Nonito Donaire is being acclaimed 2012 Fighter of the Year in more corners than anyone else as the year winds to a close. Justifiably so. Let’s hope The Ring magazine makes it official, as the Boxing Writers Association, ESPN’s Dan Rafael, Yahoo’s Kevin Iole and others have done.
What makes the Filipino Flash’s superiority doubly satisfying; no, triple-y satisfying; is that one of the names being mentioned prominently among Donaire’s competitors for the honor is Gilroy’s Robert Guerrero. Compound that with East Bay kingpin Andre Ward’s recognition as the world’s Fighter of the Year for 2011, and Guerrero’s recent addition to the top 10 in The Ring’s pound-for-pound rankings, and the Bay Area’s stature as a current hotbed of professional boxing cannot be denied.
How long can it be before Donaire, who lives in San Mateo and grew up in San Leandro, becomes a bona fide gate attraction in the Bay Area the way Ward is in Oakland and Guerrero sort of is in San Jose?
Donaire still hasn’t fulfilled that goal, and he actually fell out of the top five in the pound-for-pound rankings during 2012, but he accomplished more than anyone else in the ring this year by launching his march through the 122-pound division with four impressive victories and leaving us eager to see him beat the two obvious remaining targets in that division, Abner Mares and Guillermo Rigondeaux.
Some say Donaire would be more deserving of the award had at least one of those two been among his 2012 victims, but Wilfredo Vasquez Jr., Jeffrey Mathebula and Toshiaki Nishioka were all belt-holders until Donaire knocked them around. None was a chump. And the third-round knockout of Jorge Arce in December, a match that had been anticipated more than five years, was like dessert, or at least the cherry on top.
If Guerrero’s July victory over European strongman Selcuk Aydin were more widely regarded as a truly major accomplishment, The Ghost would have a legitimate case against Donaire, given the audacity of Guerrero’s beating of Andre Berto on Nov. 24. If Aydin were to look good against some other welterweight contender of note, then we’d have more basis to tub-thump for Guerrero.
Also mentioned prominently for Fighter of the Year have been Juan Manuel Marquez, solely on the strength of his one-punch knockout of Manny Pacquiao on Dec. 8, and lightweight Adrien Broner, who solidified his reputation as a potential successor to Floyd Mayweather atop the pound-for-pound ranks but didn’t quite match Donaire’s agenda in 2012.
Marquez-Pacquiao IV was the best fight of the year. Pacquiao looked brilliant through most of it and seemed positioned to knock Marquez out. But Manny got tagged very badly twice, the second one the counter right at close range that knocked Pacquiao cold, and demystified him at once. That’s the moment we’ll all remember most about 2012.
That was a much better fight than the all-offense, no-defense Brandon Rios-Mike Alvararez bout (on the Donaire-Nishioka undercard) that certainly offered the most intense action, as if that’s the only criterion for a great fight. Rios does deserve a lot of credit for the nearly universal recognition of his trainer (and Donaire’s trainer) Robert Garcia as the best trainer of 2012.
Let’s not forget that Ward’s trainer, Virgil Hunter, won that recognition in 2011. Let’s also not forget that Ward’s knockout of Chad Dawson propelled Andre at No. 2 in the pound-for-pounds and was the most important win yet of Ward’s career.
In the ideal Bay Area scenario, Guerrero will be the fighter of the year in 2013, largely on the strength of his stunning upset of Mayweather, who has never been riper for picking. That bout is being negotiated, and don’t be surprised to see them have at it in Las Vegas this May. Mayweather’s loss would elevate Ward to No. 1 pound-for-pound by the time he’s fully recovered from the right-shoulder surgery that has dashed his late-winter match with Kelly Pavlik.
And where would that leave Donaire? Hey, if the guy beats Mares and Rigondeaux in 2013 on top of being Fighter of the Year for 2012 — and becomes a new father to boot? — there won’t be any reason to feel sorry for him. He even became a movie star in 2012.
And let’s not forget Pacquiao’s decline has made Donaire arguably the No. figher in the Philippines — the one place in the world that still hotter than the Bay Area for boxing.