TALK about coming back to life just when everybody was on Halloween mode.
Not a few thought unbeaten Irishman Ryan Burnett was going to hammer the final nail on the boxing career of Nonito ‘The Filipino’ Flash’ Donaire Jr. during their November 4 clash for the World Boxing Association (WBA) ‘super’ bantamweight championship in Glasgow, Scotland. The 26-year-old Burnett offered youth and a flamboyant boxing style while a 35-year-old Donaire had long been dismissed as a fossil due for archiving in a dusty warehouse.
Instead of a burial though, boxing fans witnessed a resurrection.
In a startling reversal, Donaire registered a fifth-round technical knockout win over Burnett to become a world bantamweight champion again. The bout ended in a bizarre manner, with Burnett injuring his lower back after missing with a right hand in the fourth stanza. Burnett failed to answer the fifth-round bell, handing Donaire an unexpected victory.
Burnett actually started well, dominating Donaire with his fast hands and clever boxing. In round two, Burnett jarred Donaire with a short right hand that forced the Filipino to back up. Donaire seemed unsure of himself, but he started to unload in the third round with debilitating body shots as Burnett foolishly languished along the ropes.
Donaire was seemingly taking control of the fight when Burnett injured his back in the fourth round. Burnett went down on one knee clutching his lower back. He was eventually carried out on a stretcher.
Unknown to many, Burnett’s career had been pockmarked with injuries. In 2011, while still an amateur boxer, Burnett’s career almost ended because of a crippling lower back injury. When he was about to turn pro in 2012, he was diagnosed with a brain injury and was told by doctors to quit boxing. Burnett underwent treatment and eventually secured a medical clearance to turn pro in 2013.
The searing body shots Donaire landed in the third round may have triggered Burnett’s lower back injury. A body shot from Donaire nearly forced Burnett to double over and this arguably put too much pressure on the back. Burnett survived the body assaults in the third round, but when he missed with a right hand in the fourth his back finally gave in.
Donaire improved his record to 39-5 with 25 knockouts. Overall, Donaire had won four regular world titles (flyweight, bantamweight, junior featherweight and featherweight) and one interim belt (junior bantamweight). In collaring the WBA bantamweight crown, Donaire reclaimed the 118-pound throne he last occupied in October 2011. Donaire was a unified bantamweight title holder in 2011, holding both the World Boxing Council (WBC) and World Boxing Organization (WBO) versions of the title after he bamboozled Mexican Fernando Montiel.
Donaire returned to the bantamweight division after being evicted from the heavier junior featherweight (122 lbs.) and featherweight (126 lbs.) ranks. With nowhere else to go, Donaire signed up to join the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS), a tournament established to determine the best bantamweight champion in the world. A total of eight participants signed up for the tournament, notably WBA ‘regular’ champ Naoya Inoue of Japan (17-0, 15 knockouts), IBF champ Emmanuel Rodriguez of Puerto Rico (18-0, 12 knockouts) and WBO champ Zolani Tete of South Africa (28-3, 21 knockouts). The WBC is not represented because its throne is currently vacant. The tournament started in October 2018 and a unified champion is expected to be crowned by May 2019.
With the win over Burnett, Donaire advanced to the semifinal stage opposite WBO champ Tete. The southpaw Tete is a lanky boxer who has won his last 12 fights, including wins over Filipinos Arthur Villanueva and Jether Oliva. Tete booked a trip to the semifinals by outpointing Russian Mikhail Aloyan in the WBSS quarterfinals on October 13.
In the other semifinal pairing, WBA ‘regular’ champ Inoue is booked to face IBF champ Rodriguez. Inoue breezed through the quarterfinals by annihilating Juan Carlos Payano of the Dominican Republic in one round on October 7. Rodriguez barely made it to the semifinals, as he eked out a split decision verdict over Australian Jason Maloney on October 20.
Japanese superstar Inoue, dubbed the 'Monster' for his immense punching power, is the overwhelming favorite to top the tournament. If Donaire hurdles Tete and Inoue prevails over Rodriguez, the finals of the WBSS bantamweight tournament will feature ‘The Filipino Flash’ vs. ‘The Monster.’ Donaire will be the huge underdog, but the most memorable royal farewell will be his if he gets to slay ‘The Monster.’