Less than two years ago, Nonito Donaire was firmly established in the top five of most experts' pound-for-pound ratings and was on the fast track to potential Hall of Fame status. The ring, however, can change story lines in a Filipino Flash. A lopsided defeat to Guillermo Rigondeaux broke Donaire's decade-long 30-fight winning streak and tougher-than-expected victories against Vic Darchinyan and Simpiwe Vetyeka have painted Donaire as a fading force. Still, the Vetyeka win -- a fifth-round butt-induced technical decision, allowed Donaire to capture his fourth divisional crown and better yet, it was the lineal championship.
On Saturday, Donaire faces a day of reckoning against hard-punching "regular" titlist Nicholas Walters, a Panama-based Jamaican with explosives in both fists. He's coming off a sensational one-punch knockout over Darchinyan, who, at 38, had seen better days but had been expected to cause trouble.
Will Donaire-Walters represent the return of "The Filipino Flash's" top form or will it be a changing of the guard? Only the ring can answer that question.
Troubled Times: Donaire is returning to the ring less than five months after suffering a severe gash over his eye against Vetyeka; is that enough time for the tissue to fully heal? Also, up until the stoppage Donaire-Vetyeka was a close fight statistically. Vetyeka led 49-47 in total connects and 24-12 in landed jabs but Donaire prevailed 35-25 in power connects. Both landed freely on the other as Vetyeka landed 42% of his power punches on Donaire (a troubling figure) while Donaire landed 41% of his hooks, crosses and uppercuts. The pace was pedestrian at best as Donaire averaged 35.2 punches per round to Vetyeka's 37.
In his last 3 fights (vs. Vetyeka, Darchinyan II & Rigondeaux) Donaire averaged 29 punches thrown/8 landed per round (feather avg.: 58/17) after landing 16 of 47 per round in his previous five fights. He landed 38% of his power shots in his last three fights after landing 48% in his previous five. (feather avg.: 36%).
Can Donaire regain the fire he said he had lost in his most recent fights? The numbers may well tell the story, for unless Donaire is too far gone physically his soul will command his mind and body to do its bidding.
Stating His Case: The 5-foot-7 Walters boasts a freakishly long 73-inch reach and in his last two fights against Alberto Garza and Darchinyan he has used it to produce pyrotechnics.
Against Garza he shined statistically: 47% overall connects, 39% jabs and 58% power as well as connect gaps of 91-51 overall, 41-11 jabs and 50-40 power, which were made closer only by Garza's 246-192 bulge in total punch attempts. Walters' jab was impressive as he landed 10.2 per round -- more than double the 4.5 featherweight average -- and his defensive numbers were sterling (21% overall, 13% jabs, 25% power).
The Darchinyan fight was Walters' moment in the sun. Although Darchinyan was an ancient 38 he was still good enough to greatly trouble Donaire in their rematch and was thought to be a test for the Jamaican. While Walters initially struggled with the Armenian's crab-like stance he eventually solved the puzzle. A swooping lead right uppercut dropped Darchinyan late in round two while a massive hook to the jaw ended matters in round five.
The pace was modest (40.2 per round for Walters, 37.8 for Darchinyan) but the biggest differences were in the raw connects (62-26 overall, 14-1 jabs, 48-25 power) and the percentages (31%-14% overall, 13%-1% jabs, 50%-24% power). Darchinyan's southpaw stance neutralized Walters' long jab (21 thrown/2.8 connects per round) but the Jamaican found ways to incorporate the rest of his arsenal. That versatility will be vital to his success against Donaire.
Prediction: Donaire is no longer the explosive force that wiped out Fernando Montiel four years ago; he throws fewer punches, they don't land nearly as often and the fire in the belly is nowhere near what it used to be. Walters, on the other hand, is young, hungry, powerful and eager to prove a point. The torch won't be passed here; rather, it will be seized by TKO.