UNLESS you are a certified boxing numbskull, Nonito 'The Filipino Flash' Donaire Jr. is the hands-down choice as Fighter of the Year. No other fighter comes close, unless the award-giving bodies decide to give additional points to American Floyd Mayweather Jr. for successfully dodging for another year a mega fight with Manny Pacquiao.
From where this writer sits, Donaire’s closest pursuers for the prestigious plum are WBA-WBC super lightweight (140 pounds) champion Danny ‘Swift’ Garcia, interim WBC welterweight titlist Robert ‘The Ghost’ Guerrero and WBC-WBA super middleweight king Andre ‘S.O. G’ [Son of God] Ward.
Garcia, 25-0 with 16 knockouts, compiled three wins in 2012, two by knockout. On March 24, he captured the vacant WBC super lightweight title with a 12-round unanimous decision over a shopworn Erik Morales. On July 14, Garcia, a 7-to-1 underdog, added WBA’s version of the belt to his collection by knocking down Briton Amir Khan three times en route to a fourth-round stoppage. Garcia capped the year by demolishing Morales in four rounds in their rematch on October 20.
Garcia, 24, grew up in Philadelphia and first learned how to box at age 10 in the gym where his father Angel brought him after the latter got out of prison. Of Puerto Rican origin, Garcia turned pro in 2007 and knocked out seven of his first eight opponents. Garcia is a solid counterpuncher and a tremendous finisher. Though still a diamond in the rough, he figures to contend for major honors in 2013.
A former super featherweight (130 pounds) and interim lightweight (135 pounds) champion, Guerrero, 31-1, 18 knockouts, jumped two divisions higher this year and won the interim WBC welterweight title (147 pounds) with a dominant 12-round thumping of Andre Berto. Guerrero made only two ring appearances in 2012, but the big decision win over Berto proved that he has what it takes to compete in the competitive welterweight class.
Guerrero, 29, hails from California and entered pro boxing age 18. Guerrero’s career has been plagued by personal and physical issues. In February 2010, he was forced to vacate the IBF super featherweight belt to attend to his then ailing wife. He was relatively inactive in 2011, fighting only once as he recovered from a torn tendon in his rotator cuff. Guerrero is one of the most underrated boxers today, but he appears ready to emerge from his cocoon in 2013. Guerrero, who is calling out for a showdown with Mayweather, can box and brawl and is never afraid to take his share of lumps in the ring.
Ward, 26-0, 14 knockouts, is being touted as the next Mayweather owing to his ring smarts. The Oakland, California native has broken the hold of European fighters on the super middleweight or 168-pound class, having beaten the likes of Mikkel Kessler, Carl Froch, and Arthur Abraham. Because of injuries, Ward fought only once this year, beating Chad Dawson by 10th-round knockout on September 8 for the combined WBC-WBA super middleweight (168 pounds) belt. The problem with Ward is that he can make his fights look so easy and, well, boring.
Garcia, Guerrero and Ward all take the backseat for Donaire, though. The reigning WBO super bantamweight (118 pounds) kingpin fought four times in 2012, a rarity among today’s marquee champs. All four of Donaire’s opponents were either incumbent or former champions with a combined win-loss record of 147-14. For somebody who nursed a very fragile left hand throughout the year, Donaire threw caution to the wind in beating up his adversaries. He broke the jaw of Jeffrey Mathebula en route to a lopsided 12-round decision on July 7 for the WBO-IBF belt. On October 13, Donaire made the highly touted Toshiaki Nishioka look amateurish in a nine-round drubbing. On December 15, Donaire’s vaunted left hook cannibalized Mexican Jorge Arce alive in three rounds.
It is not only Donaire’s activity this year that is astonishing, but also his commitment to “clean” fighting. In August, Donaire officially subjected himself to the year-round, random drug testing that is being conducted by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (Vada). Donaire is the only boxer in the world who has signed on with Vada for random urine and blood testing 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Donaire’s unprecedented move came on the heels of several boxers testing positive for banned substances.
Predictably, the awards are coming in for Donaire. Sports Illustrated and ESPN both picked the Filipino as their Fighter of the Year. SI noted Donaire’s power in both hands. “He is fast, with power in both hands. He can box you from the outside and punish you when you come to fight,” wrote SI. For its part, ESPN noted how Donaire easily handled the move up in weight and all four of his fights in dominant fashion. “He dropped each of his foes – scoring seven knockdowns in all – won twice by knockout and collected two world titles,” reported ESPN.
The most prestigious award is likely to come from the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA). Originally formed in 1926, the BWAA has a yearly banquet that hands out major awards. Donaire was recently nominated for Fighter of the Year, along with Garcia, Guerrero, Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez and Filipino Brian Viloria. Former heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey was the first recipient of the BWAA Fighter of the Year award in 1938 while Manny Pacquiao is the only Filipino to snare the coveted plum, winning it in 2008 and 2009.
You can say that Donaire never had it so good this year. Then again, the best is yet to come.