Nonito Donaire has, in the eyes of many, perfected the sweet science.
In stopping Hernan Marquez with a picture perfect left uppercut on Saturday night, he brought his winning streak to 23 in a row. Donaire hasn’t lost since the second fight of his career nine years ago.
There’s a reason for his spotless record, and it’s two-fold. First and foremost, Nonito is one of the most talented fighters in the world today.
At 27 years of age, Donaire may already be as good as he’s ever going to get. He’s tall for the weight classes he competes in and generally uses his height to his advantage by boxing from the outside. When his opponents go down on points and grow desperate, they take chances and thus make themselves susceptible to the power Nonito possesses in both hands. It’s a tried and true formula for winning fights.
Donaire is also in the prime of his career at the perfect time. His fellow countryman, Manny Pacquiao, who is larger than life in the Philippines, is eying retirement within a year or so, leaving the door open for Nonito to inherit the most passionate fan base in boxing today. That kind of backing, combined with his fan-friendly style and boyish charm, could quickly translate to pay-per-view dollars.
That’s why it’s so puzzling that Donaire hasn’t achieved the level of success most expected for him after he knocked out Vic Darchinyan in 2007. Rather than follow up on the big splash he made three years ago, Nonito has fought largely irrelevant competition – the other component to his squeaky clean record – and seems content to continue experimenting with his career.
That’s exactly what happened on Saturday night against Hernan Marquez: experimenting. And those are his own words. Leading up to the fight, Donaire announced his plans to “experiment” with a new style by fighting as a southpaw. Believing his left hand to be his most powerful anyway, the decision had some merit. And if he was committed to trying it, then Marquez was the right type of opponent to try it against.
But that still didn’t explain why Donaire was wasting his prime years on opponents that he could beat with his opposite hand in the first place. The event was billed as “The Challenge,” and had Donaire been the main event, it would have needed a new title. Once Nonito returned to his right-handed stance, Marquez was no challenge whatsoever.
Though he later revealed that he fought as a southpaw to mask an injury, Donaire came away from the situation looking like a kid who needed to mix things up just to stay interested. Fighting lesser opponents can do that to you. How many times did Roy Jones Jr. have to play games with his foes just to keep the audience – and maybe even himself – tuned in?
Nonito knows as well as any boxing pundit that there’s nothing to be gained by experimenting at this point in his career. It’s time to graduate to bigger challenges. And he will this Fall.
Inside Fights contributor Paul Magno wrote a piece back in February urging Donaire to earn his rank on pound-for-pound lists by fighting the best opponents in and around his division. And now that Nonito himself seems to agree that he needs to take his place among the best in boxing, his forthcoming move to bantamweight will show the caliber of fighter he is.
While the rematch with Darchinyan is the fight everyone has been calling for, an agreement has never been reached between the camps. And so Donaire now appears headed toward a showdown with WBC and WBO Bantamweight Champion Fernando Montiel of Mexico. Montiel, whose only losses have come against veterans Mark Johnson and Jhonny Gonzalez, is coming off a big win over Japan’s Hozumi Hasegawa, which is far more impressive than anything Nonito has accomplished since 2007.
Like Donaire, Montiel is a tactician who prefers to break his opponents down with sound boxing rather than storm through them. But he packs a good punch as well. This could set up a tense chess match with Nonito, and a win would give Donaire instant respect in the division and among the sport as a whole. Montiel fights Rafael Concepcion this weekend, which would facilitate a fight with Donaire happening this fall should he win.
And should Montiel-Donaire land on the undercard of Pacquiao’s next fight, which is scheduled for November, Donaire could find himself on boxing’s big stage sooner than he may have anticipated – but well past due for those who have watched this talented young man over the years.
Remember, Nonito, the tassel is worth the hassle.