by Cliff Rold

Sometimes a fighter’s best weight isn’t one they can afford to stay in.

More often than not, purses get bigger as fighters do. In 1996, Oscar De La Hoya looked like he could rule Jr. welterweight for as long as he wanted to; like he was born to fight in the division. He got rich one class higher at welterweight.

Nonito Donaire was never the star Oscar was but like the Golden Boy he may have found his perfect physical landing place in his third weight division only to leave after a cup of coffee. It was better for both men financially but we never got to find out just how great they were in those divisions. De La Hoya never went back to Jr. welterweight.

Donaire, after nearly seven years away, is giving bantamweight another try. Across the ring, he’ll find the much younger number one seed, Ryan Burnett, a recently unified titlist in the class. At stake is not just the WBA title but a chance to move into the semi-finals of a World Boxing Super Series tournament that will unify three major titles before it ends (Saturday, DAZN, 3 PM EST).

Let’s get into it.

Stats and Stakes

Ryan Burnett

Age: 26

Title: WBA bantamweight-‘super’ (2017-Present, 1 Defense)

Previous Titles: IBF bantamweight (2017-18, 1 Defense)

Height: 5’4

Weight: 117 ½ lbs.

Stance: Orthodox

Hails from: Belfast, Northern Ireland

Record: 19-0, 9 KO

Press Rankings: #2 (TBRB), #3 (Ring, Boxing Monthly, BoxRec), #4 (ESPN)

WBSS Seed: #1

Record in Major Title Fights: 3-0

Last Five Opponents: 104-15-2 (.868)

Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Lee Haskins UD12; Zhanat Zhakiyanov UD12


Nonito Donaire

Age: 35

Titles: None

Previous Titles: IBF Flyweight (2007-09, 3 Defenses); WBC/WBO Bantamweight (2011-12, 1 Defense); WBO Super Bantamweight (2012-13, 3 Defenses; 2015-16, 1 Defense); IBF Super Bantamweight (2012); WBA Featherweight (2014)

Height: 5’7 ½  

Weight: 117 ½ lbs.

Stance: Orthodox

Hails from: San Leandro, California (Born in Philippines)

Record: 38-5, 24 KO, 1 KOBY

Press Rankings: #10 at 126 lbs. (ESPN, BoxRec)

WBSS Seed: Unseeded

Record in Major Title Fights: 13-3, 8 KO, 1 KOBY (15-4, 9 KO, 1 KOBY including interim title fights)

Last Five Opponents: 111-7-1 (.937)

Current/Former World Champions Faced: Vic Darchinyan TKO5, TKO9; Moruti Mthalane TKO6; Hernan Marquez TKO8; Wladimir Sidorenko KO4; Fernando Montiel TKO2; Omar Narvaez UD12; Wilfredo Vazquez 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; Carl Frampton L12

The Case for Burnett: Burnett is younger, at this stage probably a little quicker, and has the energy to be able to fight three minutes of a round more often than his veteran foe is likely to. Donaire has become more hittable and his lost step means the blistering power shots he once landed get there just a little bit slower than they used. Those fractions of a second matter; if Burnett can be first and then hold or move away, he can control the tempo all night. Holding is going to be a factor. Burnett isn’t afraid to make it messy. He is often in clinches, many initiated by him, and if Donaire is tied up he can’t land. Burnett has quick feet and goes to the body well. He’s never shown the sort of power that one would assume could unravel Donaire but we don’t know yet what Donaire’s body will be ale to take at a weight he’s been gone from since 2011. In Burnett’s favor, in both of his big step up fights to date (Haskins, Zhakiyanov), he came up big and elevated to the moment.   

The Case for Donaire: For the second fight in a row, Donaire is on the road looking for a big win that can keep his career from the abyss. He didn’t find it against featherweight Carl Frampton. There are reasons to think he has a better chance here. While Burnett is younger and fresher, he’s also far less experienced. Burnett can also be too cute for his own good, leaving one or both hands lingering around his waist and relying on reflexes and head movement to protect him. It mostly does but Burnett gets caught more often than he’d like to gamble on with right hands against someone like Donaire. While he’s past his best, Donaire hasn’t appeared dead shot yet. The losses to Magdaleno and Frampton were far from embarrassing and both of them had more firepower for him to worry about. If Donaire can be consistent, and not get stuck in a following pattern, there will be chances to land something big and turn the tournament on its ear.

The Pick: Donaire is being slept on a little in this fight. He’s still got some snap on his shots and Burnett has never seen a puncher like him as a pro. This is a real puncher’s chance for the veteran. The problem is that Donaire, who for all his physical talent didn’t always show many dimensions to his game even in his prime, hasn’t shown anything recently that indicates he has more than a puncher’s chance. Burnett is a crafty guy, has been a gamer in big fights so far, and is likely to land first and often. Donaire winning isn’t out of the question; Burnett isn’t proven enough yet to make this a no-brainer call. However, the history of aging fighters dropping down in weight late in their career is not promising. The smart pick is Burnett by decision.

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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