Nonito Donaire was the universal pick for Fighter of the Year in 2012, rising to the elite tier of the pound-for-pound rankings. And for the last seven years, he's been a high-profile fighter, headlining on both Showtime and HBO.
Now closing in on age 32 and suffering a bad loss last year that he doesn't seem to have fully rebounded from despite two straight wins, Donaire will take to the ring again on October 18, defending his WBA title against Nicholas Walters (who also holds the WBA title, though a different version, as boxing is fun with that stuff).
Where has Donaire been, and where is he going? Let's take a look.
- Vic Darchinyan (2007-07-07)
- Fernando Montiel (2011-02-19)
- Jeffrey Mathebula (2012-07-07)
- Moruti Mthalane (2008-11-01)
- Omar Narvaez (2011-10-22)
Donaire's best win is still the one that broke him as a top fighter seven years ago, when he destroyed the seemingly invincible Vic Darchinyan to win his first world title at flyweight. Darchinyan had been arrogantly trouncing opponents as one of Showtime's featured fighters under promoter Gary Shaw, and the biggest reason to see the fight with Nonito as anything different was pure storyline, as Vic had beaten Nonito's older brother Glenn Donaire in October 2006.
Darchinyan was expected to do his usual demolition job, but instead found himself perplexed by Donaire's counter-punching ability before getting absolutely wrecked by a left hook in round five.
The win over Montiel in 2011 gave Donaire a title at 118 pounds, after he'd won one in a brief stint at 115. Montiel, like Darchinyan, was an all-aggression power puncher, playing into Donaire's counter shots. Mathebula was an under-appreciated foe at 122 pounds, as was Mthalane at 112 in Donaire's second flyweight title defense. Both were very solid wins.
As for Narvaez, that fight was atrocious, true, but Narvaez is a very good defensive fighter, and while Donaire had a size advantage and didn't shine the way he might have liked, it was still a good and convincing win. Still, the inclusion of that win sort of speaks volumes about a lot of the other guys Donaire has beaten during his run.
Donaire's first pro loss came in his second fight in March 2001, when he was beaten in a five-round decision by Rosendo Sanchez just a couple of weeks after Donaire's pro debut. The timing might not have been right, something might have gone wrong, whatever. That fight is irrelevant.
Far more notable was Donaire's 2013 schooling at the hands of Guillermo Rigondeaux. Looking back on it now, this has to be a fight that those involved with making it regret making except for, you know, Rigondeaux and his team. It was a fight that HBO demanded, that Donaire rather reluctantly acquiesced to, and that Top Rank signed off on. In the end, the whole "boxing is a business!" mentality met the cruel reality of competitive sport, as the more skilled, better schooled Rigondeaux gave Donaire a boxing lesson over 12 rounds at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
After the fight, Top Rank set about what amounted to an in-house smear campaign of Rigondeaux, with Bob Arum claiming that HBO executives would vomit at the mere mention of the hideous, boring Rigondeaux, now king of the super bantamweight division. Donaire, often touted wrongly as an exciting fighter, escaped the blame for his role in the boredom.
It was a fight that exposed Donaire's weaknesses and limitations, but those had been seen before. It's just that on those nights, he was able to win, usually because he was in against lesser opposition. There is no shaming in losing to someone as talented and tricky as Rigondeaux, but it felt like an overdue L for a good fighter who had become overrated because of opponents that made him look better than he was.
Up Next and Beyond
Donaire will be facing undefeated Nicholas Walters for the WBA featherweight title on October 18, a fight that is flying under the radar but could be a great one. Walters, a 28-year-old Jamaican nicknamed "The Axe Man," has power and is a legitimate featherweight. While Donaire struggled mightily in a rematch with Donaire in 2013, Walters thrashed him on May 31 of this year in Macau. Styles make fights, and while this one might favor Donaire, it's a good test of where he's at.
Beyond this fight, Donaire's future is a little iffy. He'll turn 32 in November, meaning he's likely at the back end of his true prime if not already a bit past it. Stylistically, the book is written on him unless he makes severe changes, and that seems unlikely. It's well known that if you give Donaire little to counter, he has a terrible time creating his own offense. He doesn't like to lead the dance at all, and a defensive posture frustrates him endlessly. He just doesn't fight well if not allowed to counter, and to compound that, he's absolutely fallen in love with the one-punch power in his hook. And compounding that, it might not be the ice dagger at 126 pounds that it was at 112 or 115.
If matched carefully, Donaire could have plenty of highlight reel material left, though. If he beats Walters, he'll remain a titleholder in the division, which means he doesn't technically have to fight other actual top fighters, since sanctioning bodies are pretty happy to avoid that if necessary. But fellow titleholder Evgeny Gradovich might be a natural future opponent, and there are a lot of other guys at 126 who could keep Donaire looking young and fresh.
More worrisome than the blueprint or his age, though, is just that Donaire hasn't looked very good in his last three fights. The loss to Rigondeaux was one thing, but having a tough time with an aged Darchinyan and Simpiwe Vetyeka might mean that Donaire is simply a little bit past it. That's not entirely a bad thing. Though it may mean he's not as easily able to win as he once was, it could also simply make him a bit more exciting from here on, if only because he'll have a greater chance of losing.
What do you think Donaire has for the future, and how will he do with Walters on October 18?