Say It Ain’t So, Nonito!

Lou Eisen / July 17, 2012 - 3:30pm

At the Home Depot Center recently in Carson City, California, the Filipino Flash, Nonito Donaire defeated South African Jeffrey Mathebula by unanimous decision to add the IBF super bantamweight world title to his already impressive list of boxing crowns. Donaire won the fight by a wide margin on all three judges scorecards. One judge scored eleven rounds for Donaire. Which was both inaccurate and ridiculous.

Mathebula presented an interesting and imposing target for Donaire, standing 5’11” tall with a 72 inch reach advantage, compared to Donaire who stands only 5’6” tall with an arm reach of 68 inches. Donaire wanted to fight Mathebula specifically for the challenge presented by the great disparity in height between the two fighters. Perhaps Donaire should be more careful in what he wishes for because the fight was much closer than the scorecards indicated.

Since his spectacular second round knockout of Fernando Montiel on February 19th, 2011, Donaire has completely changed his style, turning from a slick, smart, counter puncher into a headhunter, looking to end each fight with one punch. That is not a smart way to fight and what’s even more frustrating is, it’s not necessary as Donaire still has the hand and foot speed to outbox his opponents. Donaire has wonderful boxing skills but in his last three fights, he has chosen not to exercise them for reasons unknown to his fans or his trainer, Roberto Garcia.

Garcia is one of the top several boxing trainers in the world. He is in great demand for his expertise, experience, talent and his uncanny ability to think quickly on his feet during a fight. In between rounds of the Mathebula fight, Garcia gave Donaire expert advice, which made sense. Donaire chose to constantly ignore his trainer’s advice and continue to look to end matters with one big shot.

Donaire knows that the fans come to see him knock people out. In the future Donaire would be wise to ignore the fans as they have only their own interests at heart, and just stick with outboxing his opponents, allowing the knockouts to occur naturally.

In the late rounds, Garcia told Donaire, “Stop trying to knock him out with one shot. Start using your jab to get inside his reach. Throw your shots off of your jab.” Great advice? Without a doubt, it was great advice. Yet, round after round, just like in his fights with Omar Narvaez and Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. he tried to knock out Mathebula with leaping left hooks and uppercuts which missed their mark, leaving himself off-balance and exposed to counter shots.

Mathebula did much better than the judges gave him credit for. Yes, he got caught and dropped with a counter left hook in the fourth round, his head hitting the canvas with a tremendous thud. He did manage to make it to his feet even though he was very groggy and unsteady on his legs. Luckily for him, the bell rang, granting him an extra sixty seconds to regain his senses and his equilibrium. He came out the next round and used his reach to keep Donaire at bay for the entire round.

What is difficult to understand is why didn’t Donaire finish Mathebula off for good in the fourth round?  Well, the technical reasons for Donaire’s inability to close the show in style are many. Rather than cut off the ring, and jab his way inside Mathebula’s long arms, Donaire chased him in a straight line, refusing to give his much taller South African foe any angles at all. Donaire resorted to leaping at Mathebula with his shots, which took away the necessary leverage he needed to get some power on his hooks.

Whenever a fighter leaps to throw a punch, he is arm-punching and telegraphing his shots. In other words, he is virtually ineffective and susceptible to vicious counter shots, such as straight right hands.

Also, in the first two rounds of the fight, Donaire used a lot of head movement to make Mathebula often miss his target. Donaire used angles in the early rounds to help create openings for his power shots. He soon scrapped that effective strategy in favor of going head hunting.

Angles create openings. Head movement forces your opponents to commit on their shots, leaving them wide open for counter punches. Donaire ignored everything he knew and turned the fight into a high school playground brawl rather than a professional prizefight. In so doing, Donaire took a lot of shots to the head that he could have easily avoided had he continued using his head movement in an effective manner. By the later rounds, Donaire’s left eye was rapidly swelling shut while his forehead was becoming a mass of welts and bumps.

Any future opponents of Donaire who saw this fight must now be smiling with great anticipation. Donaire will simply have to be much more of a complete boxer if he is to take on the likes of Cuban sensation Guilermo Rigondeaux, Abner Mares or Japanese powerpuncher Toshiaki Nishioka. All of those guys can punch with power and trying to knock any of them out with one shot would expose Donaire to getting caught with a huge, lights out counter shot.

Why has Donaire recently decided to stop boxing smartly and focus solely on knockouts? The problem may stem from a couple of sources. Donaire may have started to buy into all of the hype written about him. That seems unlikely though on the face of it, as he is a well-rounded and intelligent individual. His head is screwed on right.

Often, after a fighter scores some highlight reel knockouts, he becomes a headhunter, trying to end every subsequent fight with one punch.
This is what seems to have happened to Donaire’s mindset once he steps into the ring. At least, this is what he has shown in his previous three fights. Knockouts are for the most part, organic. That is to say, they happen naturally over the course of the fight whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Knockouts can occur after a fighter has taken a particularly bad beating in the ring and can no longer adequately protect himself. Sometimes, you can a catch a guy early in a fight before he has had a chance to loosen up and get into the flow of the fight.  Donaire has scored several
one-punch knockouts in his career. Those are the hardest kind of knockouts to score because they require the perfect blend of speed, power, leverage and balance. Those are the kind of knockouts that Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Leonard scored.

When Donaire has knocked out past opponents, he has managed to get a lot of leverage on his punches, giving them brutal, mind-numbing power. Donaire is still throws those same kind of bombs, but now he misses the target most of the time. The reason for that is that his balance is completely off due to his tendency to leap or lunge at his opponent. Because he only throws bombs, it doesn’t take long for an opponent to realize that and avoid his dangerous left hand. If Donaire would remember to always throw the left hand off of his jab, he would be a lot more successful with it. Also, he should throw more right hooks and straight rights. Then, after his foe gets used to his punching rhythm, Donaire could fake a right hand, thereby getting his opponent to lean directly into the path of a powerful left hook. There is more to boxing than blindly slinging leather. Donaire has to start throwing everything off of his jab for the full twelve rounds.

If Garcia can convince Donaire to go back to basics and throw all of his punches off of his jab, he will begin to score more knockouts. By feinting his opponents out of position, or creating angles to create openings, Donaire will once again start to flatten his foes with alarming regularity, thus assuring no more empty seats at any of his future fights.