Tomorrow night at the Almamodome in San Antonio, Texas, Nonito Donaire, 27-1, dips his toe into the junior featherweight division when he faces Puerto Rican banger Wilfredo Vazquez. Jr. Donaire looks to bounce back from an uninspiring unanimous decision over Omar Andres Narvaez three and a half months ago, while Vazquez Jr., 27-1 with 18 KOs, hopes to come back from a knockout loss he suffered at the hands of Jorge Arce last May.
Narvaez put a spotlight on Donaire’s weaknesses, but three years earlier, Moruti Mthalane–a solid, yet seldom talked about fighter from South Africa–already exposed Donaire’s vulnerabilities. While keeping the same stout guard the diminutive Narvaez had, Mthalane worked behind an active jab to bag rounds and put the outcome in what was supposed to be a showcase in doubt. Mthalane suffered an unfortunate cut inside his eyelid in the 5th round, and Donaire was declared the winner by TKO.
Thus, Donaire’s protestations between stanzas of his yawn-inducing scrap against Narvaez that he was doing all that he could were only half true. He isn’t a natural body puncher, so his attempts to navigate around Narvaez’s omnipresent guard were genuine. But working the body with more than the occasional right hand to the sternum would have validated his case. Even if it wouldn’t have stopped Narvaez–a man who had scarcely been hurt during his 11-year career–a half dozen clean left hooks to the body in every round would have caught the attention of the boxing aficionado’s eye. Instead, the hardcore boxing fan, impelled to nitpick about a man who only fights twice a year, was forced to sit through a nondescript performance that featured a head hunter pounding on the gloves of a defensive specialist.
Perhaps it was predictable for Donaire to have a disappointing performance. His offensive arsenal is breathtaking when he’s at his best; he’s equipped with incredible speed and the most lethal counter left hook in boxing. But the aforementioned lack of a body attack, combined with injuries and underrated opponents, has left his performances uneven.
Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. represents the biggest opponent, in physical stature, he has faced in his career. Armed with a well-rounded attack that includes consistent body work, Vazquez dispatched Donaire’s countryman Marvin Sonsona within four rounds in 2010. Despite beginning his boxing career in his twenties–sans amateur experience–the Puerto Rican knockout artist has a well-timed left hook, a solid counter jab, and a savvy lead right hand.
A violent encounter with Jorge Arce last May, however, exposed his defensive deficiencies. The Mexican star landed hard and often early before Vazquez adjusted his gameplan to push Arce, the smaller man, back and essentially bully the bully. But Arce’s uppercuts began to find its target, and Vazquez’s legs started to wilt under the pressure. Without the experience to withstand turbulent waters, Vazquez refused to clinch his bloodthirsty adversary, and his corner jumped the gun to save him from getting pulled beneath the current.
Even so, Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. presents a unique test for Nonito Donaire with his size and aggressiveness. We’re used to seeing the Filipino sensation have his way with opponents clearly smaller than him. Saturday night will be a departure from the norm, where he’ll find himself across the ring from a strong assailant that meets his height and reach.
But while we’ve seen Donaire, San Leandro, California, struggle against a tight defense and a steady attack, Vazquez brings openings that he’ll likely feast on. Vazquez’s lead right hand is ambitious but sloppy enough for Donaire’s counter left hook to find its home. And the young Puerto Rican’s hands won’t be handcuffed like Narvaez’s were; Vazquez showed against Arce that his instinct is to fight back when threatened, damn the consequences.
Thus, while Donaire’s brilliant talent is plagued with inconsistent execution, Vazquez’s willing spirit and defensive liabilities look to serve up an ideal tablet for another eye-catching performance for the 29-year-old prodigy. Vazquez Jr., Bayamon, Puerto Rico, has size and power, but Donaire tends to shine against leaky defenses.
Fireworks are guaranteed. Fearless abandon and flush counters are guaranteed. But a competitive fight is not.