Commentary: Tough decisions await Nonito Donaire in wake of KO loss
The ending was conclusive.
Nonito Donaire Jr. went down in the dying seconds of Round 6, rising a breath shy of the 10 count before collapsing in referee Raul Caiz Jr.’s arms. There was no once in a lifetime knockout punch like the one that fell his countryman Manny Pacquiao against Juan Manuel Marquez. There was no controversial decision that left room for a compelling rematch.
Donaire was beaten comprehensively by Nicholas Walters, an undefeated featherweight who took his best punches better than Donaire could take his.
If his decision loss to Guillermo Rigondeaux in 2013 had left him embarrassed but still intact physically, the Walters loss has him in a position he’s entirely unfamiliar with. He’s vulnerable, his fearsome reputation in shambles.
The man who had scored THE RING’s Knockout of the Year in 2007 and 2011 (against Vic Darchinyan and Fernando Montiel respectively) was now himself a victim.
Unlike after the loss to Rigondeaux, where he was booed by the crowd for blaming his performance on a shoulder injury, Donaire endeared himself to the public with his humility and candor in his post-fight interview with HBO commentator Max Kellerman.
“He knocked the s__t out of me, that’s for sure,” said Donaire (33-3, 21 knockouts) at StubHub Center in Carson, California on Saturday night.
“I know that I can’t compete with guys like Walters. He’s just amazing; powerful guy.”
Donaire opened up even more on his Facebook page, pulling back the veil of invincibility that fans often can’t see past.
“God saved me last night,” Donaire wrote. “I would have died by the sword last night. I would have kept getting up and if I stayed in that fight til the 12th I could have gotten brain damage.”
Donaire, who says he won’t consider retirement, now has tough decisions to make. Will the 31 year old stay at 126 pounds – a weight he makes comfortably – and face opponents who won’t crumple from his left hook the way they had at smaller weights, or will he move back to junior featherweight where Rigondeaux’s presence looms large?
Regardless of where he turns, future opponents will be galvanized by Donaire’s most recent loss. But, truth be told, the signs of his decline had been there for a long time. Donaire’s performances had been on the decline for some time, as opponents began to pick up on his reliance on one-punch power.
In his first featherweight match last year, he was behind on the cards against Darchinyan before scoring a bail-out knockout in the Round 9. Against Simpiwe Vetyeka earlier this year, Donaire escaped a rough battle with a technical decision win.
If Donaire never fights again, he’s already earned himself a spot in the Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York. Donaire has won world titles at flyweight, bantamweight, junior featherweight and featherweight, and would’ve likely added one at junior bantamweight had Darchinyan not waited it out until Donaire could no longer make 115 pounds. [Editor’s note: the failure of a Donaire-Darchinyan rematch at junior bantamweight had little to do with the Armenian veteran and more to do with Darchinyan’s promoter at the time, Gary Shaw, who had once promoted Donaire and was bitter that the Filipino star left him for Top Rank.]
In 2012, Donaire became just the second Asian boxer to win the Boxing Writers Association of America Fighter of the Year award after unifying three of the division’s belts and earning THE RING championship in four victories.
The Filipino-American has also earned a spot on the Mount Rushmore of Filipino boxers, alongside names like Pacquiao, Flash Elorde and Pancho Villa.
He’s made it further in this sport than anyone could’ve imagined this once bullied, asthmatic kid with a chip on his shoulder would make it.
He wasn’t highly recruited out of the 2000 Olympic class, having lost to Brian Viloria in the trials on a decision he disputes. He lost his second pro fight, then his first manager, before running off a 30-fight win streak that earned him a spot on most pound-for-pound lists.
After becoming a champion, promoters and media men took one look at his ethnicity and dubbed him “The next Manny Pacquiao,” but his identity was always his own. Instead of attaching his star to Pacquiao’s constellation, he set out on his own, with promoter Top Rank creating the “Pinoy Power” series to build his fan base in the States.
While his career has taken a downturn in recent years, his life outside of the ring appears more stable than it’s been in a long time. He reconciled with his father/trainer Nonito Sr., before the Darchinyan rematch, allowing him back into his life and corner shortly after he and wife Rachel welcomed their son Jarrel into the world.
The fire that burned intensely from fuel accrued during childhood has seemingly burned out and now he must find a new spark to reignite his flame.
The road back will be tough. Opponents will no longer face him to attain what he has, but rather to take advantage of a fighter whose weaknesses have been exposed.
Donaire has proven everything he’s had to prove to the world. Now he has to prove to himself that he is still the great fighter everyone had previously known him to be.
Golovkin is being robbed of history
In Saturday’s HBO-televised main event, Gennady Golovkin scored his 18th straight knockout with a second-round victory against Marco Antonio Rubio. Golovkin, who holds the WBA middleweight title, appeared to be in for an easy night before the bell even rang.
Rubio never bothered to make weight after coming in almost two pounds over the middleweight limit on the first try and gave up his interim WBC title on the scales. With little to fight for, Rubio quickly found himself overwhelmed in Round 2, was knocked down and made it back to his feet at the count of 11.
Golovkin (31-0, 28 KOs) was recently referred to as “The Scariest Man in Boxing” by The Atlantic, a distinction which holds a lot of weight.
The Kazakh KO machine has captivated fans since coming stateside in 2012 and has consistently called out whomever has held THE RING title at 160 pounds. When Sergio Martinez held the title, his advisor Sampson Lewkowicz had said they’d fight Golovkin – just not now.
Martinez took a fight with Miguel Cotto instead and was stopped in 10 rounds. Now Cotto’s people are echoing a similar tone – pushing for a bout against Saul “Canelo” Alvarez on Cinco De Mayo weekend first before considering other bouts.
Cotto cannot be blamed if he takes a bout with Canelo, which would be the biggest fight in boxing. (That is, aside from that other one which doesn’t appear any closer to happening.)
The problem is, it leaves Golovkin, who is on the verge of breakout success, without the fights that can define his legacy.
Just as Oscar de la Hoya needed Julio Cesar Chavez, as Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather needed Oscar, and as Marvin Hagler needed Tommy Hearns, Golovkin needs – and deserves – his shot at the fighters who can establish him as a transcendent star.
Golovkin has no choice but to stand by and wait, but at age 32, how long can he afford to do so?
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Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA), and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @RyanSongalia.