It has been a while since Nonito Donaire has done anything particularly thrilling in the ring. Specifically, it’s been 22 months, when he devastated Fernando Montiel with a counter left hook within two rounds. Saturday night, at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, his friend Jorge Arce will serve as the perfect partner to reenact last year’s wreckage, and to remind us that Donaire remains one of the more dangerous forces in boxing.
To his credit, Donaire, 30-1 with 19 knockouts, will enter the ring for the fourth time in 14 months, a rare feat for a boxer generally seen on HBO or Showtime. The last three of those four bouts were against quality super bantamweights, but they also all drew a torrent of boos and cat calls from the crowd, in part because of his opposition’s efforts to avoid getting clipped with a fight-altering left hook.
Still, Donaire’s reliance on that hook is the other factor that often makes his events monotonous affairs. He’s a counter puncher at heart, reluctant to throw combinations or truly invest in a body attack. Rounds tend to blend into each other as he slings single shots into a hesitant opponent’s guard and waits for openings to land his vaunted hooks. Throughout his career, he’s alternated between inducing yawns and inspiring awe, but recently, in a new weight class against bigger fighters, yawns have loomed more prominent than the awe.
“Spectacular” awaits against Arce, a short, aggressive fighter whose counter opportunities are accompanied with neon signs and blinking arrows. Arce, 61-6-2, with 46 KOs, has bounced back well from a swoon in 2009 that culminated in a lopsided defeat to Simphiwe Nongqayi. Since 2011 he has delivered a dramatic 12th-round knockout against Wilfredo Vazquez, Jr., avenged his loss to Nongqayi, and took out Lorenzo Parra within five rounds.
But the 34-year-old’s best days took place two divisions south of 122, when he regularly gained 15 pounds after weigh-ins and walked into the ring with a significant weight advantage. Nowadays, he’s the type of pug Donaire feasts on. While aggression teetering on recklessness accentuates a style that has made Arce one of Mexico’s more popular action figures, the usual bloody mask likely won’t be the only consequence against Donaire’s combination of speed, size, and power. Arce’s left hook to the body will probably be met with a more ruthless left hook to the head.
Arce’s best hope is to follow the lead of countryman Juan Manuel Marquez and try to strike gold with a knockout. Known for delivering punishing combinations that revolve around the body attack Donaire lacks, “Travieso” is a threat as long as he’s standing. But that won’t be long if his defense sprouts the leaks we’re accustomed to seeing. Look no further than Raul Martinez, Volodomyr Sydorenko, or Montiel to examine the cruel hazards of being 5’4 in front of the Filipino sensation. Guys Donaire’s height or taller tend to hold up pretty well, at least for a while. Sans a tight defense, the diminutive get decimated.
After an unusually busy year, it might be a relief to see Donaire close out the calendar with an exclamation mark, particularly if he’s matched with Guillermo Rigondeaux and Abner Mares in 2013. It’s likely a mistake, however, to expect Saturday night to be more competitive, or even as competitive, as his previous three conquests. Arce has the tools to finally drag a Donaire performance out from the dregs of tedium, but not much else.