Two years ago Nonito Donaire was on the fast track to boxing stardom. He was clearly entrenched as among the Top 10 Pound-for-Pound best in boxing. He had blasted through the junior featherweight division like a 122-pound hurricane, winning four fights in spectacular fashion.
Donaire beat former world champion Israel Vazquez, Jr. to capture the vacant WBO junior featherweight title. Then he unified the title by defeating IBF junior bantamweight champion Jeffrey Mathebula. He added his third belt of the year by knocking out Toshiaki Nishioka, the WBC Diamond Belt super bantamweight champion, ending Nishioka’s eight-year, 16-bout, winning streak. Donaire concluded his year by knocking out Mexican icon Jorge Arce in the third round. He earned the 2012 Fighter of the Year award from the Boxing Writers Association of America while extending his 12-year, 30-bout winning streak.
But then things started to come apart. With his wife pregnant with their first child, Donaire decided to take on WBA champion Guillermo Rigondeaux in a unification match. He lost a decision before a packed house at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. It was a major setback for the boxer from General Santos, Philippines, who many thought was on his way to being the next Manny Pacquiao.
Donaire came back with a KO victory over his old nemesis Vic Darchinyan last November. But he still didn’t feel like his old self.
“Last year I got away from what made me successful and I paid the price for that when I met Guillermo Rigondeaux,’’ Donaire said. “And even when I knocked out Vic Darchinyan in our rematch last year, that wasn’t the best me.’’
Donaire better hope he has rediscovered the best of himself, because if he hasn’t then Simpiwe Vetyeka, the WBA featherweight champion, will do more than embarrass him when they meet at the Cotai Arena at the Venetian Resort in Macao, China on Saturday night.
Vetyeka, a hard-nosed South African brawler, won the title by ending the reign of Chris John last year. Vetyeka did something that no one had ever done before – he forced John to quit on his stool, scoring a sixth round TKO to win the title. John held the title for 10 years and successfully defended it 18 times before losing to Vetyeka. He retired after the fight.
It was the fourth straight KO victory for Vetyeka and he comes in as the favorite to defeat Donaire.
“It’s been a long time since I entered a fight as an underdog but that has inspired me more,” Donaire said. “I reevaluated everything. I moved my training camp to the Philippines to take advantage of the heat and humidity and to eliminate the distractions I had in Las Vegas. It was a great move. I let a lot of things I worked hard to achieve slip through my fingers last year. I want to return to where I was in 2012 and go beyond that for the reminder of my boxing career.’’
Donaire’s father, Nonito, Sr., has returned to his corner as his son’s trainer. He had noticed some signs of slippage in his performances.
“Nonito got away from what made him great – his speed and footwork in combination with his power. Last year he just came forward, didn’t move his head and relied too much on his power, and that’s exactly the wrong way to fight a pure boxer like Rigondeaux as we all saw. This camp we went back to Nonito’s bread and butter – creating a mix that combines speed, movement and power. I have never seen a fighter work harder and totally dedicate himself to his tasks than Nonito did during this training camp.”
Doniare believes he will be able to regain the form that made people think that he was the next Pacquiao. He thinks he’ll be able to show that against Vetyeka.
“I had to work on a lot of things in camp because Vetyeka is so multidimensional inside the ring,’’ Donaire said. “He’s dangerous and has a lot of weapons. His last two fights were knockout victories of Daud Yordan and Chris John. Those are two tough guys. But I am confident I have the game plan and the talent to beat him.’’