No Slow Lane: Nonito Donaire & His Options

*****

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.

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Topics: ABNER MARES, Anselmo Moreno, Bob Arum, JOSEPH AGBEKO, Nonito Donaire, Rachel Donaire, Top Rank, VIC DARCHINYAN, Yonnhy Perez

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  • martin

    This post includes some great similies. I’d love to see Donaire against the winner of Agbeko/Mares.

    • Carlos Acevedo

      Hi Martin,

      thanks for the compliment. I’m sick and don’t have much stamina at the computer, so it took me a few days to write this piece. As it is, it’s the worst thing I’ve ever written and that’s compounded by the news that made it obsolete almost immediately. But I don’t have the energy to revise it.

      The winner of Mares-Agbeko vs. Donaire makes the most sense. I’m probably selling Mares short here, but I think Donaire walks right through him. He’s a nice fighter, but he’s got, to me, no significant strength. Agbeko is tricky, more defensively sound, and can rough you up. Both fighters, however, will have earned the big fight…should either one get it….

      • martin

        The “yellow brick road” part was not up to your normal standards, ’tis true.

        Also, the piece could have been improved with a photo of Mrs. Donaire. Scratch that, ANY post would be improved with a picture of Mrs. Donaire. You had a good excuse this time though.

        I really like Mares. He’s a good and tough fighter with some slicks, and he makes for entertaining scraps. But you’re right, Donaire seems to be on just another level from anyone these days.

        • Carlos Acevedo

          I was going to mention “El Dorado” but the evocation of colonialism seemed a bit off. So I was stuck with one of only a handful of cliches on TCS!

          Bob Arum may think Rachel Donaire is all “tarted up,” but I have no problem with her fashionista sense whatsoever.

          I like Mares, too, but I don’t think he’s on Daniare’s level. And I definitely like Mares-Agbeko because it’s 50-50 on paper. Lots of possible outcomes there: Mares outboxes Agbeko, Agbeko out-experiences Mares, they go toe-to-toe or fight deliberately, etc. Nice matchup there and one that should be fun.

  • Dennis Wise

    Even as he has gone up in weight, Donaire always looks like the bigger man in the ring.

    I agree that Agbeko is toughest match up at this weight because of his toughness. But that might just mean a more sustained beating than the quick devastating loss the others would suffer.

    • Carlos Acevedo

      Hi Dennis,

      Donaire used to struggle to boil down and it’s hard to imagine that he used to be a flyweight. But he does enter the ring looking bigger than his opponents.

      Now that Top Rank has won the first court battle against GBP over the rights to Donaire, who knows what’ll happen? Unless Arum decides to cut Donaire loose in exchange for a fee or a percentage of Donaire’s future purses, he’ll be back with Top Rank and maybe none of these fights will materialize. But if Agbeko wins the tourney, he’ll be the easiest guy to matchup with since he’s a Don King fighter. Agbeko knows how to take care of himself in the ring, but how long that talent lasts against Donaire is hard to foresee–10 rounds, 11? The distance? It would be great to find out.

  • phils

    Hello Carlos: I was beginning to worry about you and then I read in your comments section here that you have been sick. Well, I guess I realize now how much I come to your site, and I just had to comment. Never one to mince words, I greatly appreciate the honesty, and it’s pretty much always spot on.

    With Nonito, Arum says he is a puppet, but this is his second fight with promoters. He had issues with Shaw, although I’m not too familiar with the specifics. Isn’t this unusual of a guy under Dunkin?

    You are spot on about momentum. It is one of the key things, imo, that hurts boxing. You get no consistency, and fans today have way-short memories.

    Lastly, a “tart”?? I know Arum is old, but man, that is a total Monty Burns comment.

    • Carlos Acevedo

      Hi phils,

      thanks for writing and welcome to my nightmare. I have sometimes gone weeks between posts, but lately my eyes have been too watery to work on TCS…Watery eyes are bad! Also, thanks for the kind words, much appreciated.

      Donaire also had managerial issues early in his career and, of course, the fallout with his father/trainer is well known. He was unhappy with Shaw, who got him slots on Showtime undercards after Donaire kayoed Darchinyan, and now he’s unhappy with Arum. Dunkin and Arum are “close,” but Dunkin does work with other promoters. In this case, GBP potential $$$ won the day, at least before the arbitrator ruled in favor of Arum against Golden Boy. Since Golden Boy has blank dates on HBO contractually guaranteed for x amount of money per show, they can offer Donaire bigger paydays right off the bat without even an opponent being mentioned.

      Fighters today suffer from too much inactivity even without legal wrangles. Some of them are so overpaid that they sit around waiting for bigger and bigger paychecks. Mostly, however, it’s the fact that big time boxing in America is concentrated around roughly 35-40 dates from HBO and Showtime combined, and a few PPVs–per year. That’s it. That’s all the big money work available for in the U.S. So fighters in their 20s fight twice a year now because they are anointed “stardom” and “P-4-P” status after one or two decent wins by the Peanut Gallery. Then they’re locked into the HBO entitlement program where their skills atrophy fighting every six months against inferior competition. Years ago, remuneration was based on the risk taken by the fighter–he cold fight a lower-level bout on CBS and get $100,000, for example–but that’s impossible today for these guys– who are millionaires and often in exclusive contacts–to do. So momentum goes out the window…along with other things. Guys used to fight 20, 30, even 40 times a year in the 1920s-1940s, and today it’s a big fuss to see someone fight three times in 15 months. If the NFL cut the schedule down from 16 games to 2, would anyone care about football? More world leaders have been overthrown in the last few months than Floyd Mayweather has had fights in three years, for crying out loud!!!!

      Arum’s remarks–even if they were somewhat Edwardian–are beyond the pale and it’s hard to imagine a working relationship between Top Rank and Donaire after this dust-up. But stranger things have happened in boxing.

  • phils

    There are some fantastic points in there, Carlos. Fantastic points. One of the reasons I like Marco Huck is that he defends his title about once every quarter. It’s not a ton, but it sure beats others. I think one of the reasons is because he is a Cruiser and cruisers just aren’t going to get the paydays or HBO slots so a guy like Huck probably has to fight a little more than others.

    Even though once a quarter doesn’t seem like a lot, in a world of “hey, whatever happened to….. He looked great in his last bout” it certainly seems like he is fighting all the time. When I saw Huck fighting this week, my first thought was, “again? Didn’t he just fight?” He didn’t. It was in December, but I guess in boxing it is that rare for all the reasons you mention.

    I also enjoy the older stuff you post. I’m in Minnesota, so especially enjoyed the stuff on Petrole and Henry Tuttle. I shared that with a local historian here, Jake Wegner, and he mentioned he might write up some more on Tuttle for the hardcore fans here in MN. He said he was a very interesting character.

    Anyway–great points. I enjoy the blog!

    • Carlos Acevedo

      Hi phils,

      thanks much for the kind words.

      I do think that fighters are generally busier in Europe–Sturm was pretty busy until contract disputes slowed him down; the Klitschkos also; and Abraham before he signed with an American network! There’s really no reason for fighters to fight only twice a year…it’s just a question of open dates on HBO, basically. Promoters are going to have to figure out a way to get fighters in action and get them paid somehow, but only Bob Arum seems to do that on a regular basis. The rest just seem to wait for HBO to hand out the cheese.

      Thanks for looking at the older stuff on TCS. The bits on Tuttle are by my partner in crime here, Andrew Fruman. He does a great job on these 1931 retrospectives and I hope more people read them. Boxing is the most “archival” of sports and lots of people pay lip service to boxing history, but they rarely seem interested enough to pursue it. I actually prefer the historical aspect of boxing and am very skeptical of the modern version of the sport, which is hardly even a facsimile of what it used to be. I was actually doing some research on King Tut for a piece, but decided to drop it–I simply can’t find enough information on him, which is a shame, because as you noted, Tut was a colorful fellow and a rip-snorting fighter. If you like that old-timey stuff, you should click on the “Out of the Past” tab above. There’s lots of historical stuff there…and those pieces are the ones I’m most proud of and the ones I really work hard on. I always try to pester people into reading them.