by Cliff Rold
There is no real title on the line but that doesn’t mean they aren’t fighting for anything.
Both Carl Frampton and Nonito Donaire are a single win removed from a title loss. Frampton dropped the WBA featherweight title in a rematch with Leo Santa Cruz in January 2017. Donaire lost the WBO belt at Jr. featherweight a couple months earlier.
If either man wants a title shot in their immediate future, beyond the interim WBO belt on the line this weekend, they probably have to win on Saturday (YouTube, 5:15 PM EST).
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Previous Titles: IBF Jr. featherweight (2014-16, 3 defenses); WBA super bantamweight (2016); WBA featherweight (2016-17)
Weight: 125 lbs.
Hails from: Belfast, Northern Ireland
Record: 24-1, 14 KO?
Press Rankings: #2 (TBRB, ESPN, Boxing Monthly, BoxRec), #3 (Ring)
Record in Major Title Fights: 5-1, 1 KO
Last Five Opponents: 153-5-7 (.948)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Steve Molitor TKO6; Kiko Martinez TKO9, UD12; Hugo Cazares KO2; Scott Quigg SD12; Leo Santa Cruz MD12, L12
Previous Titles: IBF flyweight (2007-09, 3 defenses); WBC/WBO bantamweight (2011-12, 1 defense); WBO super bantamweight (2012-13, 3 defenses); IBF Jr. featherweight (2012); WBA “super” featherweight (2014); WBO super bantamweight (2016, 1 defense)
Height: 5’5 ½
Weight: 125 ½ lbs.
Hails from: San Leandro, California (Born in Philippines)
Record: 38-4, 24 KO, 1 KOBY
Press Rankings: At 126 - #7 (ESPN), #10 (BoxRec); #3 at 122 (TBRB)
Record in Major Title Fights: 13-3, 8 KO, 1 KOBY (15-3, 9 KO, 1 KOBY including interim title fights)
Last Five Opponents: 107-9-1 (.919)
Current/Former World Champions Faced: Vic Darchinyan TKO5, TKO9; Moruti Mthalane TKO6; Tyson Marquez TKO8; Wladimir Sidorenko KO4; Fernando Montiel TKO2; Omar Narvaez UD12; Wilfredo Vasquez Jr. SD12; Jeffrey Mathebula UD12; Toshiaki Nishioka TKO9; Jorge Arce KO3; Guillermo Rigondeaux L12; Simpiwe Vetyeka Tech. Dec. 5; Nicholas Walters TKO by 6; Jessie Magdaleno L12
The Case for Frampton: Frampton is younger, the naturally bigger man, and is fighting in his hometown. All three of those potentially work in his favor; the youth edge might be the biggest when also factoring in wear and tear. While Frampton wasn’t impressive in his last outing, even suffering a debatable knockdown, he still won and put his first loss behind him. Frampton has quick hands and feet, allowing him to use the perimeter when he needs to while also getting off in combination on the inside. Frampton also typically displays solid head movement; he’s not an easy guy to catch clean. He’s been on the deck against lesser punchers than Donaire and will have to be cautious, especially early when Donaire’s power is likely to be most dangerous. However, at this stage of both men’s careers, Frampton’s reflexes look sharper and he has the ability to be first often on Saturday night and keep Donaire from being able to sustain a consistent attack.
The Case for Donaire: Donaire has looked every bit the aging fighter he is in the last few years. He gets hit more than ever. The lightning fast hands that leapt out at anyone watching in fights like his first win over Darchinyan and knockout of Fernando Montiel are now just a little quicker than average. How Donaire uses the physical tools he has left will determine his chances. He still has power, though it hasn’t been as prolific past the bantamweight division. Donaire will have to look for spots and make Frampton wary. He still has a stiff uppercut and powerful right hand. Donaire also has a depth of experience to draw on as he looks for openings to make each punch count. It’s hard to gauge the feeling of need; Donaire needs this win badly. Four divisions above where he won his first title more than a decade ago, time and chances are slipping away. How much does Donaire want to remain a factor? His mental approach could be as important as his physical.
The Pick: Four or five years ago, Donaire would likely have been favored here though in retrospect we would have had a real toss-up. That was a different Donaire. Frampton shook off some dust in his outing last November and has the sort of name, still dangerous foe who should have him motivated. Donaire could have some exciting moments in the first half of the fight but he’s the easier man to hit here and Frampton should be able to outwork and outland him for long stretches of the action. The Irishman’s work to the body, and ability to fight inside and on the move are big edges over a Donaire whose feet are heavier these days. The pick is Frampton in an entertaining decision.
Additional Pick: Also of note on the card in Belfast, look for outstanding bantamweight titlist Zolani Tete (26-3, 21 KO) to give 42-year old former two-division titlist Omar Narvaez (48-2-2, 25 KO) reason to think about another line of work. This should be a big day for Tete and, if he can stop Narvaez early, potential fuel for a mouth-watering showdown someday with Japan’s Naoya Inoue.
Rold Picks 2018: 7-4
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]