By Sean Crose
2012 was an enormous year for Nonito Donaire. Not only was he becoming a hugely popular boxing attraction, he was also named “Fighter of the Year.” That was no small feat if you bothered to look around at the competition.
Photo: Top Rank
So yes, 2012 was HUGE for the Filipino slugger. Then came 2013. First, Donaire was bested at – of all places – Radio City Music Hall by the maddeningly slick Guillermo Rigondeaux. The Cuban phenom was so superior in the ring that night that some wondered where Donaire’s head was.
Needless to say, Rigondeaux’s victory came as quite a jolt to the fight world. One minute Donaire was on everyone’s pound for pound best list and the next, people were scratching their heads. It could have all been shrugged off as a bad evening, however. After all, Donaire couldn’t possibly look lackadaisical twice in a row, could he?
Apparently, he could. For Donaire’s next fight, against Vic Darchinyan, was an ugly outing, as well. Sure, Donaire won via knockout in the ninth, but he had to pull that victory out of the jaws of defeat. In short, Darchinyan gave the man they call the Filipino Flash far more of a run than most had imagined he would.
According to Box Nation, Donaire himself has described 2013 as “being covered in darkness.” He’s completely hoping 2014 will prove to be kinder to him. The world will see for itself if things have changed for the better for Donaire on Saturday when he faces Simpiwe Vetyeka in Macao, China. The prize will be the WBA super featherweight championship…and also, perhaps, redemption.
If he pulls this one off, after all, Donaire will be able to claim ownership of titles in five weight divisions throughout the course of his career. Impressive stuff. Even more impressive, though, will be the fact that he beat Vetyeka. For the South African fighter is smooth and hard to catch. And Rigondeaux proved Donaire has trouble with hard to catch opposition.
Let’s not forget Vetyeka can also punch. Chris John learned that the hard way back in December when Vetyeka laid him out. Donaire, however, can punch, too. He’s also fast. In fact, Donaire’s father and trainer, Nonito Sr, has aimed to up his son’s game.
“This camp,” he told BoxMax, “we went back to Nonito’s bread and butter – creating a mix that combines speed, movement and power.” The elder Doanire also isn’t afraid to critique his son’s recent performances.
“Last year he (Donaire) came forward, didn’t move his head and relied too much on his power,” the trainer said.
Give both Donaire and Vetyeka this: neither man is afraid to accept a challenge. As champion, Vetyeka has decided to take on an exceedingly dangerous opponent. And as a popular fighter, Donaire has decided to lay it all on the line this Saturday. In this age of promoter and network hopping, such risky maneuverings can be seen as an outright rarity.
Ask yourself, for instance, which popular fighter has proven himself willing to face dangerous competition these days. Canelo Alvarez comes to mind – and that’s about it. Now Donaire can join the Mexican star in such rarefied air.
How long will Donaire stay popular, however, if he loses on Saturday? The man has a loyal fan base, sure, but how many losses or bad performances are those fans going to tolerate? Even if he looks good on Saturday, a loss would have the effect of shoveling dirt on Donaire’s already tarnished reputation.
Make no mistake about it – this fight is a must win for the Filipino Flash. Therefore, fans could – and definitely should – expect Donaire to put it all out on the line in China. Boxing can be as fickle a business as it is a tough one. If Donaire wants adulation, he’s going to have to go out there and earn it.