YOU have to borrow a line from the opening sequence of the Star Wars movie to know the last time Nonito ‘The Filipino Flash’ Donaire Jr. looked good in the boxing ring.
You know, “a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.”
Six years ago, December 15, 2012 to be precise, Donaire blasted into smithereens former multi-division world champion Jorge Arce in three rounds to retain the World Boxing Organization (WBO) junior featherweight (122 lbs.) title in Houston, Texas. This was Donaire at his finest, obliterating a feared slugger from Mexico with the tenacity of a shark devouring a defenseless prey.
Donaire bankrolled a cool $1 million for the Arce fight, but his market value has since taken a nosedive. He was thoroughly outclassed by Cuban Guillermo Rigondeaux in 2013 and viciously knocked out by Jamaican Nicholas Walters in a featherweight (126 lbs.) title contest in 2014. In December 2015, Donaire struggled big time before repelling the stubborn Cesar Juarez in 12 rounds. In November 2016, a younger and hungrier Jesse Magdaleno dethroned Donaire as WBO junior featherweight champ with a clear-cut decision.
Donaire went inactive after the Magdaleno fight and did not return until September 2017, when he eked out a ho-hum decision over trialhorse Ruben Garcia Hernandez. The fight was a snore-bore, although Donaire claimed that he really wanted to log in some rounds to get his rhythm back.
On April 21, Donaire (38-4, 24 knockouts) is booked to enter the SSE Arena in Belfast for a showdown with slugger Carl ‘The Jackal’ Frampton for the interim WBO featherweight crown. Frampton, 24-1 with 14 knockouts, is the most formidable opponent Donaire will be facing since Walters and not a few believe that the Filipino is facing nothing less than a ‘must-win’ situation.
You have to give Donaire credit for picking Frampton instead of another pedestrian opponent. Belfast-native Frampton is in the record books for being the first Irishman to win world titles in two weight categories. Frampton turned pro in 2009 and went undefeated in his first 23 fights. He won the IBF junior featherweight title in 2014 and in February 2016 unified the IBF and WBA junior featherweight crowns by beating Scott Quigg. In July 2016, Frampton defeated Mexican Leo Santa Cruz for the WBA featherweight crown to become a two-division champ. Frampton was named 2016 Fighter of the Year by the prestigious Boxing Writers Association of America.
But here’s the catch on Frampton: He has lately been struggling to regain his old form. Frampton has not scored a knockout since February 2015, when he stopped Chris ‘Hitman’ Avalos in a junior featherweight contest. Frampton’s power has been non-existent in the featherweight ranks and after losing to Santa Cruz in their rematch in January 2017, Frampton looked awful in beating Mexican Horacio Garcia 10 months later. Frampton was cut, absorbed a lot of punches along the ropes, and looked totally exhausted at the end of the fight with Garcia.
Frampton’s lukewarm performances can be attributed to the slew of legal and domestic issues he is facing. He is currently locked in a court battle with his former manager and promoter Barry McGuigan. Frampton severed his ties with trainer Shane McGuigan (McGuigan’s son) and is now trained by Jamie Moore, who received a lot of criticism for allegedly altering Frampton’s style in the fight against Garcia. The 31-year-old Frampton has been trying his best to get back in shape and has even hired a sports psychologist to polish his mental toughness.
Frampton appears ripe for the picking, but here’s the problem: Donaire may not have enough fistic mojo left in his tank to capitalize. Donaire is 35 years old and has not looked good in the featherweight division. At the peak of his career, Donaire boxed and counterpunched with surgical precision. He offered a powerful left hook, a solid left jab, and the ability to switch stances.
However, as he moved up in weight, Donaire became flatfooted and more of a head-hunter. Conditioning has been an issue with Donaire in recent years and while he has been seen working out in the gym of former WBA junior featherweight champ Clarence ‘Bones’ Adams, nobody really knows just who is training him for the Frampton fight.
As things stand, Frampton is the smart money bet to prevail. Donaire’s best chance is in the early rounds, if he can take advantage of Frampton’s reckless lunges with well-timed counterpunches. If Frampton shows up in shape, he figures to grind it out with Donaire and take out the Filipino in the later rounds.