A “Flash” in the Pan?

After an impressive start to his boxing career, Nonito “The Filipino Flash” Donaire has quickly moved through the divisions, adding five belts to his mantle, and cementing himself as a rising star in the boxing world. However, the past 18 months has been challenging for The Filipino Flash as he suffered a tough loss to Cuban sensation Guillermo Rigondeaux and barely snuck away with a victory in November 2013 against Vic Darchinyan on a round 9 one-punch knockout.

Both fights created some questions about Donaire’s future and whether or not he was committed to the sport. He self-admittedly confirmed the latter after the Rigondeaux loss and since then, switched trainers from former Trainer of the Year Robert Garcia, back to his father, the man who started Donaire on his dynamic rise in the sport.

This weekend in Macau, China, in front of what sounded like a hometown crowd, Donaire faced off against South African featherweight title holder Simpiwe Vetyeka for the WBA Super Featherweight title. Not only was the fight a headline bout for Donaire, but it was also an opportunity for Donaire to challenge himself and show the boxing world that he still wants to be a legend.

Donaire, who currently holds a record of 32-2-0 with 21 KO’s, came into the boxing fray as an exciting, fast-paced, and athletic fighter who demonstrated superior footwork and had great power in both hands. His first loss was in 2001, before rattling off 30 victories and earning himself five titles. His second loss came 12 years later to Rigondeaux in 2013. With a historic run under his belt it was surprising to see Donaire struggle during his last two outings, and more importantly to hear that such a talented fighter would be uninterested in a sport that has given him so much fortune.

On Saturday night, after a challenging 18 months that included heartbreak in the ring and life-changing events outside of the ring, Nonito Donaire was given an opportunity to prove his critics wrong.

During the first round, Donaire seemed timid as was the case in his last two fights. While some may argue that Donaire was trying to feel out his opponent, I became concerned that I was watching the same fight from last November against Darchinyan. Suddenly, at the end of the round the worst possible scenario played out for Donaire. It was unclear as to what happened at first glance, as Donaire turned his back to Vetyeka and held his eye in pain. The replay showed a significant cut above his left eye that obviously bothered Donaire. In addition to the cut, the slow start made round 1 a toss-up that could’ve been scored for either fighter.

The second round started the same as both fighters were very sloppy in the ring. Neither fighter was firing crisp punches or applying any pressure whatsoever. Again, during the middle part of the fight there was another head butt between the two. Again it was very hard to make out the head butt on television, but it appeared to be significant as once again, Donaire turned his back and grimaced in pain. Referee Luis Pablon called a timeout during the later part of the round to have the ringside doctor check Donaire’s eye. At this point, any casual observer could tell that something substantial was going to happen sooner rather than later.

Sensing that the fight may be called off at any point, Donaire came out firing in the early part of round 3 landing solid combinations and finding a permanent home for his right-hand. After two slow rounds for Donaire, which could have been scored for either fighter, Donaire clearly took the third round.

The rules of this particular fight state that if the fight was stopped before the start of round 5 it would be ruled a no contest. If both fighters reached the start of round 5 the bell would ring and the round would begin so that it may be scored by the judges. HBO rules correspondent Steve Weisfeld, who joined the HBO Boxing telecast alongside Jim Lampley, Max Kellerman and Roy Jones Jr., explained the rule at which point it was apparent that Donaire was simply trying to get out of round 4.

In the fourth round fans were finally treated to the dynamo they were introduced to four years ago, as Donaire landed a short left hook that sent Vetyeka to the mat. The 10-9 round for Donaire in the third and the eventual 10-8 fourth round would prove significant as Referee Luis Pabon called for a third timeout to check Donaire’s eye. In between the fourth and fifth round it was apparent that the fight was going to be stopped by Referee Pabon as cameras focused on the conversation in Donaire’s corner.

As expected, the break between rounds confirmed that both Referee Pabon and the ringside doctor would be stopping the fight.

The judges’ scorecards were read and Nonito Donaire was awarded a unanimous decision (49-46 on all scorecards) victory over Vetyeka. Donaire earned his fifth title with the victory and gave the audience in attendance an apologetic speech for the performance, and turn of events that led to a short, anti-climatic and controversial fight.

However, with five titles on his resume, a nearly perfect record and the technical skills to back it up, Donaire will remain a big draw. The division has talent, which includes young Jamaican brawler Nicholas Walters, who beat Darchinyan on the Donaire undercard, and #1 ranked Johnny Gonzalez who upset Abner Mares in August 2013.

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