Nonito On The Go? The Future For Donaire -- A Top Rank Love Affair?

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Nonito On The Go? The Future For Donaire -- A Top Rank Love Affair?
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Nonito Donaire holds the two world title belts he won vs. Montiel

Around 10 minutes after Nonito Donaire’s left fist dented the side of Fernando Montiel’s face, literally, things still hadn’t quite calmed down in the Harris household.  Between spilled beer, shouting and dozens of slow-mo replays on the DVR, those in attendance were still filled with jubilation.  After all, something like this doesn’t happen very often, especially between two elite fighters on top of their game. 

The shocking finality of that punch rejuvenated a crowd that had become rather bored by the dull undercard bout, featuring Mike Jones dancing around Jesus Soto Karass like he was auditioning for Dancing With The Stars or something.  As brilliant performances go, this was an A plus all the way, which led to the obvious musings pertaining to future opponents for Donaire. This crowd, which consisted of a pleasant blend of diehard fans and casual-at-best fans, offered up the usual stuff, from logical to clueless. 

One such reasonable idea was a bantamweight unification bout with one of the other two champions in the division, an idea that we’ll explore later.  Others involved elite fighters from lower weights moving up to bantamweight to fight Donaire.  These will not be explored here.  Clueless drivel about Donaire fighting Timothy Bradley or Floyd Mayweather was ignored, for the most part, as was the inevitable comparison to Manny Pacquiao. 

But upon further thought, the future for Donaire, given the current boxing landscape, is anything but clear.  Why?  For two reasons:  first is Donaire’s ability and willingness to move through multiple weight classes, the second is the ongoing feud between Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions.  Let’s examine both to see if we can identify a feasible path for Donaire’s future.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Donaire and Montiel at the weigh-in

Don’t Weight For Me

In the span of less than two years and 6 fights, Donaire has now owned four major world titles in three different weight classes, from flyweight to bantamweight.  This assumes you count the interim WBA title he recently held at junior bantamweight, which is up for debate.  Actually, whether the WBA title should even still be regarded as a major title is up for debate, but we can tackle that another day. 

The point is, Donaire has not only been trampling through weight classes, but has done so at elite levels and in short order.  And in those six fights, he’s won four of them inside of four rounds, and only one fight went to a decision.  The scarier part is the fact that he plans to climb another two weight classes, up to featherweight, in the near future. 

Given Donaire’s size (5’6”), skill, speed, and power, moving up to junior featherweight (122 pounds) or featherweight (126 pounds) seems perfectly plausible.  And when you consider that the top featherweights, Juan Manuel “JuanMa” Lopez and Yuriorkis Gamboa, are both shorter than Donaire (and JuanMa just recently moved up from 122), envisioning future matchups with either of them makes sense from the size perspective. 

For the sake of this discussion, let’s focus on possibilities within these three divisions:  bantamweight, junior featherweight, and featherweight.  However, any discussion must take the aforementioned feud into account, as it appears Top Rank’s boss, Bob Arum, refuses to do business with his rival, Golden Boy Promotions, run by none other than Oscar De La Hoya

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And from all accounts, that feeling is mutual, which isn’t good for the fans or the sport. For the purpose of this article, we’ll ignore that Donaire’s contract with Top Rank allegedly expires in May, and we’ll assume he plans to stay with Top Rank.  That being said, let’s chart a possible future course for Donaire.

Unfinished Business or No Business at All?

Donaire currently holds two of the four major world titles at bantamweight, which he won by goin’ all gangsta and smackin’ the taste outta Montiel’s mouth. In some (but certainly not all) cases, having two belts would be enough for fans to consider someone a top fighter in a given weight class, but bantamweight is a peculiar division. 

On Showtime, a bantamweight tournament involving four of the division’s top fighters has been taking place, with the finals of said tournament taking place April 23rd.  The winner of this bout, between IBF champ Joseph Agbeko and Abner Mares, will certainly lay claim to being the best, as he should, given the feat of winning this excellent tournament.  There is also the matter of WBA champ Anselmo Moreno, a quality fighter out of Panama that has fought and defeated a number of top contenders through the years, and has won 24 straight bouts to go with seven title defenses.  The question becomes, should Donaire stick around long enough to fight the Agbeko-Mares winner, Moreno, both, or neither? 

Donaire has claimed to want to “clean out” the division before moving up in weight, and given the recent rumblings that HBO plans to bring Donaire back on its airwaves in May, the obvious choice here would be Moreno, if he wins this weekend. Why? With the Agbeko-Mares bout being in late April, one would assume that May is too quick of a turnaround for that bout to happen.  But if this rumored May return isn’t true, and there would be time for the winner to face Donaire, the feud becomes an issue.

Al Bello/Getty Images
Joseph Agbeko could find himself in the ring with Donaire, if he can defeat Abner Mares

Mares is promoted by Golden Boy, so if he wins we can all forget about a Mares-Donaire bout.  Agbeko is a Don King fighter, and given the recent love-fest between King and Arum, this certainly could happen. Conclusion: Donaire should stick around for at least one more bantamweight fight, and given the potential scheduling issues, look for a Donaire-Moreno bout to take place on HBO in May.  Otherwise, waiting for the winner of Mares-Agbeko would put Donaire on the shelf for too long, and could result in an impossible fight anyway, so forget it.  And if he’s not going to further unify the division with one of these two fights, why stick around?   He should move up immediately if that’s the case.

A Junior Feather in Your Cap

Admittedly, there isn’t a lot of opportunity in the junior featherweight division.  Much of the talent in this neighborhood has moved on to featherweight.  And since Top Rank likes to keep fights in-house, that realistically leaves two possibilities for Donaire at 122.  The first is a bout with recently signed IBF champ Steve Molitor, a talented but highly beatable Canadian fighter, and someone that doesn’t really get the juices flowing.  Add to the fact that Molitor got demolished in his toughest fight, by Celestino Caballero, and you get the feeling the Donaire would just plow through this guy with ease. 

The other, more appetizing (and lucrative, probably) option is the winner of the upcoming Jorge Arce vs. Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. bout.  Arce is wildly popular in Mexico and does big business, but is getting a little long in the tooth at this point, and has been far less effective at the higher weights as he’s gotten older and changed divisions.  The undefeated Vazquez Jr., however, is a young star on the rise, the son of a former world champion, and is rapidly becoming a big attraction in his native Puerto Rico. 

Al Bello/Getty Images
A win for Filipinos everywhere. Could Donaire repeat the feat?

It is widely assumed that Vazquez Jr.’s advantages in youth, power, and size will be too much for Arce to handle.  If this turns out to be true, a fight in Puerto Rico against Donaire would be huge, as it would further the rivalry between the Philippines and Puerto Rico.  Recent bouts in the rivalry have seen both sides taste success, as Pacquiao beat Miguel Cotto for Filipinos, but JuanMa beat Bernabe Concepcion, and Vazquez Jr. beat Marvin Sonsona for the Boricuas. 

A win by Donaire would put the Philippines back on top of the rivalry, while a Vazquez Jr. victory would cause his popularity to explode.  Thus, for Donaire’s bathroom break at 122, a bout with Vazquez Jr., assuming he beats Arce, makes the most sense.

It’s Great to be a Featherweight

Ultimately, featherweight is where the action resides, and where Donaire will likely earn his biggest paychecks and face his toughest challengers.  In keeping with the Top Rank-only mantra, we need to look no further than the two crown jewels residing in the division, JuanMa and Gamboa.  Both men have fights in the next two months, with Gamboa fighting Jorge Solis, and JuanMa taking on Orlando Salido, a guy that Gamboa just beat.  For a long time now, fans have been clamoring for these two standouts to fight each other, yet Arum continues to push it further into the future, if it ever takes place.  As these two continue to win, which they are expected to do while feasting on inferior opponents, sooner or later Top Rank will run out of guys to feed them.  Enter Donaire.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
JuanMa vs. Donaire could be huge

It appears to me that Top Rank cherishes JuanMa more than Gamboa, seeing as he is a big attraction in New York and Puerto Rico, while Gamboa hasn’t found the box office success that his talent deserves.  Because of this, I sense reluctance on the part of Top Rank to match these two, in case JuanMa were to lose. With Donaire in the picture, this becomes less of a concern, due to the fact that Donaire is likely going to become a cash cow very soon. 

It also opens the possibility of a nice round robin between the three. You could have Donaire fight Gamboa first, with the winner taking on JuanMa. Or, you could have JuanMa and Gamboa fight each other, with the winner taking on Donaire.  You get the point.  Donaire’s entry into this division would be huge for the sport, while also earning all those involved with this series of fights plenty of dough.  That’s win-win-win for the fighters, Top Rank, and the fans. 

In conclusion, it is this writer’s opinion that the best career path for Donaire involves unifying with Moreno at bantamweight, followed by a title shot against Vazquez Jr. at 122, and ends with a shot at both Gamboa and JuanMa at featherweight.  And what an impressive run it would be.

Of course, this plan is contingent on Donaire not only continuing to win, but continuing to win impressively.  Not an easy thing, but certainly not out of the realm of possibility.  If he does, I can hear Arum, doing his best DJ Khaled impression,

“All I do is win, win, win, no matter what.  Got money on my mind, I can never get enough.”

Lee Harris co-hosts a weekly boxing podcast, In The Corner, located at http://inthecorner.podbean.com.  You can subscribe for free through iTunes and Podbean.  Follow on Twitter -- @inthecornershow – and at Facebook.  You can also email him at inthecorner@rocketmail.com with any questions.

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