Nonito Donaire dispatched a surprisingly game Vic Darchinyan in nine rounds last night at American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, Texas. Darchinyan was supposed to be a rehab assignment, a face-first confidence booster for Donaire, who was toyed with by Cuban puppet master Guillermo Rigondeaux last April. But before Donaire’s left hook sealed his fate a second time, Darchinyan gave Donaire all he could handle.
Donaire-Darchinyan II was billed as a grudge match, a rematch the public was clamouring for, which, like most promotional ballyhoo, is at best a half truth. Any fight with Darchinyan, who generates disdain for his opponents like the sun makes heat, is a grudge match. Interest in this rematch, however, was lost to the hour glass. Until being served his comeuppance by Rigondeaux, Donaire, San Leandro, California, had looked mostly dominant. Darchinyan, on the other hand, had suffered four losses since Donaire dealt him a dose of temporary amnesia in 2007.
There was also the age factor. At 37, Darchinyan entered last night’s fight a veritable grandpa for a featherweight. While the “Raging Bull” was no longer in the frenzied state of his prime, his modus operandi was still to gore everything in his path. This was his undoing against Donaire in their first fight, and was expected—along with significant deficits in size, speed, youth, and power—to seal his doom in the rematch. But, like Bag Man Joe Sarno, in “Way of the Gun,” the one thing that can be said about Darchinyan is that he’s a survivor. On this night, he needed to survive only four minutes longer.
The early rounds were marked by pawing and feinting. Like snipers wary of shooting lest they betray their position, both fighters kept their activity to a cautious minimum. Having learned his lesson in their first fight, Darchinyan, 125 3/4, kept his aggression in check. Rather than arrogantly bore into Donaire, Darchinyan darted in with lead left hands, using different angles and trajectories to keep his opponent off rhythm. Donaire, 125 1/4, winged his blazing left hook, and struck with right hands, but largely struggled to find the mark.
It was more than just timing that kept Donaire at bay, however. Darchinyan was hurting him, and until he could parse the older man’s unpredictable attack, Donaire was wary of exposing himself to further abuse. Still, despite Donaire’s unexpected troubles, the difference in power between the fighters was tangible. While Darchinyan, Glendale, California, clapped a number of hard punches off Donaire’s face, Donaire never seemed in danger. When Donaire found room to land however, he shook Darchinyan to his toes. The question—really the question in every Donaire fight—was whether his opponent would make the mistake of trading with him, and all that shaking would turn to stiffness.
Darchinyan carried the fight in the middle rounds, sticking Donaire with straight lefts to the head and body, while limiting his fury to two-punch servings to avoid getting countered. But in the ninth round, perhaps emboldened by his success, Darchinyan went toe-to-toe with Donaire. That decision sealed his fate. As Darchinyan loaded up his left, Donaire struck with a scorching left hook that sent Darchinyan hard to the canvas. Darchinyan rose quickly, but the fight was ostensibly over. Donaire poured it on, driving the woozy Darchinyan to the corner where he banged away until referee Laurence Cole waived the fight off. The stoppage came at 2:06 of the ninth round. However much has changed since their first encounter, this much remains the same: to exchange with Donaire is to invite disaster.
It was suggested during the broadcast that Donaire looked sluggish, that he was not himself against Darchinyan. Sluggish, bloated, constipated—whatever. This was typical Donaire: he struggles when opponents refuse to cooperate and looks sensational when they do. Darchinyan refused to play nice for almost nine rounds, and in the handful of seconds when he did, Donaire wiped him out. For better or for worse, Donaire 32-2 (21), is as close to a guarantee as can be found in boxing. If his gets his way, a rematch with Rigondeaux—who has already shown the discipline and pedigree to defuse the explosive Donaire—is next. Unless he can add a wrinkle to his game, Donaire is facing his own guarantee in that fight.
Despite his advanced age, Darchinyan, 39-6-1 (28), remains a handful for any featherweight. Not the concussive puncher he was at flyweight and super flyweight, Darchinyan compensates for his diminished power by being as cagey and awkward as ever. That he was up on the cards when Donaire finished him is reason enough for Darchinyan to fight on. Besides, Darchinyan is too nasty, too proud, maybe even too delusional, to walk away after being knocked out. He’ll be back. There. There’s another guarantee for you.