It was harder than expected, but Nonito Donaire turned back rugged Rafael Concepcion at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas last night, posting a unanimous decision over twelve bruising rounds. Scores were 117-111, 115-113, and 116-112.
Concepcion, who slips to 13-4-1 (8), appeared to be outclassed in the opening round. Donaire hurt him with a flush left uppercut and a hard bodyshot before swarming Concepcion in an attempt to finish his opponent swiftly. It did not take long, however, for Concepcion to put an end to any thought of an easy night. Early in round two, Concepcion suffered a cut over his left eye but rallied to catch Donaire with several powershots against the ropes. Donaire was rattled by an overhand right and switched to a more defensive posture for the remainder of the round. From that point on it was a competitive fight that saw Concepcion charge forward behind a jab designed to disrupt, while Donaire used his superior footwork and hand speed to pick off the onrushing Panamanian. Although Donaire banked many of the middle rounds, he never looked comfortable in doing so. Concepcion, 119 1/2, was like a live grenade with its pin removed but the spoon still held in place: dangerous at every moment.
From time to time Concepcion landed hard shots that looked like showstopers, but Donaire, 115, took them well and countered with left hooks and uppercuts. Donaire, whose defense was shoddy at best last night, would later blame the severity of the fight on the decided size advantage Concepcion enjoyed. Concepcion overshot the junior bantamweight division by 4 ½ pounds and was ineligible to win the phantom title on the line. Best known for his upset knockout of young AJ Banal and a torrid loss to “El Travioso,” Jorge Arce, in 2008, Concepcion proved to be a hard case for Donaire from beginning to end. His tenacity, chin, and aggression made things hard for the talented Filipino until late in the fight when Donaire, clearly the fresher boxer, pulled away over the final two rounds, staggering a bloody and arm-weary Concepcion with eyecatching rights and left hooks to seal the victory.
With the win, Donaire, 22-1 (15), picked up an interim junior bantamweight doohickey and an extra $6,500 when Concepcion failed to make the weight.