SOMEHOW, this writer sensed that former multi-division world champion Nonito ‘The Filipino Flash’ Donaire Jr. was on his way out of Top Rank Promotions when he turned down early this year Bob Arum’s offer of a March showdown with undefeated World Boxing Organization (WBO) featherweight (126 lbs.) champion Oscar Valdez (21-0, 19 knockouts) of Mexico.
Officially, Donaire turned down the offer because he thought he needed additional time to get comfortable with the 126-pound featherweight limit. Donaire averred that he did not want to make the same mistake he did in 2014, when he made a haphazard jump to the featherweight class and paid dearly for it as the fighters in the weight class turned out to be too heavy for him.
“While I am grateful for the opportunity given to me by Top Rank and humbled they would give me the chance to fight for another title shot, I also believe I would be redoing the same mistake I did when I initially moved up to 126 in 2014. 126 at first to me was a reason not to have to cut weight. But what I soon learned the hard way was most of the 126 fighters walk near 140 (pounds) fight night,” explained Donaire on his official Facebook page.
This writer, however, sees Donaire’s rejection of the fight as a wise move considering that Arum, fully aware that Donaire’s pact with Top Rank was about to expire, was planning to feed him to rising talent Valdez. Had Donaire pushed through with the fight despite his weight concerns, he would have ended up as a sacrificial lamb to Valdez. Arum would have had the last laugh, what with Top Rank letting go of a bruised and downtrodden Donaire with no interested takers.
Donaire’s rejection of the Valdez fight was a preservative act; to arrest what could have been the end of his career. Named Fighter of the Year by the prestigious Boxing Writers Association of America in 2012, Donaire’s career is now at the crossroads. At age 34, Donaire has lost two of his last six fights and is coming off a disappointing decision loss to Jessie Magdaleno last November which cost him his WBO junior featherweight (122 lbs.) crown. Donaire was the favorite against the relatively inexperienced Magdaleno, but he got off to a slow start and allowed Magdaleno to escape with a unanimous decision.
Just before the Magdaleno fight, Donaire switched trainers, jettisoning anew his father Donaire Sr. and tapping the services of Cuban Ismael Salas. Whether it was the switch in trainers or plain Father Time creeping in, Donaire looked sluggish against Magdaleno.
Truth be told, Donaire had looked pedestrian since he was pulverized in six rounds by Jamaican mauler Nicholas Walters in 2014. Donaire arguably reached his peak in 2011, when he knocked out Fernando Montiel in two rounds in a battle for the WBO and WBC (World Boxing Council) bantamweight (118 lbs.) championships. Curiously, it was in the same year when the ultra-hot Donaire inked a deal with rival Golden Boy Promotions, but Top Rank was able to seek relief from the court and the deal with Golden Boy was set aside.
With Donaire’s association with Top Rank coming to an end after nearly nine years, the five-time division champion (four regular world titles, 1 interim crown) now stands to get a fresh start. He is likely to stay in the junior featherweight ranks and take aim at the other division champions or test the waters in the featherweight ranks before gunning for a champion like World Boxing Association (WBA) featherweight king Leo Santa Cruz. A cameo for Top Rank for a fight with Valdez is still in the books considering that the parting between Donaire and Arum was reportedly not tainted with animosity.
Regardless, the next steps Donaire (37-4, 24 knockouts) will take will be very critical as his career now hangs in the balance. The ‘Filipino Flash’ may not be as flashy as before, but if he can get his act together, a blazing finish is still within the realm of possibility.