|Mark Villanueva and Nonito Donaire
In a way his first loss after twelve years of dominance in his division hurt his morale more than being knocked out, caught in a fierce exchange. It was not by chance that at the apogee of his career he had been clearly outboxed at the end of twelve humiliating rounds in the hands of a relative new comer, Guillermo Rigondeaux, whose record at that time was merely 11-0 compared to his 31-1, and being Pound For Pound number 2 in the world besides. He complained about the unwillingness of his opponent to match his prowess, for moving away too much, but did so with a swollen face. The Cuban confounded him with his slickness and dazzling footwork, knowing when to move in and egress before a counter. A desultory Nonito Donaire Jr. was continuously outsmarted and, except for scoring a flash knockdown, schooled on end and never had a chance to recover himself. From the inside, looking out, he was a fighter whose confidence had been perforated.
Wrought, pummeled to the ground. As I watched Donaire crumble to the canvas I had to ask myself why I believed in Nonito Donaire Jr. in the first place, why had I followed him at the incipience of his boxing career ‘til he became a champion for the first time, to being much sought-after, and the heydays of reaping sweet accolades, such as the Fighter of the year award.
A bloodied Nonito Donaire desperately tried to hang on until he was completely hammered by Nicholas Walters, a Jamaican world champion who was just too big a foe for him, whose size overcast a gloomy shadow of doubt on his prostrate body. His aura of invincibility was gone. He had been struck to the ground as if he was nothing, not even a worthy contender, but meaningless. Forgive the word: A bum.
But who is Nonito Donaire, really? What is to become of him? We reassess.
More importantly, these are questions Nonito Donaire Jr. was forced to ask himself.
The recent clash with Cesar Juarez of Mexico unveiled to us the many facets of Donaire we have not seen, or merely forgotten. He came in with the usual aggression that is now exercised with more patience in seeing it through, deftness, and subtle caution. Expectant of a left hook looming over to punctuate an attack, I was caught by surprise with a right cross instead, something I have personally witnessed him hone with his father months ago. He slid past a non-committal jab and rammed Juarez with his weight behind it and knocked him down in the fourth. He worked on Juarez’ body early on, whammed him on the side, and was no longer the same fighter who headhunts all night. A quick turn of his body, followed by a momentous left hook worked, as it had almost always in the past, and knocked Juarez down harder for the second time in the fourth.
A slip in the sixth round seems to have injured Donaire’s ankle, and his father acknowledged this after the fight. His movement was sustained but the punch output had palpably decreased, so he was cornered more often than expected. He simply could have been running out of gas, too. It was highly unusual of Donaire to be lying against the ropes, circumscribed in a corner, but even when he was he drew on instinct and responded with perspicacity. He fought out of character and in unexpected spaces throughout the match, roughshod, bleeding, at the edge, but most of all, willing and unafraid. It was uncharacteristic of him to be exposed in certain spots and yet overall he was still the same fighter we have come to appreciate over time.
Cesar Juarez is not the kind of fighter I suppose could beat a boxer of Donaire’s caliber, and he beat him up in a sanguinary manner. He is predictable and there is no air to it. That means you can predict him to always show up to fight with no fuss. He worked on the very little that he has up to the maximum in a given time and space, so he works on his serious limitations with limitless dedication, and that’s how he breaks out in the ring. It no longer mattered whatever elements he brought into the fight; he just fought with whatever he had as hard as he could for as long as it took. When we were all likely to expect a usual left hook from Donaire to land on his blind spot, an uppercut would project from underneath and disrupt Juarez’ attacks, and he knew no other way to respond or fight than to bring it still. He would take it and reset. He was very brave and stoic. He fought like a man you would never want to deal with because he was not scared of losing.
It was the most tortuous match I’ve seen of Nonito Donaire Jr. Was he the same Nonito Donaire Jr. I believed in years ago? Yes he was, and no, he was not. If the Juarez fight was the first you’ve seen him in, you might take him differently. He was badly hurt, at the point of quitting and at the same time most persistent, and versatile (showing he had learned so much and is still evolving as a prizefighter).
So why Donaire? I have been asked this question a number of times over the years, for my predilections for him, and I ask myself that same question now. He is an exceptionally skilful boxer who no longer relies on his talent to win, nor comes across supercilious, and is willing to really, really work on it, so the fans will love that about him. Now, we’ve come to love a more complete fighter he was hammered into.
Mark F. Villanueva