Six years ago, Nonito Donaire, Jr. was in the position to become boxing’s number one pound-for-pound fighter. Now, he’s fighting to keep his place among the current prominent prizefighters. He started falling off the top of the food chain in 2013 after losing convincingly to Cuban master boxer Guillermo Rigondeaux. Nonito just never had the same luster ever since. Although he captured a portion of the WBA Featherweight World title and had a string of impressive wins against mid-level opposition after Rigo, his knockout loss to Nicholas Walters and disappointing outing against Jessie Magdaleno are weighing down on his stock.
In his attempt to climb back up, "The Filipino Flash" (38W-4L-24KOs) is set to fight on April 22, in Belfast, United Kingdom, against one of the featherweight division’s premier attractions, Irish boxer Carl Frampton (24W–1L–14KOs).
Like Rigondeaux, Frampton is also called "The Jackal," which makes us wonder if Donaire can outwit a gloved-up wild canine. But seriously speaking, he is facing a legit star in Frampton. A decisive win over 2016’s unanimous choice for Fighter of the Year will instantly shoot Junjun’s relevancy right back up near boxing’s apex. But then again, looking at his recent fight history, the man hasn’t come through when pitted against top caliber fighters. We’re not 100% sure if the upcoming fight is his final shot at reclaiming his throne, but it sure feels like it. Now, we have to ask, how will Donaire fare in what could very well be his last stand?
We believe this one’s a 50-50 fight for The Filipino Flash and here’s why:
HOW NONITO CAN WIN
Using his boxing skills
Nonito shouldn’t be all about his vaunted left hook. In full form, he’s on his toes, throwing stinging jabs and dancing out of harm’s way, before delivering a picturesque counter that could come from either hand. We haven’t seen that type of Donaire for quite some time but against the 31 year-old, The Filipino Flash definitely utilizes his beautiful boxing skills extensively. Walking the opponent down like he used to do against inferior foes just won’t work. The Irish pugilist knows how to position himself, fire purposeful jabs, and shred a plodding fighter with a barrage of sharp punches. It’s paramount for Nonito to stay disciplined and box smartly, set traps and create openings versus Frampton. At 35 years old, does Donaire still have the legs and mental focus to employ such a taxing tactic? If he can’t do it for every minute of all 12 rounds, he should pick his spots.
Picking his spots
He must recognize when he has to box and when he needs to mix it up. That way, Nonito can keep the Irishman guessing. Aside from varying his attacks, he must also know when to simply slow down so he won’t have to run on fumes during the late rounds. Slugging it out selectively is a good risk to take against Frampton, who’s proven to be a hittable target (see Frampton vs Leo Santa Cruz and Alejandro Gonzalez Jr.). If Donaire can connect cleanly with the left hook during an exchange, he might just make the two-division champ from Northern Ireland kiss the canvas. One thing he’s got to remember, though, he can’t solely look for the knockout because his counterpart is tough and highly skilled himself.
Get ready for a long haul
Nonito must come to terms with the fact that he’s in for a battle of attrition against Frampton. Considering the latter’s durability and ability to punch with the same vigor from Round 1 all the way to the 12th, getting locked in for a knockout win might lead to Donaire’s undoing. The mindset Junjun needs: stay active, not overly aggressive, don’t force the knockout, but be ready to detonate once the opportunity arises. If he can be consistent with his work rate and stay in pace with Frampton till the final bell, The Filipino Flash might just pull off the upset in Belfast.
HOW NONITO MIGHT LOSE
Whenever he gets frustrated or bored inside the ring, Nonito has a tendency to veer away from plan A and, in turn, switch to kill-or-be-killed mode, where he’ll try to overpower or attempt to just beat his opponent to the punch with his powerful left hand. If he finds and elusive Frampton, he might lose the plot and return to his bad habits. An ultra aggressive Donaire is dangerous but vulnerable as well, especially against a talented boxer like The Jackal. Coming straightforward, hurling one power punch at a time, Nonito would be stepping right into his rival’s alley. With him carelessly charging in, we’re sure that Frampton will unleash a multitude of hard punches that could ultimately overwhelm the Pinoy pugilist.
There have been times when Nonito appeared to slow down a bit when dragged into deep waters. But hey, being a fighter who gets stronger in the later rounds has never been his calling card anyway. If he can’t help but let up against a tireless Frampton as the fight goes distance, the latter will undoubtedly bag the championship rounds. Going into the bout, Donaire’s conditioning must be better than ever to be able to hang with his younger adversary. It’s hard to tell, though, if he can still do it at this stage of his career.
Relying heavily on his left hook
He has also been guilty of relying exclusively on his signature left hook in several occasions, which include his losses to Rigondeaux, Walters, and Magdaleno. The lesson here is, Nonito’s one-track offense, although devastating, can turn futile when repeatedly hurled against high-level competition. Deciding to live and die by his left hook against Frampton is a huge gamble for Donaire. Its payoff is high but also ill-advised, just like trying to snatch a million dollars in cash placed in between an alligator’s snout. Surely, Frampton had done his homework on how to avoid and thwart the Filipino’s famous punch. It shouldn’t be too big of a surprise to see a stubborn Nonito Donaire taking his fifth career defeat after missing with his left hook all night long.
So, which Nonito Donaire will show up on fight night? We better hope it’s the hungry, well-disciplined Filipino Flash of old. Not only because we want to see him put on a classic performance but also because we want to see a classic boxing match.