It wasn't the main event of the truTV broadcast from San Juan, Puerto Rico on Friday night, and it wasn't massively hyped, but Nonito Donaire's (36-3) unanimous-decision victory over Cesar Juarez (17-4) turned out to be a legitimate Fight of the Year candidate. The two men laid their hearts and bodies on the line in a memorable scrap, but Donaire prevailed.
ESPN.com's Dan Rafael has the official scorecards:
Donaire's win made him a seven-time world champion (2007, 2011x2, 2012x2 and 2013) as he captured the WBO junior featherweight title, but Juarez made him work for it.
When it was over, praise poured in from all around the boxing community. Rafael, Undisputed Champions Network's Steve Kim, Top Rank Boxing and USA Today's Bob Velin talked about the epic fight:
Per Top Rank Boxing, Donaire acknowledged the war he had been in:
Early on it looked as if Donaire would blow through Juarez. He landed nasty right crosses and wicked left hooks, while Juarez was seemingly just trying to touch him with something significant. In the fourth round, Donaire dropped Juarez twice, and it seemed the end was near.
Showing toughness that isn't out of character, Juarez rose to his feet both times. He needed just moments to bounce back from punches Donaire usually uses to finish off opponents.
In the fifth round, Donaire looked to use movement once he realized he wouldn't be able to take Juarez out with one shot. While pumping the jab and looking for openings in the sixth round, Donaire appeared to turn an ankle and he tumbled to the mat.
He'd limp over to his corner at the close of the round. While he was able to continue, it seemed he was at least somewhat hampered by the injury the rest of the way.
Juarez was already gaining confidence after taking Donaire's best shots. Once the Filipino Flash hurt his ankle, Juarez looked even more energized. He began to rally, and that's when the drama began.
A slowed Donaire was no longer slipping all of Juarez's power punches. His face was beginning to break up, and for brief moments in the eighth, ninth and 10th rounds, it looked as if Juarez might pull off the improbable stoppage victory.
In each instance, Donaire would escape Juarez's pressure with a subtle sidestep, a powerful left hook or right hand that momentarily stunned his opponent. Like a machine, Juarez kept coming back for more.
During a somewhat-controversial moment in the eighth round, Juarez landed a left hook. A millisecond later, Donaire slipped on a wet spot in the corner. He went down, but the referee called it a slip. The punch wasn't hard, but by rule it should have been called a knockdown because the tumble was preceded by a punch. Ultimately, it wouldn't have impacted the result.
In the final round, both men were cut and/or bleeding from several spots on their faces. That didn't keep them from throwing absolute bombs until the final bell. It was the type of fight that makes fans stand up and cheer at the conclusion.
Despite Juarez's strong finish, the judges got it right. Donaire built a sizable lead early on, and he did more than enough to win the fight. That said, the 33-year-old still didn't look as sharp as he did when he won Fighter of the Year in 2012.
This is a fight we might see again. Per Top Rank Boxing, Donaire is open to a rematch, and Juarez felt the judges were unfair, and he would do better with more time to train:
On paper, Donaire was expected to demolish Juarez. Those projections clearly didn't account for Juarez's toughness and chin. Because of those traits—and the fact that he's just 24 years old—Juarez will be seen again on a future Top Rank Boxing card.
His durability and stamina will make him a tough opponent for anyone in the weight class.
Donaire has now captured the title he lost when Guillermo Rigondeaux defeated him back in 2013. The WBO stripped Rigondeaux of the title because of inactivity in October. On the heels of that decision, this fight was then elevated to a bout for the vacant championship.
Quite honestly, it doesn't appear as though Donaire is ready to face and defeat Rigondeaux in a rematch. Likewise, he may not be ready for some of the other elite fighters in his weight region.
If nothing else, he came out on the winning side of one of the year's best fights.
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