Nonito Donaire entered his bout against Guillermo Rigondeaux as one of the hottest boxers—seemingly capable of dominating whoever tried to stand in his way.
Having won his past 30 fights and being crowned the 2012 Fighter of the Year, Donaire had reason to have such confidence. His dazzling skills and raw power had made him the most complete boxer in the world in the Super Bantamweight division and arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Yet, when he came up against the talented Rigondeaux, The Filipino Flash was nothing other than a disappointment—losing in a unanimous points decision.
The undefeated Cuban (12-0, 8 KO) showed patience and consistency as he broke down the flashy Donaire. He was patient, and he was tactical—waiting for his opponent to come at him and make mistakes, and then capitalizing on the opportunities presented for him.
And whilst it was only one loss, it was a very disappointing showing from Donaire, who appeared less determined than his opponent throughout the fight.
Maybe he was just frustrated with the lack of chances he had to knock down Rigondeaux; maybe there was something else that was bothering him.
But either way, Donaire was a distant second in terms of class, patience and talent on the night to Rigondeaux, and he showed that he still has a long way to go in his claims to be the best.
"Donaire's an excellent fighter but you cannot win a fight with one shot", said Rigondeaux after the fight (via Jon Saraceno, USA Today), and his assessment of Donaire couldn't have been more correct.
For it's one thing to have a flashy style built around big hits and clean strikes, but when he came up against an opponent that had a more conservative game, and one that looks to work the body, Donaire was shown to have no comeback.
The judges might have found 113, 112 and 111 points for Donaire, respectively, but the reality was that Donaire was simply outclassed here.
He did not have an answer to Rigondeaux's discipline and consistency.
Without a style that can adapt to different fighters, Donaire will not go as far as many were projecting when his streak was in tact and the accolades were flowing in.
Moreover, without the wisdom to accept that different fighters will require different tactics, Donaire won't get anywhere near to where he'd like to be—being crowned the best of them all.
For perhaps the most alarming issue on the night for Donaire was that of his brashness—stating after the fight that he didn't even study for the fight.
So Donaire didn't study at all? C'mon, I can see the shoulder ailment. But you don't study who you're facing next? Thats weak #boxing— Steve Kim (@stevemaxboxing) April 14, 2013
Donaire is very talented, still, regardless of tonight. But there are fundamental holes in his game. Always has been.... #boxing— Steve Kim (@stevemaxboxing) April 14, 2013
Which for an HBO-televised fight, and one against a two-time Olympic champion nonetheless, suggests that the star fighter has some serious weaknesses in his game.
There is little doubting that Donaire has the skill set to become a genuine talent, perhaps even the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. But until he can learn to adapt his game—mostly his mental toughness and discipline—he will struggle to make the jump across from "great" to "elite."
Donaire simply tried to mail it in Saturday night, and it showed.
Regardless of whether he'd won one or 30 fights coming into the night, you just can't pull that against good fighters and expect to emerge victorious.
The Filipino Flash had said prior to the fight (per Jon Saraceno, USA Today) that this fight was "going to (come down to) who is the smartest guy in the ring and who has the biggest heart.'' If only he'd listened to his own words, as a 12-year streak came to an abrupt and largely disappointing end at Radio Music City Hall.
2012 must already seem like such a long time ago for Nonito Donaire.
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