"Oh my God."
Although it was never quite verbalized, you could read the sentiment on the face of boxing champion Nonito Donaire.
In the second round, opponent Vic Darchinyan landed a pair of stunning left hands that had Donaire shaken. Fighting for the first time since losing badly to two-time Cuban Olympic champion Guillermo Rigondeaux, and for the first time since his wife Rachel gave birth to a baby boy in July, Donaire questioned exactly what he was doing in a squared circle with the likes of Darchinyan, a brutal Armenian brawler with power to spare.
Time and again Darchinyan lowered his head, sometimes nearly to waist level, and let loose with a thunderous left. Time and again Donaire took the blow, his own counter left flying too high to do the slightest bit of good.
"Is this it for me?"
Donaire admitted to HBO's Max Kellerman that the thought briefly crossed his mind as Darchinyan demolished his face, causing the 30-year-old Filipino to fear his cheekbone was broken.
But, a gamer through and through, Donaire kept his composure, or at least the appearance of it. For a professional fighter, keeping your head, even as that small voice inside is screaming that you can't possibly continue doing this to yourself, is half the battle. To continue stalwart and unflappable as the world falls apart all around is just part of the game for a boxer at the highest level.
And make no mistake—when he tried to box, even against the aging Darchinyan, Donaire was a man woefully ill-prepared for the job at hand. It was a fight designed for Donaire to win, and in spectacular fashion. Eventually, in the penultimate ninth round, he did so with a flurry of punches—but not before a fighter he dispatched with ease six years ago gave him fits.
The judges' scorecards speak volumes. Texas officials had Darchinyan up 78-74, 78-74, and 76-76 going into the ninth round. Short of the knockout, or a succession of knockdowns, Donaire was going to see a third check in the loss column. His plan to move backwards and counter Darchinyan was a complete failure.
"More than anything, Donaire is a puncher," Kellerman said during the fight. "...He's a puncher dressed up as a boxer."
If that was ever in doubt, it was revealed as the truth against Rigondeaux, a brilliant technical fighter and amazing tactician. If he hopes to win the rematch he called for after the fight, Donaire, and his dueling trainers, father Nonito Senior and Robert Garcia, have to embrace his limitations—and his strengths.
In a boxing match, he stands no chance against Rigondeaux. To resume his career where he left off, climbing the pound-for-pound ladder and poised to succeed Manny Pacquiao as the Phillipines' favorite son, Donaire has to dispatch Rigondeaux. To do so, he will have to leave boxing far behind.
For that fight, Donaire will have to be ready. Just verbalizing confidence will not be enough. Athleticism, ferocity and his natural power will need to stand in for science. Donaire will need to force the kind of crazy exchange that punctuated the fourth round, a wild display of power punching that must have felt like a wind tunnel to boxing fans ringside. He'll need to repeat it time and again if he wants to avenge his loss against Rigondeaux.
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