Nonito Donaire Jr. can't afford another misstep in bid to return to boxing's top echelon
 The way pundits see it, Nonito Donaire. Jr. should have no problems handling Mexican Cesar Juarez in their WBO title fight on Saturday. Chris Farina/ Top Rank

IT is that time of the year when everybody is throwing the weighing scale out of the window in anticipation of all the free-flowing holiday food and booze. But don’t tell Nonito Donaire, Jr. that the Yuletide season is in the air because the ‘Filipino Flash’ has been working overtime to get himself in the best shape of his career.

Then again, not a few believe that Donaire will feast on Mexican Cesar Juarez when they collide this Saturday (Manila time) in San Juan, Puerto Rico for the World Boxing Organization (WBO) junior featherweight (122 lbs.) championship. The fight was originally a 10-rounder for the nonsensical WBO International junior featherweight belt held by Juarez. The WBO decided to make it a fight for the vacant WBO junior featherweight crown after Cuban Guillermo Rigondeux, who was earlier stripped of the crown, withdrew his protest.

A year after yielding his World Boxing Association (WBA) featherweight crown (126 pounds) to Jamaican mauler Nicholas Walters, Donaire is poised to become a world champion again. Donaire returned to the lighter junior featherweight class after bowing to Walters and has since scored two consecutive knockout victories against pedestrian foes. Donaire’s latest adversary, Juarez, is actually ranked No.1 by the WBO in the junior featherweight division, but truth be told it is the No. 2 ranked Filipino who has the more impressive fistic arsenal.

The 24-year-old Juarez (17-3, 13 knockouts) has not fought anyone with a decent pulse and totes a fighting style that is unpolished in the opinion of some observers. Juarez is a pressure fighter who stays in front of his opponent with both hands up, but the moment he throws that awkward, clubbing left hook he opens himself up for a counter punch. Juarez also tends to suddenly lunge in and instigate a brawl, but in doing so he exhibits poor balance and is susceptible to a well-timed uppercut. In sum, Juarez is the laboratory rat that a ring technician like Donaire would readily experiment on.

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While Juarez has never been the recipient of a ten-count, his chin has exhibited signs of decay. In 2011, he suffered his first defeat after a 7-0 start when he was disqualified for an illegal blow in the seventh round against Edgar Lozano. Lozano actually floored Juarez in rounds 2 and 3 and was on his way to a clear-cut win when he slipped and was hit on the head by Juarez. Juarez was disqualified for the foul blow, but not a few thought he opted to be disqualified rather than suffer the ignominy of a knockout defeat.

A year later, Jorge Lara mopped the canvas with Juarez’s face three times en route to a decision win. A frustrated Juarez went inactive in 2014 before returning early this year with an eight-round decision win against Cesar Ceda. Just five months ago, Juarez outpointed former International Boxing Federation (IBF) super flyweight champ Juan Carlos Sanchez to collar the WBO International junior featherweight crown.

The WBO has been very generous in ranking Juarez No.1 in its junior featherweight rankings. The way pundits see it, the 33-year-old Donaire should have no problems handling Juarez. The former four-time regular division champ (one title was interim only) has been training like a monk, pushing himself to the limit against young and heavier sparring partners.

If things go according to plan, Donaire (35-3, 23 knockouts) will beat Juarez and challenge next year the winner of the unification showdown between WBA champ Scott Quigg and IBF titleholder Carl Frampton. Donaire was originally eyeing a showdown with Quigg but when negotiations did not get off the ground, he was forced to settle for Juarez. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the WBO decided to make the fight a world title bout. Not only is Donaire in a position to become a world champion again, he will have a decent bargaining stick when he negotiates a fight against the winner of the Quigg-Frampton duel.

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Oh, Donaire might also end up giving local fight fans the ideal Christmas gift. As things stand, WBO light flyweight (108 lbs.) king Donnie Nietes is the country’s only legitimate world champion. Donaire will make it merrier for local fight fans by beating Juarez and becoming the new WBO junior featherweight king.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @edtolentino