Off Target: Nonito Donaire, The Wayward Superstar

Nonito Donaire, “The Filipino Flash,” has seen his star dulled recently by his own promoter, Top Rank, who have practically eclipsed one of the most talented fighters in the game. One of their worst habits is the old switcheroo, announcing matchups that never happen, or throwing in different opponents without rhyme or reason. Nonito Donaire has been talked up by Top Rank for big fights since he signed with them in 2008, but, inevitably, nothing happens and Donaire is stuck on independent pay-per-views and undercards against Witness Protection Program opposition.

There have been plenty of missed opportunities for Donaire lately. His bout with Vic Darchinyan fell apart in May when Top Rank and Team Darchinyan could not agree on a split of Philippine television income. Top Rank also declined to enter Donaire and Fernando Montiel into the upcoming Showtime bantamweight mini-tournament, further depriving him of much-needed publicity. With four bantamweights tied up in the tourney—Yonnhy Perez, Vic Darchinyan, Abner Mares, and Joseph Agbeko—Donaire has even fewer high-profile options available. And Donaire does not seem happy with the situation. This is not Andre Berto after all, smiling all the way to the bank because of his corporate patron HBO, this is a fighter who appears palpably frustrated at the misdirection his career has been going in.

Many of his recent fights have been the equivalent of entering a Lamborghini into a go-cart convention. The slop on the Top Rank menu hit its low point when Manuel Vargas was poleaxed by Donaire in three sadistic rounds last February in a fight that made the Nevada State Athletic Commission look like it was comprised of members of the Manson family. For Vargas, it was the kind of disaster that boxing specializes in, as noted by TCS a few months ago:

About a week or so ago it was reported that Manuel Vargas, unmercifully flogged by junior bantamweight titleholder Nonito Donaire in a grievous mismatch on February 13, failed a post-fight drug test. Apparently, Vargas had taken painkillers at some point before the bout. This does not come as a shock at all; Vargas knew he was in for a beating and prepared accordingly. Seriously, though, Vargas was just living his life, going about his business, when he got the call to fight Donaire only three days before the bout and so did not have time to think about what he had recently ingested. What is shocking is the fact that Vargas, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, only pulled down a $10,000 paycheck to play sacrificial lamb. Ten grand to fight on short notice – -and far beyond his weight class—against a bad hombre with KO power. For Vargas to jump at $10,000 under those circumstances tells you what kind of money he usually makes as a professional prizefighter. After all is said and done, after the IRS, the manager, the trainer, and the cutman get their share, Vargas will be lucky to return to Jalisco with $4,000. If someone offered you $4,000 to get your ass kicked by a world-class professional boxer, would you take it? To make matters worse, the Nevada State Athletic Commission will no doubt be fining Vargas for failing his drug test despite the fact that Vargas agreed to the fight only three days before the opening bell. Maybe the NSAC ought to slap themselves with fines for allowing such a blatant mismatch to happen in the first place. Vargas, after all, was coming off of a loss at strawweight before entering the ring against Donaire.

With recent matches little more than sparring sessions, Donaire also runs the risk of seeing his skills atrophy. Like many contemporary boxers, Donaire may become perpetually gym ready as opposed to fight ready. His plight also reflects the barren landscape in boxing: with only 30 or so dates available on Showtime and HBO per year combined—and many HBO dates given away to Golden Boy like ketchup with your Whopper Junior—there are just not enough outlets to sustain some of the smaller stars out there. If anybody belongs on HBO, it would be Donaire, who, despite some glaring defensive flaws, is pure dynamism in the ring.

Why Top Rank has done such a poor job with Donaire is not really a mystery. Donaire–along with other apparent Top Rank afterthoughts–brings the promotional firm more loot than most might expect. The upcoming card from Anaheim, for example, headlined by Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., features ancillary revenue from Mexican television in support of Chavez Jr. and from Philippine networks airing Donaire. Add to that the pay-per-view audience in America and a potentially healthy gate, and you see why Top Rank does not risk some of its–for lack of a better term–“international” stars against each other. In fact, Fernando Montiel scored the biggest win of his career, a fourth round TKO of Hozumi Hasegawa in Japan last April, by defying his American promoter and taking the fight anyway. Who can forget the confusion leading up to that bout? While press conferences where being held in Japan announcing the details of the fight, Top Rank flacks, sounding like FEMA officials, were denying it was ever going to happen. In the end, without Showtime or HBO dates available, fighters like Montiel and Donaire make small sums for Top Rank every time they fight by pooling international returns. Pairing them off, at least until a premium cable date opens up, cuts the potential cash flow in half. Michael Marley reports that Bob Arum is setting up Montiel-Donaire for next year, but we have heard that warble from Arum before.

So competent Wladimir Sidorenko, 22-2-2 and a former titleholder at bantamweight, looks like he will get the call to face Donaire in December. “I’m excited to fight someone who has a good resume like Sidorenko, who’s been champion,” Donaire told an Rafael at ESPN.com. “I’m excited to fight somebody at this level rather than the guys I’ve been fighting. It’s good to be challenged and it makes me better. I’m facing a guy who knows how to win and is experienced. The challenge is there for me. Sidorenko is not a joke.” Sidorenko, a bit long in the tooth at 34, packs little power and is relatively unknown in the States, but he has proven himself against some fairly solid competition over the years: Joseph Agbeko, Ricardo Cordoba, Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym, and Anselmo Moreno. Still, he looks outgunned going into the fight with Donaire, who needs to take aim at bigger targets. After all, there are plenty of bullseyes in his future.

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Tags: BANTAMWEIGHTS Fernando Montiel Manuel Vargas Nonito Donaire Wladimir Sidorenko

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