The week in Boxing
By Rachel Aylett: Last Saturday’s Top Rank show at the American Bank Center in Texas was excellent. It featured three championship fights and a long-gestating 10-round rematch. Three of the victors on the night either were, are, or will be elite fighters.
The star of the show and one of the stars of the sport at the moment was Mikey Garcia. He made his debut at super-featherweight and won his second alphabet title (WBO) by knocking out experienced Puerto Rican Roman Gonzalez. Garcia is not just an alphabet belt holder though, he is a true champion. He is already clearly the no.1 fighter in his new division, as he was clearly the no.1 fighter in the featherweight division and he will shortly go on to be clearly the no.1 fighter in the lightweight division. A champion then, in every sense of the word.
As he did in his featherweight title winning performance against Orlando Salido, he destroyed an established world class fighter in Gonzalez. Gonzalez has been hanging on to that WBO belt for grim death, in close fights against Juan Carlos Burgos and Diego Magdaleno. He was clearly on borrowed time. On this occasion, Garcia was not giving him any chances to retain again, as he systematically carved him apart and eventually beat him up, before landing the boom with a left hook to the body. It was Frankie Randall back in the 80s and 90s who was known as The Surgeon. However, this nom de guerre is far better suited to Mikey. He slices through his opponents with scalpel-like sharpness before cutting them down with little fuss. In fact, with little fuss is how Mikey goes about all of his business. He is a totally undemonstrative character, who treats his profession as just that, a profession. He displays a nice smile after his fights, with the look of “a job well done” on his face.
The question now is what next for Mikey. He has just entered a very weak division, which apart from a brief foray inside its weight limit from Adrien Broner, has been star-free for some years now. This probably indicates there will be a very quick move further up in weight for Mikey, to the lightweight division. Unfortunately, that traditionally strong division is also bereft of stars at the moment. Apart from almost-forgotten Cuban Yuriorkis Gamboa, who is there in the lightweights who can give Mikey a fight, let alone a superfight? Even a match with Gamboa seems farther away now with the latest news being that Gamboa has been arrested and charged with domestic violence. Oh well, I’m sure a challenging opponent will come along soon for Mikey. He is a superstar waiting to happen. He just needs a suitable dance partner to prove it.
Another star fighter, who may or may not still be described as such, is Nonito Donaire. The Filipino Flash made his long awaited comeback in Texas following his crushing defeat against rival Guillermo Rigondeaux, when he fought even bigger rival Vic Darchinyan in a rematch that took over six years to happen. Nonito initially made his name by knocking out hard man Vic in July 2007. Since that time, almost every fight Nonito has been involved in has had a major championship belt on the line. During that period he clearly established himself as one of the top fighters in the sport. Rigondeaux brought all that crashing down and it’s possible that Donaire will never be able to rebuild his status to that of what it once was. Going into this rematch then, it was all on the line for the Filipino. He had nothing to gain, having already knocked out Darchinyan, and everything to lose, including his career. He also had the heavy weight on his mind of the recent typhoon which had killed so many people in his home country.
It’s no surprise therefore, that he put in a below-par performance. The ever-durable Darchinyan was in top shape and was desperate to turn the tables on his previous tormentor. He fought a terrific battle with Donaire and, indeed, I couldn’t split them after eight rounds. The fight was in the balance all the way through with all the rounds being close. First one and then the other seemed to edge the upper hand. As with so many of Donaire’s previous fights though, it was his awesome power that saved the day. He hurt Vic in the ninth and finished him with aplomb. One had to feel sorry for the Aussie-Armenian, who had put up such a tremendous fight and come very close to pulling off what would have been a huge upset. He proved that he is still highly competitive at the top level. Indeed, as a Brit, I immediately thought what a great opponent he would be for either Quigg or Frampton. We would finally get to see how good those two starlets really are, as Vic is the ultimate gatekeeper.
It was a costly victory for Donaire, as he suffered a fracture of the orbital bone under his right eye during the fight. This probably happened in the fifth round when a left hand from Darchinyan shook him up. The swelling to the right side of Nonito’s face was palpable during the last couple of rounds of the fight. Another long layoff is just what Donaire didn’t need. A final word on this subject: is Donaire the hardest puncher in the sport? He seems to knock down everyone he faces. In the past five years, only Omar Narvaez and Rafael Concepcion have failed to hit the deck in fights against Donaire. During that period Nonito has fought 11 top world class fighters and floored 10 of them. (I didn’t include Concepcion as world class). People talk about Golovkin being a destroyer. How many top 10 contenders has he even fought, let alone floored? I think the answer is one!
The other main fight on the card featured two colourless characters in Vanes Martirosyan and Demetrius Andrade, who fought for the vacant WBO light-middleweight title. This was almost one of those cases where one fighter wouldn’t and the other one couldn’t. Martirosyan fills the latter category and fills it well. Anyone who had seen his previous fights with Cuban Erislandy Lara and, in particular, Kassim Ouma, will have known that his undefeated record was a bit of a sham. He was clearly second best against Lara and with Ouma, supposedly his break out fight, it was a toss up as to who had won, although the judges rescued him on both occasions. He was never going to be good enough to beat Andrade, who, even though he put in a half-hearted performance, was too awkward, fast and skilled for Vanes. Vanes has been protected for so long, it’s hard to see how Top Rank can realistically bring him back.
For Andrade, the future could be golden, or he could prove to be a dud. It’s all in his hands. The 2008 Olympic bronze medallist has such a laconic manner and this, allied to his laid back attitude, sometimes makes you want to go into his corner and shake him. Although he won handily on Saturday, he is capable of so much more. He has talent aplenty and has gone under the radar for far too long.
It’s been a fairly quiet week in Britain. The biggest fight on this side of the Atlantic saw Lee Haskins successfully defend his British bantamweight title against veteran Jason Booth, winning a clear points decision. You are never sure what you are going to get with Haskins. He is capable of beating top fighters on his night, but on other nights he is capable of very poor performances. This one fell somewhere in between those two extremes. Booth gave him a much tougher time than most people expected and it was not a performance to remember from the champion.
It is ironic that Haskins holds wins over Britain’s other two top bantamweights, former IBF champion Jamie McDonnell and possibly future IBF champion Stuart Hall. He must be bemused that both his conquered rivals have been negotiated into alphabet title fights, whilst he languishes in the shadows. The victory over Hall was easy for Haskins and was as recent as July 2012. This really puts into perspective the value of that IBF belt that Hall and old-timer South African Vusi Malinga will fight for in December in Leeds. With Malinga losing all 12 rounds against Leo Santa Cruz in his last title challenge, how could either fighter seriously call themselves world champion? Ludicrous.