By Ryan Maquinana
CARSON, Calif. -- In Saturday night's co-feature at the StubHub Center, Nicholas Walters consolidated his WBA featherweight title in tremendous fashion, becoming the first fighter to stop Nonito Donaire and achieving the feat in six shocking rounds.
Walters overcame an early power surge from Donaire with a storm of his own, sending the Filipino to the canvas in the third round before finishing the job three frames later with a counter right hand that will surely be heard from the Caribbean to the Pacific.
“We knew it was going to be tough work because he’s a super champion, so I knew I had to respect him and put a lot in this training,” Walters said after the fight. “He caught me a lot with some shots in the early rounds.
“I got a little bit confident so I tried to overpower him. He caught me really good at the bell. … (It was) very, very clean, but I recuperated after that I knew I had a job to do.”
The intrigue for this clash was based on whether Donaire (33-3, 21 KOs), a five-weight world titleholder from San Leandro, California via the Philippines, was still an elite fighter after a string of subpar performances by his lofty standards. Perhaps a corollary to that was if the naturally bigger Walters (25-0, 21 KOs), from Montego Bay, Jamaica, was ready to live up to his “Axe Man” moniker and chop down “The Filipino Flash.”
The height discrepancy between the two men was minimal upon first glance, as the combatants, both fighting out of the orthodox stance, sized each other up in the center of the ring, circling and scanning each other with left jabs. Walters then appeared to score a knockdown with the right hand, but referee Raul Caiz Jr. called it a slip. Donaire landed a solid left hook, but the first frame seemed to be Walters’ to win.
The second stanza was marked by Donaire’s willingness to trade power shots, namely left hooks. Midway through, Donaire dug downstairs with a left hook, but the volley missed the target and the Filipino apologized when Caiz called for a break in the action. While Walters scored with the jab, Donaire took the initiative in the final 10 seconds, landing a flurry marked by a right hand over the top that wobbled Walters at the bell.
In the third, Donaire continued his attack, coming inside with a high guard. Walters, for his part, aimed to touch his foe with an up-jab and various left hooks to keep him occupied. Walters walked into a left hook, but Donaire got careless, and as he hoped to continue his assault, he lunged forward with a shot and Walters plastered him with a right uppercut. The Filipino took a knee and rose soon after, but the first question about the Jamaican’s legitimacy as a power puncher had been answered.
The fourth round began with Walters trying to maintain his momentum, applying steady pressure while Donaire kept him at bay with a consistent left jab. However, Walters’ volume and effective work inside kept him one step ahead of the Filipino, whose right eye revealed a cut and swelling.
Seemingly trailing by at least two points heading into the fifth, Donaire went on the offensive, bringing the fight to a phone booth and waiting on Walters to miss so he could throw a short, chopping right hand. But Walters wouldn’t play ball, evading his opponent’s attempts and keeping his left foot in between Donaire’s two lower limbs, digging his shoulder into the Filipino’s chest, and depriving him of the space necessary to load up with his customary nasty counters.
The sixth round was more of the same, with Donaire abandoning his body attack and looking for one signature counter left hook. Ultimately, the strategy allowed Walters to throw what he wanted, and after Donaire found himself off-balance with a left hook that whiffed, the end arrived. Walters took full advantage of a vulnerable Donaire, launching a vicious looping right that landed near the back of the Filipino’s head and sent him face down to the canvas. Though he got up on shaky ground, Caiz called off the fight at 2:59 of the stanza.
Walters recounted the final blow.
“If you take a look at it, I invited him into me,” the Jamaican said. “It’s fishing and he took the bait. I got away from his shot and I countered it.”
Donaire, one of the classiest fighters in the sport who volunteers to year-round random drug testing, was nothing but gracious in defeat.
“I’m sorry I fell short to my goal, but thank you to you guys,” Donaire said. “I love you guys. I hope you still love me. He knocked the (expletive) out of me.”
After titles at 112, 115, 118 and 122 pounds, the last step up to the 126-pound featherweight division might have been one jump too heavy for the Filipino.
“I thought I’d be good at this weight class,” Donaire said. “I’ve never ever trained this hard. I was away from my family. I know what type of a power puncher he is. The size he had over me, I couldn’t move. He overwhelmed me and knocked the (expletive) out of me.”
As for whether Donaire has reached the end of the line in an illustrious career, he left that response wide open.
“I gotta go back to the drawing board,” he said. “I know I can’t compete with guys like Walters, no matter what I did. I succumbed to his power and his overwhelming aura.
“We’ll decide. I never back down from any fight. I could’ve said I don’t need to fight this guy. I’ve got the WBA (belt). … But he beat the (expletive) out of me.”
As the two rivals exchanged pleasantries in the postfight maelstrom, Walters praised his beaten foe, but not without being on the receiving end of one last counter in return.
“You’re my favorite fighter now,” Donaire said.
Ryan Maquiñana is the Boxing Insider at Comcast SportsNet Bay Area and the Editor-in-Chief of Norcalboxing.com. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter @RMaq28 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org .