In October of 2011, I covered Nonito Donaire's Madison Square Garden debut vs. undefeated WBO super flyweight champion Omar Andrés Narvaez of Argentina. The week before the fight, I participated in a media phone call where Donaire's promoter, Bob Arum, spoke openly about his goal to build Donaire into the sport's next pay-per-view star.
It was eight months after his sensational Round 2 TKO of Fernando Montiel, and the Filipino-American fighter was riding a wave of momentum. But it all ground to a temporary halt that evening in midtown Manhattan.
Donaire came away with another victory—a shutout unanimous decision—but the manner in which he won did nothing to build up his buzz as boxing's next all-action star. The bout was a listless affair, with Narvaez remaining behind a turtled-up guard all night and Donaire unable to force him to engage.
By the end of the night, much of the Garden crowd was chanting "boring," and other less appropriate refrains.
Most of the blame would have to go to poor match-making. The 36-year-old Narvaez recognized in the opening round that he was confronted with a bigger, stronger, quicker opponent whom he had no chance of beating. Given the situation, he opted simply to avoid taking any serious head trauma and spent the entire 12 rounds avoiding danger of any kind.
Donaire was visibly frustrated and could be overheard telling his corner "I'm bored" between rounds.
Post-fight, Donaire and Arum addressed the press outside the ring. At one point, Donaire commandeered a microphone and began interviewing his promoter.
The first question he asked Arum was noteworthy: "How about a fight between Nonito Donaire and Jorge Arce?"
The members of press row grumbled and nodded their collective approval. Following the snoozefest he'd been forced to put on with Navraez, what better possible opponent could the Filipino Flash ask for?
Could any fighter offer a better potential foil for Donaire's explosively precise counterpunching than the relentlessly attacking, four-division world champion, Mexican Cowboy?
This Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, Nonito Donaire will finally get his wish for an ideal opponent, as he is scheduled to defend his Ring and WBO super bantamweight titles against Arce at the Toyota Center in Houston.
It will cap off a sensational 2012 for Donaire, if he can close according to plans. Arce will be Donaire's fourth straight world-class opponent this year.
In February, he moved up to the 122-pound division and captured the vacant WBO super bantamweight title by beating Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. by split decision at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Despite the split decision, the fight was never close.
Judge Ruben Garcia's 115-112 card for Vasquez was among the most incompetent handed in during a year of bad judging.
In July, Donaire knocked off the IBF belt holder, Jeffrey Mathebula at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. Giving up over a half-foot in height, Donaire adjusted like the elite talent he is and won by wide margins on all three cards, knocking Mathebula down in the fourth.
Donaire's toughest matchup of the year was supposed to take place in October, when he challenged Japanese star Toshiaki Nishioka, once again in Carson. Instead it ended up being Donaire's best performance of 2012 to date. Nishioka attempted to fight a cautious fight from a distance for most of the early rounds.
But when he moved into range and challenged Donaire, the results were predictable. Donaire floored him in the sixth and again in the ninth, before winning by TKO in Round 9.
Now, just two months later, he is set to step back into the ring against another top-ranked opponent, one who can be reliably counted upon to take the fight to him and give him a war.
One of two things can happen in Houston this Saturday. Either we will see Arce record the upset of the year or we will watch Donaire put an exclamation point on 2012.
If Donaire can stay on track with this last fight, a potentially even bigger 2013 awaits. Superfights are still waiting for him at 122 in Abner Mares and Guillermo Rigondeaux. If he chooses to move up to 126, he's got great potential fights in opponents like Orlando Salido, Daniel Ponce de Leon and Billy Dib.
And if everything goes the way most people expect it to go on Saturday, Donaire will enter next year as 2012's Fighter of the Year.