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Frampton vs Donaire: Fight preview and matchup

Carl Frampton and Nonito Donaire meet in a must-win featherweight clash on Saturday in Belfast.

Carl Frampton

Boxing at SSE Arena Belfast Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Record: 24-1 (14 KO) ... Streak: W1 ... Last 5: 4-1 ... Last 10: 9-1 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5’5” / 62” ... Age: 31

Thoughts: Let’s cut to the chase here: Carl Frampton didn’t look good last time out, lost the fight before that, and has something to prove when he faces Nonito Donaire on Saturday in Belfast.

Frampton is still one of the top featherweights in the world if you’re being fair with rankings, but he didn’t really look it against Horacio Garcia last November, when he won a 10-round decision in a fight that was a lot tougher than anyone expected going in.

Plus, he lost the fight he had before that, dropping the WBA featherweight title back to Leo Santa Cruz, six months after defeating Santa Cruz for the same belt.

Hell, I wasn’t particularly impressed with his last performance at super bantamweight in 2016, when he beat Scott Quigg in one of the great letdown fights of recent years, a bout that was hyped as a grudge match and turned into a pick-and-peck technical affair, and not even a good one. For me, Quigg lost that fight more than Frampton won it.

So, yeah, Frampton, who is a two-weight champion and still theoretically in his prime at age 31, has something to prove on Saturday. That he’s still one of the best in the world. That he can consistently fight well as a featherweight.

I don’t mean any of this as a shot at Carl Frampton, a fighter I generally enjoy watching ply his trade. I just think there’s more on the table than just another fight. Frampton should want to impress here, not just skate by and pick up another win. He’s got a faded former star as an opponent. Frampton should be expected to win in style. And yet I have my doubts.

Nonito Donaire

Nonito Donaire v Jessie Magdaleno Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Record: 38-4 (24 KO) ... Streak: W1 ... Last 5: 4-1 ... Last 10: 7-3 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5’5½” / 68” ... Age: 35

Thoughts: “The Filipino Flash” ain’t what he used to be, but that doesn’t make Nonito Donaire a pushover, either. Once regarded as one of the sport’s best pound-for-pound fighters, Donaire has won belts at 112, 118, and 122, with an interim title at 115 and a WBA “world” title at 126.

His 2013 loss to Guillermo Rigondeaux pretty much sapped the aura from Donaire. He was soundly outboxed and beaten by a better fighter. He moved up to 126 after that, and got a controversial technical decision win over Simpiwe Vetyeka, before being absolutely trucked and stopped in six by Nicholas Walters.

Donaire pretty much admitted that 126 was too high a weight for him, that his skills didn’t fully translate to the featherweight division, she he dropped back to 122, where he beat William Prado and Anthony Settoul in 2015, before struggling to get past gritty Cesar Juarez in December of that year, but he did win another world title there. He thrashed the overmatched Zsolt Bedak in April 2016, and then lost his belt to Jessie Magdaleno in November 2016, dropping a decision to a younger, hungrier fighter.

Most recently, Donaire fought Ruben Garcia Hernandez last September in San Antonio, winning a 10-round decision for the WBC’s silver title, once again fighting as a featherweight.

The truth is, Donaire’s not really a featherweight. He’s totally stretching himself too thin fighting at this weight, and it’s pretty clear he’s not built for it. Everyone who climbs weight classes eventually finds their limit, and this is Nonito’s.

But he’s 35 years old, 122 might be too hard to make anymore, and he wants to fight. So he’s fighting at featherweight. The good news for Donaire is that Frampton is a small featherweight, too, a natural 122-pound I always wondered about moving up. And I still think, despite winning a world title at the weight, that the jury is out on how well Frampton can do at 126.

So for a marquee fight in this weight class, this is probably about the best matchup Donaire could hope to get.

Matchup Grade: B-. I can’t be overly kind to it, because Donaire is past his prime and it feels, on paper, like the Frampton side looking to claim a name scalp that has seen better days. But I can’t be overly negative, either. Frampton wasn’t great in his last outing, and he lost the fight before that. And I don’t want to totally underestimate Donaire, who is a quality fighter even fighting at feather, even with his best days behind him. I think there’s a solid chance this is a good fight, but it could also be a rejuvenated, refocused Frampton taking apart a veteran who just doesn’t have it at the top levels anymore.

Undercard

  • Zolani Tete vs Omar Narvaez: Tete (26-3, 21 KO) is better than his record right now. The reigning WBO bantamweight champion has been dominant in his last several outings, and made something of a name for himself in the United Kingdom. Narvaez (48-2-2, 25 KO) is a spoiler, and at one time was a very good one, but he’s 42 years old now, and the last time he fought a top opponent, he was knocked out in two by Naoya Inoue in 2014. Furthermore, Narvaez is really a flyweight, super flyweight at best. We’ve seen him fight for a bantamweight title in the past; it was almost seven years ago, against Nonito Donaire, and Narvaez stunk out the joint on HBO at the MSG Theater in New York, hilariously ripping off the network and promoters by not even really trying to win, only doing his best to not get knocked out, losing every single round. Anyway, I expect Tete to handle Narvaez with relative ease. He’s on a good run, Narvaez is old, and he’s not a bantamweight. Grade: D+

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