HE did not look like his vintage self, even occasionally appearing a tad slow and sluggish, but in the end Filipino boxing fans heaved a collective sigh of relief when Nonito 'The Filipino Flash' Donaire Jr. stopped a stubborn Vic ‘Raging Bull' Darchinyan in nine rounds in their featherweight (126 pounds), non-title tussle at the American Bank Center in Texas.
Seven months after absorbing a lopsided decision loss to Cuban Guillermo Rigondeaux in a battle for the combined World Boxing Organization (WBO) and World Boxing Association (WBA) junior featherweight (122 pounds) championship, Donaire showed up for the rematch with Darchinyan in desperate need of a victory. Make no mistake, Donaire was the heavy favorite because of the perception that Darchinyan’s brawling style was tailor-made for his counterpunching approach. Just the same, nothing less than a spectacular performance was expected from Donaire; one similar to the dominating fifth-round knockout win he registered against Darchinyan in their first meeting in July 2007.
Donaire did post a stoppage win in the rematch, but the performance he dished out was far from riveting. Heading to the ninth round, two of the three judges even had Darchinyan ahead in their official scorecards.
Older (37) and heavier (a career-high 125.7 pounds), Darchinyan came out with a battle plan against Donaire. The Armenian was very cautious in the first round, picking the spots for his vaunted left straight and immediately stepping out of harm’s way upon throwing it. Gone was the Darchinyan who would recklessly lunge in and leave himself wide open for counters. Darchinyan looked this good, until he unravelled in the fatal round.
Darchinyan easily won the first round, punctuating his tempered assaults with a hard left to Donaire’s face. Donaire rebounded by rocking Darchinyan in the second round with a right straight, a punch he seemed to favor more than his trademark left hook. Darchinyan had bragged before the fight that Donaire’s arsenal was limited to the left hook; Donaire apparently wanted to take out the former with his right.
Donaire took the third round with some good combinations, but Darchinyan rebounded big in the fourth round by nailing Donaire with two howitzer lefts. Donaire held on to the ropes and tried to showboat to create the impression that he was fine, but there was no denying that he got creamed. Darchinyan came out strong in the fifth round and finished with aplomb by bombarding Donaire with a flurry of blows at the end of the round. After five rounds, Darchinyan was ahead - three rounds to two - in this writer’s scorecard.
Whereas before he was instructing Donaire to stay patient and wait for Darchinyan to make the mistake of reverting to his plodding style, trainer Robert Garcia started imploring Donaire after the fifth round to start throwing more punches. On the other hand, Darchinyan was advised by his cornermen to stay dedicated to defense. The instruction for Darchinyan was to dart out immediately after throwing his left and stay in a crouching position to dodge any possible elongated counter from Donaire.
Donaire’s punches started picking up steam in the sixth round as Darchinyan’s offense and defense began to sputter. In the ninth round, Donaire rattled Darchinyan with a left that somehow triggered the ‘Raging Bull’ inside Darchinyan. Instead of stepping back to clear the cobwebs in his head, Darchinyan went after Donaire. This was the mistake Donaire was waiting for and he seized the moment by nailing a pursuing Darchinyan with a huge left hook. Darchinyan skidded to the canvas and was clearly in Queer Street when he got up.
Like a shark alerted by the smell of a victim’s blood, Donaire brought out the big guns and pelted Darchinyan with punches from all angles. One jaw-aligning left uppercut from Donaire convinced the referee to step in and pull the plug.
It was not a pretty win for Donaire, but conclusive nonetheless. He attributed the sluggishness to flu-like symptoms before the fight and later claimed that one of Darchinyan’s punches may have broken his cheekbone. Through it all, Donaire made it clear that he was bent on winning the fight for his countrymen.
Donaire improved his record to 32-2 with 21 knockouts. He looked slow and tentative after weighing a career-high 125.2 pounds for his featherweight debut, but is expected to fit in once he gets more seasoning in the weight class. Donaire hankered for a rematch with Rigondeaux, but promoter Bob Arum talked about a title fight for The Flash’s next fight. Reigning WBO featherweight champ Orlando Salido, a big and tough Mexican brawler, makes for the most marketable adversary for Donaire. Another name mentioned was Jamaican Nicholas 'Axe Man' Walters (23-0, 19 knockouts), who retained his WBA featherweight title in the undercard with a fourth-round knockout win over Mexican Alberto Garza. Walters, the 10th world boxing champion of Jamaica, is relatively untested but offers a pleasing style.
It’s back to the drawing board for Donaire as he zeroes in on another world title. As bigger and tougher challenges loom, the Flash definitely needs to bring back his superhero game. For his own sake, let’s hope the pedestrian performance over Darchinyan is only an aberration.