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Nonito Donaire earned Fighter of the Year honors not only by what he did in the ring but also by what he did outside of it.
For the first time in over a decade, it can be said that the best fighter to come out of The Phillipines is not Manny Pacquiao.
It's still an odd thing to realize, but 2012 will be the year the torch was passed to Nonito Donaire, and he earned it.
"The Filipino Flash" fought four times during the year, nearly twice the output of his contemporaries and he took on some A-level talent from start to finish. Starting with Wilfredo Vazquez, Jr. on Feb. 4, Donaire took home the vacant WBO super bantamweight title by split decision, despite putting Vazquez down in the ninth and dominating late.
Five months later, he took the IBF title from South African Jeffrey Mathebula on Donaire's adopted home turf in California. Despite giving up nearly five inches in height to Mathebula, Donaire punished him all night long, sending him to the canvas in the fourth and home with a broken jaw after the unanimous decision was announced.
He came back just three months later and sent Japanese legend Toshiaki Nishioka into retirement with a ninth round TKO, claiming the vacant WBC belt. Crowning the year, Donaire had little trouble against Mexican legend Jorge Arce, dispatching him with a patented left hook in the third and sending Arce also into retirement.
Four fights in ten months with three of his four opponents rated in the Ring Magazine top 10 for the super bantamweight/junior flyweight division. Name me another marquis fighter willing to put in that kind of workload in this era, and you've got another contender for Fighter of the Year.
But it's more than what Donaire did in the ring that earns him the award. Outside of the showboating antics of Floyd Mayweather Jr., there is not another fighter who's brought awareness to the speculation of rampant PED use in the sport.
Nearly a month removed from Pacquiao/Marquez IV, there's still chatter that Marquez fought juiced in part because his strength coach, Angel Heredia, has ties to BALCO and suspended athletes in other sports. The tests have been reported as being negative, but draw your own conclusions.
With Donaire, there is no speculation to be made. After announcing he would undergo random drug testing with the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) in June, he earned not only credibility by not following other fighters who cling to antiquated state commission rules, but by putting his reputation on the line as a clean and honorable fighter.
No one else has been willing to do this in the sport. Not Mayweather. Not Pacquiao. Not Marquez. Not anyone. Donaire stands alone and for that, he also stands alone as the Fighter of the Year.