Nonito Donaire and Cesar Juarez may not have topped whatever your pick is for Fight of the Year tonight in San Juan, Puerto Rico, but at the very least, they threw themselves into the discussion. The veteran star Donaire overcame an incredible effort from the younger, gritty Juarez, surviving 12 hard rounds to win a decision and claim the vacant WBO super bantamweight title.
Donaire (36-3, 23 KO) was in total control early, outclassing Juarez (17-4, 13 KO) and looking like the better, sharper fighter, simply a superior technician. Donaire, 33, had his counters locked in, was working the body some, and dropped Juarez two times in the fourth round.
But Juarez, 24, just would not go away, and he wound up doing plenty to test the stamina of the Filipino star. With a pressure attack and some crazy two-fisted assaults when he got Donaire to the ropes, Juarez did some real damage, and what's more, he started simply bulling his way through the heavy counter shots that Donaire did land.
In the second half of the fight, Donaire reverted to some of his worse habits, including waiting for one counter opportunity at a time, and with Juarez constantly stalking, even that didn't stay an effective part of Donaire's plan. There were times from the seventh round on that Donaire looked on the edge of collapse -- this was the first time he'd gone past the sixth round since 2013, after all -- and like he was in danger of just being hammered down by the relentless Juarez.
The tenth round was eventful on both sides. Donaire appeared to break Juarez's nose with a big shot, blood gushing over Juarez's mouth, but Donaire was also knocked down late in the round. The referee ruled it a slip, but replays showed a clean punch landing from Juarez, and Donaire's back foot give out underneath him. Whether or not that was his ankle -- which he had rolled in the sixth round and caused him to limp briefly -- giving him trouble or not, it was a clean punch, and obviously hurt Donaire and broke up his balance. It was a debatable call from the referee, at the very least.
Donaire survived the final two rounds -- doing more than that, in fact, particularly in the 12th where he gave more than he got, simply because Juarez just wouldn't stop coming at him, and he had to do something. When the final bell sounded, the two battered warriors, both bleeding and exhausted, fell into the referee's arms, having throw punches all the way until the end.
Official scores were 116-110, 116-110, and 117-109 for Donaire. BLH had it slightly closer at 115-111 for Donaire. However many fights Donaire had left as a top contender or titleholder or whatever at 122 pounds, a couple of those might have been shaved off from the end with this fight. This was a massive test for him, not so much in skills but in desire, stamina, and heart. He proved out tonight, but how many more of these does he have in him, and is he still good enough to avoid this type of fight?