Bless Nonito Donaire’s heart.
Even though the “Filipino Flash” looked comprehensively ordinary for eight rounds against repeat foil Vic Darchinyan on Saturday night in Corpus Christi, he still managed to get all his ducks in a row before the subpar performance really cost him anything substantial.
He woke up the echoes of a banner 2012 in the ninth round, dropping the Australia-based Armenian to his knees with a sweeping left hook and following up with a clever barrage that ultimately prompted referee Laurence Cole to intervene at 2:06 of the session.
Given that two judges had him well behind with only two rounds to go, it was clear the stoppage came just in time to save the fight. And given the commentary spewed by analyst HBO’s Max Kellerman as the bout progressed, it was exactly what was needed to save his street cred, too.
Few would question that it was cause for revelry for an emotionally relieved competitor.
But it wasn’t long before that revelry wrote a check his skills show no evidence he’ll cash.
Upon being asked by Kellerman who’d provide the perfect encore to a second defeat of the awkward “Raging Bull” in six years, Donaire clearly let the amalgam of euphoria, testosterone and concussion get the better of him before issuing a more reasoned reply.
“That’s your boy,” he sneered at Kellerman, an unapologetic bard of sublime super bantam Guillermo Rigondeaux, particularly after his clinically one-sided defeat of Donaire seven months ago at Radio City Music Hall. “You know that’s who I want.”
You’ve got to love the enthusiasm. And I surely respect the desire to right a wrong.
But no, Nonito, you really don’t.
And even if you think you do, you’ve got to think someone as smart as Bob Arum doesn’t.
Though the headlines Sunday will laud the reigning Boxing Writers Association of America fighter of the year’s recovery from the brink of career-confounding loss, the clearest takeaway of the night was less about the rally and more about the reasons it had been needed to begin with.
Even Kellerman, who sang Donaire’s praises as loudly in 2012 as he’s carried the tune for his Cuban conqueror this calendar year, was less celebratory than cynical about his ex-flame.
“He’s still a fighter, but he’s not the same fighter,” the neatly shaved, tuxedo-clad authority said, while comparing Donaire’s fall to that of a post-Buster Mike Tyson. “Donaire was a guy who rarely lost rounds against the best lower-division fighters in the world before he knocked them out. I don’t know if fighters are going to be scared of him anymore.”
Whether the belted featherweight ilk populated by Chris John, Jhonny Gonzalez, Evgeny Gradovich, Orlando Salido and Simpiwe Vetyeka harbors fear from Donaire’s reigns at 112, 118 and 122 is debatable—and perhaps not unwarranted—but what’s unmistakable is the fact that Rigondeaux, when faced with that menace, stylistically spit in its face.
Unofficial HBO judge Harold Lederman gave the Cuban 11 of 12 rounds in their springtime match, rewarding the prohibitive underdog for an intermittent right jab and just enough flashes of a sharp, straight left to keep his normally ferocious foe at a manageable distance.
Meanwhile, Donaire, who’d thrown 515 punches in his previous 12-round fight nine months earlier, attempted only 352 and landed only 82—an average of less than seven per round.
“I like Donaire a lot as a fighter,” said Todd Thorpe, boxing writer for the Calkins Media Group in suburban Philadelphia, after the April fight, “but he was outclassed by a well-schooled guy with a style.”
Saturday night rally or no, that’s the sort of reality that just doesn’t change.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.