All roads lead to the Cebu City Sports Complex this Saturday as reigning World Boxing Organization (WBO) super bantamweight (122 lbs.) champion Nonito “The Filipino Flash” Donaire Jr. defends the title for the first time opposite Hungarian challenger Zsolt “Mr. Left Hook” Bedak.
Donaire, 36-3 with 23 knockouts, is the smart money favorite, but owing to his Jekyll and Hyde performance against Mexican Cesar Juarez last year many see him as an enigma going into the fight. Donaire, it will be recalled, got off to a rip-roaring against Juarez before fading in the second half and settling for a hard-earned decision win. The victory, Donaire’s third straight after the horrific sixth-round knockout loss to Nicholas “Axe Man” Walters in October 2014, made him a world champion again.
At age 33, the clock is ticking and Donaire plans to accelerate his timetable after Bedak. He remains keen on a rematch with Cuban Guillermo Rigondeux (who beat him on points in 2013) and is also open for a defense against No. 1 contender Jessie Magdaleno of Las Vegas, Nevada. Donaire states that he wants to stay put in the 122-pound division and clean up the weight class.
Of course, Donaire will have to get past Bedak first. A former Olympian, the 32-year-old Bedak totes a record of 25-1 with 8 knockouts. He is undefeated in his last 10 fights or since losing by 10th round technical knockout to Puerto Rican Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. in 2010 in a battle for the WBO super bantam crown. Bedak showed toughness by going 10 rounds with Vazquez Jr. despite a busted jaw.
Unlike the trigger-happy Juarez, Bedak is more economical with his punches. He fights flaunting the typical European stance; stand-up with both hands amply covering his face. Bedak’s pet combination is a left jab-left hook to the body thrown as he works his way inside. Bedak does not particularly move his head well and this makes him tailor-made for Donaire’s piston-like left jab and clubbing right follow-through. Moreover, Bedak tends to dip his shoulder low whenever he unloads the short left hook to the body and this may just give Donaire’s counter right the opening it covets.
Bedak’s advantage is that he is built to last the full route. He has not scored a clean knockout since March 2014, when he floored Giorgi Gachechiladze twice en route to a 10th round stoppage. Bedak is used to going the distance and if he can drag the fight into the trenches, it will be interesting to see if Donaire’s suspect condition will hold up. It is worth noting that the fight will be staged in an open venue and the punishing heat could be a factor. Bedak told reporters that he is used to the cauldron-like atmosphere, having fought in Puerto Rico and in Cuba (back when he was an amateur).
Look for Donaire to start strong and fast, the same way he did against Juarez. Donaire owns the clear edge in handspeed and power and he should press these advantages at the outset. Bedak will look to counter and keep the pressure on until Donaire shows signs of fatigue.
Suffice it to say, a chess match is shaping up between Donaire and Bedak. Both fighters are well versed in the rudiments of the game and have a lot of respect for each other. Bedak knows that he may never get to contend for the title again which is why he is treating the Donaire fight as the impost important in his career. Donaire feels very much the same way; he cannot afford another loss and in fact needs an impressive performance to support his claim as the best 122-pounder today. Right now, the honor belongs to International Boxing Federation (IBF) champion Carl Frampton (22-0, 14 knockouts).
Then again, playing second fiddle is something that has never been in Donaire’s itinerary.
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