There’s no mightier fall in all of sports than what happens in boxing.
Just ask Nonito Donaire.
Last year, within the span of just one week, he went from being guffawed over and celebrated by the Boxing Writers Association of America as the best boxer of the previous year to being just about completely dismantled over 12 rounds by Guillermo Rigondeaux in what was the latter’s 12th professional fight.
Donaire fought just once more after, a rematch with Vic Darchinyan in November.
The two had met six years prior and had gone opposite ways since. While Donaire was near the top of almost every legitimate news outlet’s pound-for-pound list, Darchinyan had lost fights with just about every upper-echelon fighter he’d faced since.
Regardless, Donaire appeared sluggish and unsure of himself in the bout. Where in their first encounter, Donaire was fast, accurate and deliberate with his offense, in the second fight he appeared lost at times.
So lost, in fact, that by the time Donaire caught Darchinyan in Round 9 with the punch that started the technical knockout win, he was down on two of the three judges’ scorecards and only even on the other.
So is this guy still elite?
There’s lots to like about Donaire. He’s absurdly athletic and has real power in both hands.
His nickname, “The Filipino Flash,” is spot on, too. Donaire has fast hands and feet, and he’s able to move his body in and out of harm’s way so well that it looks at times as if his opponent is stuck in mud.
More importantly, Donaire is an accomplished professional. Look, it’s one thing to have talent, but it’s another thing altogether to actually do something with it.
Boxing history is filled with names of people you wouldn’t recognize who probably should have been elite-level superstars. Why? Because they didn’t know how to apply the craft.
But Donaire knows. The 31-year-old is a multiple-time world titleholder and appears to be on his way to more.
In fact, he has a chance to secure such against Simpiwe Vetyeka on Saturday in China. While Vetyeka isn’t the lineal champion of the division (that honor is vacant per the keeper of such things, the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board), he does hold the WBA featherweight title belt and is ranked No. 1 overall in the division.
While a win over Vetyeka wouldn’t prove Donaire is still elite, it certainly wouldn’t hurt the argument for him being so either.
Despite being 1-1 in his last two fights, Donaire is still one of the top talents in the sport.
Losing to Rigondeaux, arguably the premier fighter of the lower weight classes, is nothing to hold against him. That’d be the equivalent of saying Tim Bradley is any worse for having lost to Manny Pacquiao, or that Pacquiao is for having lost to Juan Manuel Marquez.
When elite fighters face each other, someone has to lose. The idea that one should craft a career to avoid losses is one that has only taken hold in recent history.
Throughout boxing history, the best almost always wanted to prove themselves as the best. That’s why all the great fighters you can think have multiple losses on their records.
Ray Robinson lost 19 times. Muhammad Ali lost five times. Roberto Duran lost 16 times.
Moreover, while it appeared Donaire was on his way to a sluggish loss to Darchinyan last year, he did manage to pull out the win.
In fact, shouldn’t credit be given for when a fighter looks slow and sluggish but still somehow finds a way to get the win?
Isn’t that what elite fighters do?
The jury is still out on Donaire. While he’s had a solid professional career thus far, he still has much of the ladder to climb if he hopes to reach the status his history and ability indicate he can achieve.
If Donaire hopes to make it all the way there, amid the folks at the very tip top of the pyramid, the Floyd Mayweathers and Andre Wards of the world, he’ll need to take care of Vetyeka first.
Because an elite fighter would.
Kelsey McCarson contributes to Bleacher Report, The Sweet Science and Boxing Channel. He is a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.