5 Fights to Make Nonito Donaire a Legend
On Saturday night at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, pound-for-pound entrant Nonito Donaire, 29(18)-1, unified the WBO and IBF super bantamweight titles, winning a unanimous decision from South Africa's Jeffrey Mathebula by scores of 119-108, 117-110 and 118-109.
I had the fight closer, scoring 115-111 for the Filipino Flash. I thought he gave away entire rounds eating the nearly 6' Mathebula's jabs while looking to set up one big shot.
The strategy nearly paid off for him in the fourth, when he floored Mathebula with a left hook at the bell. Mathebula was able to get up and return to his corner, but he looked to be close to out cold.
With the fight seeming to grow close, Donaire's trainer Robert Garcia urged him to get busier in the championship rounds. Donaire responded, seeming to flip a switch. He hurt Mathebula badly in Round 11 and followed it up by winning an exciting Round 12.
Mathebula was a useful opponent for Donaire for a couple of reasons. In the first place, the victory allowed him to solidify his championship status in the 122-pound division by adding a second belt.
Beyond that, the 5'11" Mathebula provided Donaire with experience against a larger opponent, after a career spent usually being the bigger man at flyweight, super flyweight and bantamweight.
The practice should pay off down the line. While there's still business for Donaire in the loaded 122-pound division, as long as he keeps winning, there will be ever growing clamor for him to move up.
Abner Mares, WBC Super Bantamweight Champion
Abner Mares, 24(13)-0-1, won the Showtime Bantamweight tournament last year, beating Joseph Agbeko in a controversial final in August, then outpointing him decisively, 118-110, on all three cards in a December rematch.
In addition to the Showtime tournament, the victory gave Mares the IBF bantamweight crown and the WBC silver medal belt. At the time, Donaire held the WBC regular world title, along with the WBO strap. So a showdown at 118 between these two would have made perfect sense for sometime last Spring.
Instead, both men moved up in weight class. Donaire won the vacant WBO strap last February over Wilfred Vasquez Jr. while Mares took the vacant WBC super bantamweight belt by nearly shutting out tough veteran Eric Morel.
These are two undefeated world champions with Hall of Fame victories on their resumes. This fight is overdue. It's time for somebody's "O" to go.
Guillermo Rigondeaux, WBA Super Bantamweight Champion
Guillermo Rigondeaux, 10(8)-0, is a former two-time Olympic Gold medalist and the current WBA super bantamweight champion—a title he won before his 10th professional fight.
Rigondeaux is listed at 31. Since turning professional in 2009, he has been making up for lost time, taking the toughest fights he can get. In January, he TKO'd Rico Ramos, then undefeated and ranked No. 2 by The RIng, in six.
Last month, he stopped tough prospect Teon Kennedy in five, knocking him down five times along the way.
Normally, there would be no discussion about a fighter of Donaire's stature taking on a guy with only 10 professional fights. But this is not your typical guy with only 10 professional fights.
He is one of the top amateur international stars of the past decade, and he might be the best man in the world at 122.
After defecting from a dictator to get here, he deserves the opportunity to prove himself in the ring.
Orlando Salido, WBO Featherweight Champion
Orlando Salido is 38(26)-11(5)-2 but don't let the WBO 126-pound champion's record mislead you. Salido turned pro as a teenager and was basically thrown straight to the wolves.
In the past decade, he has lost three times. Future Hall of Famer Juan Manuel Marquez beat him by unanimous decision in September 2004, as did Yuri Gamboa in September 2010.
He lost a split decision for the vacant IBF title to Cristobal Cruz in October 2010, then won a rematch decisively in May 2010.
In April 201, he went to Puerto Rico and shocked the boxing world by administering a beatdown to undefeated phenom Juan Manuel Lopez.
In the rematch last March, Salido stopped Lopez in 10. At the time, he was trailing on all three cards.
If it had gone to the cards, it would have been yet another absurd decision. Salido had been giving Lopez another boxing lesson and should have been up by several rounds.
With Yuri Gamboa likely moving up, Salido is the top of the food chain at 126. If he's still there, by the time Donaire moves up, this would make a thrilling debut in the division.
If he could pull it off, this is the kind of win that would earn Donaire a place in all-time, pound-for-pound debates.
It might be logistically difficult. Yuri Gamboa, 21(16)-0, appears to be done fighting at 126 and I would not be shocked to see him competing at 140 or even 147, sooner rather than later, to take advantage of all the high-profile matchups available in that neighborhood.
But if he stays down in the super featherweight/lightweight range, then Gamboa-Donaire could very well be a high-profile fight.
Both men have compiled highlight-reel knockouts and have amassed wins over future Hall of Famers. They are two of the very elite of their generation, and if they're both still undefeated and fighting anywhere near each other in weight, in another year or two, then this will be a super fight that demands to be made.
Adrien Broner, WBO Super Featherweight Champion
Adrien Broner, 23(19)-0, still has to be regarded as a developing talent. But so far, he has shown enough to leave hardcore boxing fans hungry for much more.
As with Gamboa, Broner might move up too high in division too soon to allow for a showdown with Donaire. But if it ever happens, it should be a thriller.
It's a legitimate question whether or not Donaire would be able to carry his power all the way up to 130, while Broner has already demonstrated the ability to knockout opponents that size on many occasions.
At the same time, it would be interesting to see how "The Problem" would handle a situation where he did not enjoy a decisive speed advantage.
Broner is a kind of protege of Floyd Mayweather, and appears to consciously model his in-ring style and out-of-ring persona, after Money.
In a sense, this fight would have further intrigue due to the way it would echo Pacquiao-Mayweather—the fight fans have been waiting years for.
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