CALL it a case of 'The Filipino Flash' running smack into the Incredible Jamaican Hulk.
Relatively untested in the 126-pound division, Nonito Donaire, Jr. plunged into battle opposite Jamaican Nicholas 'Axe Man' Walters for the 'super' and 'regular' versions of the World Boxing Association’s (WBA) featherweight crown. The pre-fight odds showed that Walters was the smart money bet, albeit via a close shave only. The undefeated Walters paraded enormous punching power, particularly in his right straight, but not a few thought the cerebral Donaire had it in him to dissect and exploit the Jamaican’s porous defense.
For the first two rounds, boxing fans saw flashes of the vintage Filipino Flash. Moving in and out, Donaire repeatedly clipped Walters with well-timed left hooks and right straights. In the dying seconds of the second round, Donaire sent Walters reeling with a vicious left hook. At a lower weight class, the left hook Donaire threw would have caused a major realignment of the planets, but at featherweight it only wobbled Walters.
Apparently believing that he already has Walters’ number, Donaire answered the third round bell looking to dial a conclusive knockout victory. Donaire ceased to move and started engaging Walters up close. It was a tactical blunder that totally changed the complexion of the fight. As Donaire started attacking, little did he realize that he was coming within Walters’ punching radar. True enough, as Donaire closed in, Walters unleashed a wicked right uppercut that dropped the Filipino. Donaire was able to beat the count, but it was clear that the Axe Man’s uppercut chopped off a huge chunk of Donaire’s confidence. In stark contrast, Walters’ confidence instantly hit the roof.
As if things cannot get any worse, blood started dripping from Donaire’s right eyelid in the fourth stanza. Walters started throwing several left jabs in a clear attempt to aggravate the cut. By the fifth round, Donaire’s face was a bloody, swollen mess. Donaire was no longer moving in and out and was instead plodding, making him all the more susceptible to Walters’ power punches.
Sensing that the fight was slipping away, Donaire answered the sixth round with a do-or-die approach. The plan was plain and simple: throw a Hail Mary punch and hope that it would find Walters’ chin. Donaire used the same approach in his rematch with Vic Darchinyan last year. Trailing on points, he caught Darchinyan with a desperation punch and knocked him out in the ninth round.
Walters, however, studied Donaire well and came prepared for the Filipino’s bail-out plan. As Donaire swung for the fence, Walters sidestepped and pulled out a baseball bat in the form of a solid counter right hook. Walters’ right landed right on the cranium area and sent Donaire crashing to the canvas face-first. Donaire agonizingly beat the count, but referee Raul Caiz Jr. wisely pulled the plug as the Filipino teetered and almost fell again.
Walters improved his record to 25-0 with 21 knockouts. He rose from virtual anonymity to become the latest star in the sport. Walters is only the 10th Jamaican to become a world champion, but he is arguably the most exciting. He developed a passion for boxing at age 4, after his father Job, a former boxer, gifted him with a pair of gloves. When Walters stopped Daulis Prescott in December 2012 to win the WBA featherweight title, he received a Mini-Cooper from the government of Jamaica, a major upgrade for the boxer who used to roam the streets without shoes. There is no estimating the rewards Walters stands to reap after posting the biggest win of his career.
Donaire’s record dipped to 33-3 with 21 knockouts. Absorbing his second loss in his last four fights, Donaire’s ring future is now clouded with doubts. He has not looked good since December 2012, when he bamboozled Mexican Jorge Arce in 3 rounds in defense of his World Boxing Organization (WBO) super bantamweight (122 pounds) championship.
Just about every boxing expert opined that Donaire will be better off returning to the 122-pound weight class. From where this writer sits, however, Donaire will have to do a lot of soul-searching. Win or lose, Donaire’s body has been taking a beating recently. In February 2012, he injured his hand in winning the WBO super bantamweight title over Wilfredo Vasquez. In a losing effort against Cuban Guillermo Rigondeaux in April 2013, Donaire damaged his shoulder. In his come from behind win over Darchinyan in November 2013, Donaire suffered a fractured cheekbone. Donaire ardently believes that he can still make a successful comeback, but his 31-year-old body is screaming for some time off.
The Filipino Flash is evidently at the crossroads. He can make another dash for it, which is what he is more likely to do, or re-assess the situation. Either way, nobody can take away the world titles he won and the excitement that came along with it.