his record to 27-3-2 with 15 knockouts. It was his third fight back; he’d been out of the ring between November 2005 and June 2012.
Much of that was because of, well, his extracurricular activities. He spent two and a half years in prison for an incident in which he assaulted a police officer and another man, and attempted to steal a car. He was released in September 2011. He’s since had new cases against him, as well as the looming specter of other accusations that preceded his prison term.
7. What I’m wondering is how Harrison is even still free. In 2012, he was sentenced to four more years behind bars for charges dating back to 2007 that he was part of a group that assaulted three men at a Spanish brothel. His appeals failed.
In February, The Scotsman newspaper said Harrison “could now be hauled back to serve his sentence within weeks.”
In May, that newspaper said Harrison “has been given just two weeks to comply with the demand to begin serving his jail sentence … Should Harrison fail to travel from Scotland to Spain to start his term before the deadline, the court will enact proceedings to forcibly have him sent to the country.”
It’s now November. Harrison’s apparently receiving the judicial version of a long count.
8. Boxers Behaving Badly: Junior middleweight prospect Inocente Fiss allegedly attacked his roommate with a machete last week, according to Miami’s Nuevo Herald newspaper.
The roommate, a fellow Cuban boxer named Pedro Rodriguez, suffered cuts to his right arm and underwent surgery to fix ligament and tendon damage. Rodriguez, 27, is a cruiserweight with a record of 15-1 (13 KOs). Fiss, 33, is undefeated at 16-0 (10 KOs).
The article does not indicate whether Fiss is facing charges.
9. In boxing terms, that’s definitely not what a “chopping right hand” is supposed to be…
10. Of course, he is Inocente until proven guilty…
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon . Send questions/comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org Tags: Nonito Donaire