by David P. Greisman
Stunning knockouts. Sensational victories. We call them star-making performances, but in truth the performance only brings the boxer to the precipice of stardom.
That’s because it is not just his performance that makes him a star, but his promoter, too.
And for Nonito Donaire and Brandon Rios, their promoter must now follow through.
Both are coming off star-making performances: Donaire with a stunning technical knockout of Fernando Montiel on Feb. 19, Rios with a sensational stoppage this past Saturday over Miguel Acosta.
The wins, on their own, have boxing fans talking, and that, of course, is a good thing. There is always so much going on in the sweet science – another fight coming up, another fight that’s just been signed, another fight that’s being negotiated, another boxer or trainer or manager or promoter who’s stolen the spotlight with something he said.
That’s the inherent problem. A stunning knockout or a sensational victory is just one night, one fight in a career. The challenge is to capitalize on that moment, to reach beyond the momentary, to keep the conversations going and to keep the interest and the excitement from waning.
While both Donaire and Rios are on the precipice, each will need a different route to get to the top.
This is somewhat familiar territory for Donaire. His previous big win was shocking enough that it got people talking. But the follow-through on that one-punch technical knockout of Vic Darchinyan in July 2007 was so poor that, for the three years that followed, the win over Darchinyan was the only truly notable thing about Donaire worth mentioning.
Donaire had one more fight under Gary Shaw’s promotional banner (aired on Showtime) before signing with Top Rank. He made his debut with Arum’s company in November 2008.
The spotlight didn’t immediately get bigger and brighter, though. Until this February, five of his six fights since signing with Arum had come on independent Top Rank pay-per-views. The one exception was a July 2010 stoppage of Hernan Marquez that was an undercard bout on Showtime.
And so for more than three years after he’d skyrocketed onto the scene by dethroning Darchinyan with a single left hook, Donaire fell back under the radar.
Donaire, like Darchinyan, would leave the ranks of the flyweights for fights at junior bantamweight and bantamweight. While Donaire fought on small pay-per-views, Darchinyan had rebuilt himself and become the true champion at 115 pounds. And then Darchinyan and three others in the 118-pound division had agreed to take part in a tournament.
This became the constant question, then: When would Donaire do something to build upon that last moment?
Donaire’s destruction of Wladimir Sidorenko in December – on one of those independent pay-per-views – finally got the momentum moving toward an answer to that question.
Donaire had proven that he was good when he beat Darchinyan. He looked as if he’d grown to be great when he beat Sidorenko. He would get a chance to prove that true against Fernando Montiel in an HBO main event.
He was great, indeed, flooring Montiel in the second round with a brutal left hook. And when Montiel somehow found the ability to rise from that knockdown, Donaire needed just two more punches to end the action and restart the conversation.
Donaire is scary fast with frightening power. He appears to be on the verge of stardom, and he looks to have the ability to beat the other top fighters at bantamweight. There is also the possibility of him adding pounds onto his sleek frame and eventually moving up to the 122- and 126-pound weight classes.
After three years of letting him be under the radar, it is now incumbent that Top Rank makes sure that nobody can ignore Nonito Donaire.
It must work to put him in with nothing but the best opponents and the biggest challenges – even if an opponent has no name recognition in the United States, as is the case with bantamweight beltholder Anselmo Moreno.
It must put Donaire in front of the largest possible audiences. The more people who see him, the more they will talk about him, the more people who will then be drawn in to see what might be the newest sensation.
Top Rank had this opportunity with Yuriorkis Gamboa a year ago, after he easily won a showcase bout against Rogers Mtagwa. People wanted to see Gamboa again. They wanted to see Gamboa against Juan Manuel Lopez. They didn’t get Gamboa-Lopez, but rather a pair of less noteworthy matches.
There’s a lot less talk about Gamboa now. He is sinking back below the radar, waiting for the buzz to be resuscitated.
Brandon Rios, meanwhile, should be kept busy and kept in the spotlight – but he should also be kept away, for the time being, from the aforementioned best opponents and biggest challenges (namely Juan Manuel Marquez, should that fight ever become possible).
Rios is one of those what-you-see-is-what-you-get fighters, but he’s been able to succeed because he’s tough and strong and willing to go through hell to give it back. He was losing early on Saturday night against Miguel Acosta – who had faster hands, faster feet and was able to hurt Rios – before coming back and taking control.
Rios knocked Acosta down in the sixth round, knocked him down in the eighth round, and knocked him down and out in the 10th.
And he did it with a right hand that had been broken in the eighth round, according to Dan Rafael of ESPN.com.
The boxing world favors fighters who aren’t necessarily world-beaters but who promise action every time out. Rios’ win over Acosta was the kind that should earn him another spot on either Showtime or HBO once he recovers from his injury.
Though he is undefeated and now holds a lightweight world title, Rios should be maneuvered carefully. He should be put in fights where he’s guaranteed to entertain. And by putting him in with opponents who have similar styles, Rios is also more likely to retain his world title than he would be if put in the ring with a top-notch boxer.
Keeping Donaire busy on independent pay-per-views was a detriment to his momentum, but keeping Rios busy on network undercards could build him a following.
Rios and Donaire impressed with their most recent performances. They did what was needed of them in the ring in order to put themselves on the precipice of stardom. Now it is up to their promoter to follow through, to monetize those moments and to make sure that they have a chance to shine again on another night.
The 10 Count will return next week.
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
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