Nonito Donaire is a Super Hornet talent who over the years has been moving at the pace of a rickshaw. His first marquee win, a one-punch plastering of bully-braggart Vic Darchinyan in 2007, did not lead him down the Yellow Brick Road but found him instead traveling gravel footpaths on Top Rank pay-per-views. Inside the ring—as he proved recently against Wladimir Sidorenko and, especially, against Fernando Montiel–Donaire looks like a comic book hero freed from the page, something Jack Kirby might have conjured up.
But there is one opponent who can drop Donaire flat on his back like a man hard-smacked by a blackjack: inactivity. With legal lassos sure to corral him shortly, there is no telling how long court proceedings will tie him up. In 2009 Robert Guerrero lost nearly a year in court trying to shuck off Dan Goossen, and the worst thing that can happen to Donaire is for him to sit around idle. Momentum is a concept with as much currency in boxing as phrenology has in modern science, but Donaire has it, for a variety of reasons, and letting it slip away at this point would be a terrible mistake for a fighter whose career has been one of fits and starts thus far.
On the other hand, it sounds as if Arum is already reconciled to some sort of settlement that will let Donaire escape Top Rank relatively unscathed. First, of course, are the infamous comments Arum made regarding Rachael Donaire, going so far as to say that Mrs. Donaire “dresses all tarted up.” There is a difference, of course, between saying a woman “dresses all tarted up” and calling her a “tart,” but that kind of nuance is lost to contemporary media members.
Still, Arum, who uses carefully calibrated—and self-serving—language most of the time, seems to have lost control here and let a sleaziness slip into his diatribe that indicates he is already devaluing a commodity no longer to be stocked on his shelves. “What I know is that Top Rank has a valid contract with Donaire until June 2012,” Arum told The Philippine Star. “If Donaire wants out of the contract, I’ve got the best two lawyers in the business to take care of the case, Dan Petrocelli and Dave Marroso. I know Donaire’s lawyer John Bailey and I also know his manager Cameron Dunkin. They’re good guys. I don’t know where Donaire is coming from. I think he’s just a puppet.”
But if Donaire does not have to run through an obstacle course of legal procedures, then he has a number of options to choose from ASAP.
Golden Boy Promotions reportedly offered Anselmo Moreno a multi-fight contract that includes a showdown with Donaire. Moreno, an alphabet soup titlist, will be looking at Big Money for the first time in his career, and Golden Boy, with blank dates on HBO to use as whimsically as the urchin who tortures cockroaches in the opening scenes of “The Wages of Fear,” has the corporate backing to deliver the loot. At 5’8”, Moreno is a tall bantamweight and an awkward southpaw boxer without the pop to hurt most top flight opponents. A busy jab, fast hands, a strange stance, and the occasional contortionist defensive move make Moreno bad road for anybody, but he has four split decisions among his last six victories, and he did not look particularly impressive in either fight against Nehomar Cermeno. Donaire ought to be able to catch him in mid-pose at some point with a lightning bolt Moreno might not be able to recover from.
The Showtime bantamweight mini-tournament scheduled for April 23 at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles offers Donaire plenty of opportunities for solid match-ups. Abner Mares will face off against Joseph Agbeko in the finals. Most observers seem to be giving Mares a significant edge going into the fight against Agbeko, but “King Kong” has some tricks that Mares has never seen before. Indeed, fighting Agbeko is like vacationing on Skull Island for a week or two. Last year, Agbeko reversed a loss to Yonnhy Perez by boxing with a clever junk artist style that seemed to bewilder Perez from the opening bell. Look for Agbeko to use similar methods against Mares, a talented young fighter who survived a fair bit of adversity in winning a decision over Vic Darchinyan. If Mares gets by Agbeko, however, his weak defense will probably spell his downfall against Donaire, a fighter who needs only one mistake to drop the hammer.
A more intriguing fight for Donaire would be against Agbeko, a shifty operator capable of some surprising moves in the ring. Agbeko is tied with Don King, but King would gladly deliver the services of his fighter just to get in on some action for once. From time to time Agbeko takes part in a firefight—as he did against Yonnhy Perez and William Gonzalez—but he seems more comfortable setting deliberate traps in the ring. Whether those traps will work against Donaire remains to be seen.
Neither Yonnhy Perez nor Vic Darchinyan—who battle as chief support to Mares-Agbeko—would be much of a test for Donaire, although both fighters remain formidable opponents. Darchinyan came close to fighting Donaire last year, but his management team withdrew after being unable to come to terms on divvying up Philippine broadcast rights.
Darchinyan remains one of the biggest woofers in boxing, but, despite a troublesome spoiler style, his brawlroom days appear to be over. He looked out of sorts at times against Mares and appeared to give in mentally as the rounds progressed. He still punches fairly hard, but remains as wide open as the Nullarbor Plain and Donaire should have no problem threading big shots down the middle against him.
As for Perez, his free-swinging style was shut down last December by Agbeko, who used an inch here and an inch there with the precision of a carpenter. His work-rate might trouble Darchinyan, but he might be a little too straight up to take Donaire. Head movement is a must against a sharpshooter like Donaire, and Perez will need to make some adjustments if he wants to leave the ring on his own power.
Also in the running—or the stumbling, in this case—would be toxic Eric Morel, the veteran bore who makes watching a cactus photosynthesize exciting by comparison. One of those strange flotsam and jetsam signings Golden Boy specializes in, Morel withdrew from a mandatory title shot against Fernando Montiel last year—after declining $115,000 to fight Donaire–out of sheer knuckleheadedness. Donaire might brutalize Morel so violently it would border on slapstick.
Of course, if Donaire has an off-night or is not nearly as terrifying as he looked against Sidorenko and Montiel, several of these fighters might give boxing fans what they always crave: fierce competition in the ring.
NOTE: This post was written before recent developments regarding the Donaire-Top Rank case.