Donaire must win Saturday to regain promise
Flyweight titleholder Nonito Donaire, nicknamed the “Filipino Flash” because of his fast hands, must defend his IBF belt in impressive fashion this weekend if he wants to avoid being known as the “Filipino Flash in the Pan”.
Almost two years ago, Donaire (20-1, 13 knockouts) shocked the boxing world by scoring a one-punch knockout of then-undefeated 112-pound titleholder Vic Darchinyan.
However, since that career-defining victory in July of 2007, Donaire has all but faded from boxing's world stage while the man he conquered has fought his way back to the top of the sport.
It’s a shame because Donaire’s fifth-round KO of Darchinyan was of the highlight-reel variety.
So spectacular and unexpected was his left-hook destruction of the feared flyweight puncher that he won THE RING’s “Knockout of the Year” and “Upset of the Year” honors for 2007.
In 28 pro bouts, no one had come close to beating or even hurting Darchinyan, who had 22 KOs and six title defenses (including a technical decision over Donaire’s brother Glenn) to his credit.
However, Donaire, a former U.S. amateur champ with solid technique and impressive hand and foot speed, used his considerable height (5-foot-6) and reach (68-inch wingspan) to his advantage, keeping Darchinyan at arms length and eventually walking the wild-swinging southpaw into a perfect hook that abruptly ended matters.
Donaire, only 24 at the time, had the look of a future star. His first title defense, an eighth-round technical KO of Luis Maldonado in December of 2007, convinced many hardcore fans and boxing writers that Donaire was close to gaining pound-for-pound status.
Maldonado (37-1-1 at the time) had only lost to Darchinyan, who struggled with the rangy Mexican boxer, and was skilled enough to hold the respected former titleholder Cristian Mijares to a draw. However, he didn’t win a single round against Donaire, who not only out-boxed Maldonado but busted him up.
However, an acrimonious split with his former promoter Gary Shaw and a move to Bob Arum’s Top Rank stable resulted in 11 months of inactivity for Donaire, during which time the young man got married and put more than a few pounds onto to his lanky frame.
By the time Donaire was able to return to the ring he had to satisfy an IBF mandatory defense against tough, but unknown South African Moruti Mthalane last November. Donaire scored a sixth-round stoppage after opening a cut on Mthalane’s left eyelid, but he didn’t look like the world-beater he appeared to be in 2007.
During the same 11-month span that Donaire was out of action, Darchinyan jumped to the 115-pound division, where he held Z Gorres to a draw in the RING-rated contender’s native Philippines, knocked out Dmitri Kirillov to win the IBF title, and then stopped Mijares to add the WBC and WBA belts to his collection.
Darchinyan earned THE RING’s No. 1 contender status at junior bantamweight, and recently knocked out Jorge Arce to solidify a Top-10 pound-for-pound ranking by almost every boxing publication and Web site.
If Donaire could get a rematch with Darchinyan, he would have the opportunity to gain access into THE RING’s pound-for-pound Top 10 (where the Australia-based Armenian is currently ranked No. 10) and instantly pick up all the momentum he lost while he was between promoters.
However, he’s not going to get another shot at Darchinyan as long as Shaw has anything to say about it. Shaw, who promotes Darchinyan, has repeatedly stated on record that he views Donaire as a “disloyal” fighter and refuses to reward that “disloyalty” with an opportunity to repeat the biggest victory of his career.
That sticky situation leads us back to Donaire’s title defense against undefeated challenger Raul Martinez (24-0, 14 KOs) this Saturday at the Araneta Coliseum in Manila (at noon Sunday in the Philippines).
The fight, which is no walk-over, is a must-win for Donaire.
THE RING’s No. 1-rated flyweight is not only defending his title and taking on his most dangerous opponent since Darchinyan, he’s positioning himself as the heir apparent to Filipino icon Manny Pacquiao.
The millions of Filipino and Filipino-American fans who Pacquiao has attracted to boxing in the past six years aren’t all going to go away once the multi-division titleholder finally hangs up his gloves. Many will continue to follow the sport and they will want to root for one of their own.
There are at least a dozen world-class Filipino fighters competing in boxing’s lighter weight classes, but none of them possesses the crossover appeal and pound-for-pound potential that Donaire has.
Born in Bohol, Philippines, but raised in San Leandro, Calif., where he and his brother began boxing at the age of 10, Donaire has the foundation to be the next Filipino star: natural talent, an extensive amateur background, a regional fan base in the East Bay and San Francisco Bay Area that can be built on, good looks, an engaging personality and he’s articulate in both English and Tagalog.
None of this is lost on Arum, still the best promoter at building attractions.
The 78-year-old Hall of Famer says the Araneta Coliseum, an 18,000-seat venue that was the site of Ali-Frazier III, will be sold out for Donaire-Martinez. The fight card, which will be available on pay per view in the U.S., will be broadcast live on GMA, the second largest television network in the Philippines.
A definitive victory in the Philippines over a strong young fighter like Martinez, who also has an extensive amateur background and has looked sharp in recent outings, will go a long way in establishing Donaire’s name in his native country.
If Donaire’s successful Saturday, Arum has an aggressive plan to make his fighter a name in the U.S., Mexico and other parts of the world, beginning with a jump to the bantamweight division, where he would face the winner of the Fernando Montiel-Eric Morel fight for the WBO 118-pound title.
If Montiel, a former flyweight and 115-pound titleholder who was the only junior bantamweight believed to be a threat to Darchinyan, beats Morel in their June 27 dual, a showdown between the ultra-talented Los Mochis, Mexico native and Donaire would attract the attention of Filipino, Mexican and hardcore fans everywhere.
The winner of Montiel-Donaire is all but guaranteed a spot on any credible pound-for-pound list.
However, Arum cautions that Donaire can’t afford to get ahead of himself.
“He’s got a hell of a fight on his hands with Martinez,” Arum said. “Martinez is a hell of a puncher.”
Of course, that’s what everybody said about Darchinyan when Donaire faced him 21 months ago.
Donaire seized the opportunity when nobody thought he would.
If he wants to regain the promise he showed in that victory, he will have to seize the opportunity once again, this time with an entire nation watching.
GLOBAL SUPREMACY: PHILIPPINES VS. MEXICO
The co-feature to Donaire-Martinez on Saturday’s Top Rank-produced pay-per-view show is a scheduled 12-round junior flyweight title bout between IBF 108-pound titlist Ulises Solis (28-1, 20 KOs) and former beltholder Brian Viloria (24-2, 14 KOs).
Donaire is Philippines born, U.S. raised. Martinez is Mexican-American. Solis is a native of Mexico. Viloria is Filipino-American. Hence the “Philippines vs. Mexico” title of the pay-per-view show, which starts at 9:00 p.m. ET/6:00 p.m. PT.
The four-bout card goes for the suggested retail price of $29.95 and is available on all pay-per-view providers including DirecTV and the Dish Network.
Al Bernstein and Alan Massengale will call the fights and Jimmy Lennon will be the ring announcer for the featured bouts.
Doug Fischer can be reached at [email protected]