It's no stretch to say that Showtime had a miserable year of boxing. Outside of the two scintillating encounters between Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez, what are we going to remember long-term? Shobox had scattered good cards, but those are (no insult intended) second-stage events.
Some of those main events were just awful. Tarver-Muriqi, Tarver-Santiago, and Simms-Alcine were notably sorry.
But Showtime did have a big hand in helping to create two stars: light heavyweight titleholder Chad Dawson, who stunningly dominated Tomasz Adamek early in the year, and Filipino flyweight sensation Nonito Donaire.
Dawson is a nice enough story, a strong young boxer with a hell of a future and a good chance at becoming the next real standard bearer at 175 pounds. But Donaire's rise has been that extra little bit of fantastic.
It's not often that you get a family revenge tale in boxing. Vic Darchinyan, the cocky demolition man who had dominated the 112-pound division, had savagely knocked out Nonito's brother, Glenn, in 2006. Nine months later, the untested, 24-year old brother, Nonito, brought a 17-1 record to Bridgeport, CT.
Nonito was just supposed to be another KO patsy for Darchinyan.
But something about Nonito Donaire really struck me in the build-up to the fight. Darchinyan, as arrogant as ever, lit a fire under Donaire. Nonito himself as said as much since the fight -- Darchinyan pissed him off.
That night, I remember noting in round-by-round coverage that seeing Darchinyan's opponents walk to the ring was always a little unnerving. But once the bell sounded, and Donaire came out throwing shots at the heavy favorite, something felt different.
Two minutes in, with Donaire winning the fight, I was a little surprised. I thought Nonito would be competitive and eventually get knocked out. But he was clearly in control of Darchinyan after the first round.
The second round was more of the same. At one moment, I thought Donaire was leaving himself open for Darchinyan's bomb shots. One came, and Donaire casually blocked it. He saw everything coming before Vic threw it. He had no trouble handling the style.
At the end of the second, there should have been a swelling of dramatic strings. All of a sudden, a gimme fight wasn't looking so easy.
Donaire took the third and fourth rounds, too. He was sweeping Darchinyan out of the ring.
Then, it happened. The knockout of the year. The upset of the year. The destruction of Vic Darchinyan's aura. The birth of Nonito Donaire, boxing star.
Darchinyan dramatically loaded up for one of his haymakers. In an instant, Donaire threw the counter left hook.
Down goes Darchinyan. And it was over.
If I live another 70 years, there may not be 10 better knockouts I ever see. It was so beautiful -- a perfectly timed, perfectly placed counter shot. To me, and to many of you, I figure, there is a real beauty to the fight game. That perfect punch is poetic. And Nonito Donaire landed it.
And it also felt like a mild form of justice. Remember when Evander Holyfield was beating the hell out of Mike Tyson, and it felt like every boxing writer, while trying to be impartial, seemed overjoyed that someone did it? I kind of felt the same way about Donaire clobbering Darchinyan. I am not at all comparing Darchinyan to Tyson as a human being -- Darchinyan's offenses are general obnoxiousness, Tyson's far more serious.
But, to watch a boxer with a perfect gameplan blow up and debunk Darchinyan was wonderful. So long he had pummeled his opposition, been so arrogant about it, and just rubbed me the wrong way.
Here was Nonito Donaire, a relative unknown, totally owning him. And not only that, but everything Donaire did in that fight was exciting. Fast hands, lovely combination punching, good defense, and excellence of execution. He did it all.
I guess some dismissed Donaire as a one-punch wonder. I can't imagine what fight everyone watched. If that fight had kept going, it was only a matter of time. Darchinyan was never in it.
I'm happy that Donaire confirmed his status as legitimate with a dismantling of brave, game Luis Maldonado on Saturday night, in the lone highlight of Showtime's awful year-closing card. Maldonado did all he could, and kept trying and trying to pull the fight into his favor. Donaire was just too sharp. Again, he was quick-fisted, good on his feet, and save for a couple of moments when he got a little too comfortable, tremendous defensively. He repeatedly popped Maldonado with the left hook that floored Darchinyan. His combos looked good.
And after the fight, he noted that he didn't have his legs under him. He's said since that getting down to 112 was difficult for him this time around, and that he may well be ready to join Darchinyan a class up, or even go up to bantamweight. Given his lanky frame, it's been speculated that he could possibly move all the way up to featherweight. Fellow Filipino Manny Pacquiao has jumped up similarly over his career in recent years, so it's not too unlikely.
But more than anything, I just flat-out like Nonito Donaire. He's got a crowd-pleasing style, power in both hands, and seems like he's got a good head on his shoulders. When he slipped up against Maldonado, he quickly gathered his composure and recovered.
In a down year for Showtime's boxing, I choose now to move forward focusing on the good things. And Nonito Donaire is on that list.