By Kieran Mulvaney
Twelve months ago, Nonito Donaire was a 115-pound champion about to take a shot at a 118-lb belt. Now he’s a 118 lb champion once more on the move through the weight divisions; on Saturday, he faces Wilfredo Vazquez Jr in a junior bantamweight contest that is the opening fight in Saturday’s first HBO World Championship Boxing broadcast of 2012.
Donaire is coming off a year in which some things went spectacularly well and some things went slightly less so. Here’s a quick look back at the good and the bad of Donaire’s 2011, and what the Filipino Flash needs to do in 2012 and beyond:
The Good: Donaire’s second-round TKO destruction of Fernando Montiel on HBO last February launched him into the stratosphere. He not only took that bantamweight belt, but he annihilated a quality opponent, with what was the consensus KO of the year. Donaire suddenly found himself in the upper half of every pound-for-pound list, and he seemingly had the world at his feet.
The Bad: Donaire had had a moment like this before, when he knocked out Vic Darchinyan in 2007, only to languish (partly as a result of promotional conflicts) while in search of the next defining fight. That finally arrived against Montiel, but almost immediately Donaire again disappeared, embroiled in a contract dispute. That was resolved in time for Donaire to fight Omar Narvaez in New York City, but an enthusiastic crowd in the Big Apple was let down by a disappointing bout in which Narvaez refused to engage and Donaire professed himself “bored.”
The Future: The Narvaez debacle wasn’t entirely his fault; Donaire did what he could, but his opponent retreated into his shell early and never attempted to emerge from it. Now Donaire needs to load up his dance card as much as possible. His is a game based on speed and timing as well as power, and he would benefit from fighting regularly. Nobody expects him to make like Henry Armstrong and fight twice a month, but three or even four fights a year would help him fill the role that is being effectively vacated by certain other superstars who seem reluctant to engage on the main stage. Plenty of challenges await him, at 122 and even 126 lbs; but first, he needs to look impressive against the dangerous Vazquez.
If he does so, he can start 2012 the way he started 2011; the challenge this time is to maintain the momentum and cement his place at the top of the rankings.