Six years ago, Nonito Donaire Jr. exploded into the consciousness of boxing fans when he demolished in five rounds the then undefeated Vic “Raging Bull” Darchinyan. The rousing victory gave Donaire the International Boxing Federation (IBF) flyweight title (112 pounds) and launched his career to greater heights.
On Sunday (Manila time), Donaire and Darchinyan will meet again in a rematch that figures to follow the course of their first meeting. No bull, though he is coming off a loss, Donaire should have no problems with the one-dimensional Darchinyan. Times have changed, indeed, but not Darchinyan’s style which remains tailor-made for Donaire. It may even be said that Darchinyan was specifically picked to serve as the fodder to Donaire’s cannon which has been misfiring lately.
After collaring Fighter of the Year accolades last year, Donaire got off on the wrong foot this year, dropping a 12-round unanimous decision to the sleek-moving Guillermo Rigondeux of Cuba in a battle for the combined World Boxing Organization (WBO) and World Boxing Association (WBA) junior featherweight (122 pounds) championship. Donaire was a mere shell of his old self in the fight, aimlessly plodding and looking to take out Rigondeux with one punch. Except for the knockdown he scored, Donaire’s performance was uneventful as Rigondeux took him to school.
Darchinyan is looking to capitalize on Donaire’s sluggish performance and avenge the most humiliating defeat in his career. Darchinyan was 28-0 with 22 knockouts and the IBF flyweight king for three years when he took on Donaire in July 2007. With just one left hook in the fifth round, Donaire reduced Darchinyan’s promising career into rubble. Darchinyan somehow managed to pick up the pieces, moving up in weight and winning a title in the junior bantamweight (115 pounds) division. But has he tried to further bulk up, Darchinyan ended up absorbing losses to Joseph Agbeko, Anselmo Moreno and Abner Mares at bantamweight (118 pounds) and to Shunsuke Yamanaka at junior featherweight (122 pounds). To Darchinyan’s credit, all the losses came only by decision. To this day, it is only Donaire who has managed to tame Darchinyan.
Darchinyan, 39-5-1, 28 knockouts, succumbed to Donaire’s patented left hook because of his penchant to recklessly lunge in head-first with his right shoulder drooping. He has promised to change his approach in the rematch, but at age 37, it is difficult to teach an old dog like Darchinyan new tricks. From the time he laced on the gloves at age 8 in Armenia, Darchinyan built up his resume by bullying foes and drilling them with his trademark left straight. Case in point: In May, in his tune-up bout for Donaire, Darchinyan took on lightly regarded Mexican Javier Gallo. Darchinyan showed patience in the opening round, but it did not take him that long to abandon his safety-first approach and go for broke. After getting rocked in the opening round, Darchinyan came out swinging for the fence in the second round. Gallo, at best a mere journeyman, wobbled Darchinyan with the same counter left hook Donaire used. Darchinyan won the fight on a fourth-round knockout, but the defensive lapses he showed in the Donaire fight were evident against Gallo.
Darchinyan will not only use the same flawed style, but he will also be adding weight for the Donaire rematch. The non-title, 10-round bout will be staged at the featherweight limit of 126 pounds, a whole new weight category for the relatively small Darchinyan. Darchinyan earlier sought the catch weight of 123 pounds, but Donaire refused to go that low. With his lanky built, Donaire fits into the featherweight class like a glove. The former flyweight, bantamweight and junior featherweight champ even intimated that he could go as high as 140 pounds (junior welterweight) in the future. Donaire, 31-2 with 20 knockouts, is also coming in more focused, having reconciled with his father Donaire Sr. On the physical level, Donaire underwent surgery for his damaged shoulders and he should be raring to throw leather again.
Make no mistake, Darchinyan still has the firepower to hurt a grown man, but Donaire’s smooth counterpunching skills offer the ideal antidote to the Armenian’s aggressive approach. The fight is guaranteed to produce fireworks, but when the smoke settles look for “The Flash” to be the one smoking the cigar.
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