Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
For two rounds, it appeared as if the skepticism had been wrong and the career obituaries were premature. Featherweight champion Nonito Donaire looked confident, his hand speed superior to that of opponent Nicholas Walters, and at the end of the second frame, he had Walters wobbled and hurt. Four rounds later, however, the fight was all over and a career might have ended too, as Donaire, for the first time in his storied career, was bloodied, battered and beaten inside the distance.
Walters had impressed in his last outing, annihilating Vic Darchinyan inside five rounds in May; in contrast, Donaire, after his four-victory Fighter of the Year pinnacle in 2012, had underwhelmed, losing a lopsided decision to Guillermo Rigondeaux and then scoring less-than-compelling wins over Darchinyan and Simphewe Veytaka. There was a sense that, with his family boosted by the arrival of a young son and following a reunion with his previously estranged father, Donaire’s mind might have been elsewhere and that the time may have been ripe for a changing of the guard. And so it proved, even if it didn’t initially appear that it would.
Donaire’s speed and combinations probably won him the first round. They certainly secured him the second, his short-range combinations inside the lankier Walters’ longer punches punctuated by a booming left hook that wobbled his Jamaican foe badly enough that had the bell not run to end the frame almost immediately, it is conceivable the outcome might ultimately have been different.
The bell did ring, however, to end the second round and again to begin the third, and it was in the third that the tide changed permanently, when a short right uppercut from Walters dropped Donaire to his haunches. The Filipino’s visit to the canvas was brief, and the two men exchanged furious exchanges at the end of the round, but now Donaire fully appreciated the extent to which Walters could hurt him, and the dynamic of the fight shifted permanently.
Donaire now sought to stay outside Walters’ long reach, as Walters stalked him behind a stiff jab. Repeatedly, Walters backed him to the ropes, and although Donaire fought his way out as best he could with explosive combinations, it was clear that Walters’ heavy hands were taking their toll. At the end of the fourth, Donaire retreated to his corner with blood streaming from his right eye, and his body language did not suggest a man confident in his fate.
Even so, the end came suddenly, and showed that Walters, as well as being an offensive machine, has deft defensive skills as well. An increasingly ragged Donaire launched a left hook from a distance, Walters leaned back out of the way, and before an out-of-position Donaire could set himself again, Walters launched a right hand that caught him high on the left side of the head. Donaire crashed to the canvas face-first, and although he somehow hauled himself to his feet, he was in no position to continue and referee Raul Caiz Jr. rightly waved it off.
Walters was magnanimous in victory.
“Donaire is a super, super boxer, and a great champion,” he said. But, he added, “I was bigger, younger, quicker, stronger, and more intelligent.”
Donaire willingly conceded what had happened.
“He knocked the shit out of me,” he said. “He's an amazing guy. I was at my best; I never trained this hard. I knew the power what he had inside the ring. The size he had over me, I couldn't even move.
I have to go back to the drawing board. I can't compete with a guy like Walters.”
He turned to Walters with one final compliment. “You’re amazing,” he said, and on this night at least he certainly was. Walters can seemingly look forward to a bright future. Donaire will go home and consider his.