Who's next for Nonito Donaire: Gradovich, Lomachenko or a Juarez rematch?
Nonito Donaire has heard a lot of praise, thanks to a big fighting heart that carried him through a brutal fight against Mexican Cesar Juarez. Chris Farina/ Top Rank

IT was supposed to be a walk in the park, not a rumble in the jungle. Then again, what good is a long journey if you can’t exclaim at the finish line that you survived all the humps and bumps on the road.

Nonito Donaire Jr. walked the thin line, tip-toed over several landmines in the ring and overall survived a serious gut check from Mexican Cesar Juarez to become a world champion again. Believe it or not, the ring was discharging lava at the end of the fight because the exchanges between the combatants had turned volcanic. Donaire triumphed only because his remaining weapon, his fighting heart, did not abandon him.

The heavy favorite to prevail, Donaire sizzled at the start against the one-dimensional and inexperienced Juarez. Employing a razor-sharp left jab-right straight combination, Donaire kept the aggressive Juarez at bay. In the fourth round, a howitzer right from Donaire sent Juarez stumbling to the canvas. Juarez got up but locked lips with the canvas again after Donaire connected with a huge left hook while backpedaling. Juarez survived the round but his fate seemed sealed.

Lo and behold, the second half of the fight saw a shift in momentum. Donaire slipped after stepping on the referee’s foot and apparently sprained an ankle in the sixth round. His movements hindered, and with fatigue setting in, Donaire started seeking refuge along the ropes. Juarez took this as his cue to lunge in and bombard Donaire with debilitating shots to the head and body. In the seventh and ninth rounds, Donaire was in serious trouble as he absorbed a heavy shelling from the irrepressible Juarez.

From being the smooth-as-silk Dr. Jekyll in the early rounds, Donaire transformed into the beastly Mr. Hyde in the second half of the fight. He planted his feet and traded bombs with Juarez. Fortunately for Donaire, whenever Juarez started dominating the unadulterated exchanges in the corner, the ‘Filipino Flash’ unloaded huge left hooks that forced the Mexican to backtrack. The action in the final round sent the crowd at the Roberto Clemente arena in Puerto Rico roaring as the combatants went for each other’s throat.

While the scores were inexplicably wide, Donaire still emerged the winner via unanimous decision. Juarez predictably hankered for a rematch, but Top Rank head honcho Bob Arum disclosed that he is planning two other fights for Donaire next year: a title defense against former featherweight champ Evgeny Gradovich of Russia and a showdown with WBO featherweight king Vasyl Lomachenko of Ukraine. Donaire (36-3, 23 knockouts) should have no problems with the pedestrian Gradovich, a face-first slugger with minimal power and a porous defense. The big fight will come against former Olympian Lomachenko, a slick boxer who carries a mean stick. The guess is that while Donaire is all too willing to grant Juarez a return bout, Arum will work on preserving the ‘Filipino Flash’ for the big money showdown with Lomachenko.


You see, while Donaire emerged as the winner in the scrap with Juarez, the Flash’s career from now on will have to be treated with guarded optimism. At age 33, the ravages of all the brutal ring wars are beginning to take their toll on Donaire and it was evident when he took many unnecessary shots from Juarez. Still, Donaire showed that he will not be an easy prey to anyone as his fighting heart is still in the right place along with his equally potent left hook.

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