Christmas came early to The Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, as Top Rank rewarded Nonito Donaire with a cakewalk against former flyweight rascal Jorge Arce. To the surprise of no one, Donaire flattened Arce in the third round of a fight that was more spectacle than spectacular.
Donaire, San Leandro, California, had already notched victories over Wilfredo Vazquez Jr, Jeffrey Mathebula, and Toshiaki Nishioka in 2012, with each win eliciting criticism from keyboards and boos from crowds. In casting Arce as the foil, Top Rank scripted a scene where Donaire would look spectacular against the aging, undersized, but still adored Mexican icon.
That both fighters adopted approaches contrary to their natural inclinations betrayed the mismatch this fight proved to be. Prone to spending large portions of his fights hoping that his opponent will be kind enough to present an opening, Donaire, 121 1/2, dropped his usual style and went on the aggressive. Arce, Los Mochis, Mexico, once one of the more earnest dervishes in the sport, was forced toward the ropes, where he could do little but watch his antagonist move into range. Donaire landed his vaunted left hook, straight right, and left uppercut in the round. Arce was justified in being wary.
The second round saw Arce, 122, dropped for opening up. A counter right from Donaire forced Arce to his knee. Arce responded to the knockdown with the spirit that has endeared him to so many, tearing after Donaire, and even landing a left hook (what does it say of this fight that the word “even” is appropriate here?). Soon after, a counter left uppercut from Donaire stiffened Arce’s legs, tempering the smaller man’s aggression. The remainder of the round saw Donaire use his jab while measuring his counter left hook. In the third round he found the distance he wanted.
There is a brutal logic to Donaire’s fights, something akin to modus ponens, that says: “Opponents who attack me are knocked senseless. If you are such a foe, you will be deprived of your consciousness.” In the third round, Arce, aggression ever his currency, invited exchanges and the inevitable conclusion. Playing dead might have been a more effective tactic. The end started with a right hand from Donaire that left Arce in a tangle of limbs near the ropes for a second knockdown. Arce beat the count, and wanted to continue; his fighting spirit as much a virtue as a lemming’s urge to swim. Donaire moved in and landed a left hook that sprawled Arce on his back. The official time of the stoppage was 2:59 of the third round.
The fight was a gross mismatch, and expectations of anything but a knockout win for Donaire, now 31-1 (20), were ludicrous. Top Rank delivered Arce because he promised to make Donaire captivating. This is specious reasoning. The knockout itself, as a showcase of athleticism was impressive, but a spectacular knockout requires the proper context. Pancaking a guy picked for that purpose is hardly the stuff of legend, and neither drama nor excitement accompanied the inevitable last night.
When pressed for future opponents, Donaire mentioned Abner Mares, who has been challenging Donaire publicly. The rivalry between Top Rank and Golden Boy is likely to scuttle the fight until one of the combatants can change promoters. Instead of the fight everyone wants, a fight with Top Rank stablemate Guillermo Rigondeaux is probably next for the Filipino.
Arce, 61-7-2 (46), if he is to be taken at his word, has retired. Of course, Arce is a born fighter, and the odds of him staying beyond the ropes are slim. No, he could not beat Donaire, but surely he will start to think there are others he can best, especially before throngs of adoring fans in Mexico. Before departing the ring, Arce offered his only English sentence of the night to another retiree. Smiling at Larry Merchant, Arce said, “You are the best.” Fighters like Arce, those lovable pugs who smile through the blood, who understand the gravity of the performance, and who hurl punches with a zeal born of a joy in violence and a responsibility to the crowd, are a dying breed. There is room among the best for him as well.