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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Topics: BANTAMWEIGHTS, Fernando Montiel, Manuel Vargas, Nonito Donaire, Wladimir Sidorenko

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  • paulmagno

    Great read, Carlos…

    Most of boxing’s problems stem from the absence of a real, legit governing body…

    Of course, a promoter given his way, will opt to protect his investment and, yeah, even the boxers themselves will venture down the road of least resistance if given the choice.

    With 4 sanctioning bodies that nobody takes seriously and very little real, organized protest from fans, the promoters have free reign.

    The equivalent would be the Yankees deciding that the Twins would be too much risk for too little reward, so they would use their influence to play the Angels throughout the playoffs…

    A real sport has a logical narrative to it, a sequence it has to follow…Boxing has none of that.

    In a perfect world, Donaire and Montiel would be fighting ASAP with Agbeko-Perez and Mares-Darchinyan fighting to see who gets the next shot…

    In a perfect world, a real sanctioning body would’ve forced Mayweather-Pacquiao…You either face the designated fighter or you excuse yourself from the sport…that simple.

    However, boxing is the wild west and guys like Arum can cock block an entire division if he has the bodies to do so…and until HE decides that he’s milked the fans for all he possibly could.

    In the meantime, real talents like Donaire, Gamboa, Lopez, etc. sit on the sidelines, wasting their talents on insignificant time killers while other talents, sit outside the fold, also wasting away because the other promoter’s guys won’t fight them.

    More and more, boxing is becoming an exercise in seeing how much crap the fans will take before finally giving up…

    • Carlos Acevedo

      Hi Paul,

      thanks for checking in. Sorry for the delay in response, sometimes it wears me out to type in these little boxes, and I only check into TCS when I feel like it…

      I rarely address “upcoming” Top Rank fights, since they almost never happen. This is just a strange PR move that many people lap up…and that’s the ultimate reason promoters get by…they are like three-card monte players: for some reason, people just cannot resist making sucker bets.

      Here’s some more from other comments I’ve left (Christ, I’m lazy tonight!) re: promoting:

      I might be naive, but I’m constantly surprised at how unsophisticated many people are about boxing as a business….Unless there is a big purse at stake, the last thing a promoter wants is competition for his fighters…This is exactly the opposite of what a promoter wanted 50 or 60 years ago because back then promoters worked on a fight by fight basis and had to ensure action to get the turnstiles spinning….When ancillary revenue began breaking into boxing (TV, closed-circuit, foreign broadcast rights, PPV), promoters began signing fighters to contracts like they were managers to keep the money flow coming from all directions…This was unheard of in boxing….Muhammad Ali fought for whoever guaranteed him the best purse, same with Sugar Ray Robinson, even Sugar Ray Leonard….Jack Dempsey stuck with Rickard because Rickard gave him the best deals…Only Joe Louis was signed to an exclusive contract among big names years ago…

      Many years ago, the best fights had to be made to ensure profits because of the lack of ancillary revenue…no television, no closed-circuit, no satellite feeds worldwide, no internet broadcasts, etc. Not even film was a guarantee, since boxing films were outlawed in America for many years and were largely in the hands of the underworld. There was radio and the gate. Nothing else. Today, with only a fraction of the audience, boxing is big business because of the cold, calculating decisions promoters make based upon what the average boxing fan is willing to pay for. And the fact is, the boxing fan is willing to pay for just about anything.

      OK, I’m back.

      Boxing has no structure whatsoever, as you say, and this chaos helps keep promoters in the black, like numbers runners and other hustlers. They are also propped up by a compliant media and networks who don’t know the difference between a jab and a javelin. None of this will change in the foreseeable future, so boxing fans will have to make do with the four or five solid matchups per year. For some, that’s enough.