Good, bad, worse: Nonito Donaire ageless, Devin Haney fortunate

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·8 min read
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A critical look at the past week in boxing

GOOD

Sometimes the best fighters give special performances. Sometimes they go beyond that, accomplishing something that will likely outlive them by many years.

Nonito Donaire’s effort against then-bantamweight titleholder Nordine Oubaali on Saturday night at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif., falls into the latter category.

The Filipino Flash methodically dismantled an unbeaten champion before finally putting him away in the fourth round to claim his ninth world title in three weight classes. And he did it at 38 years old, which is a division record for a new titleholder.

Donaire’s tactics weren’t complicated. He patiently waited for opportunities to counter his attacking opponent and did so with precision and power, which has always been the key to his success.

What’s harder to understand is how a man who turned professional 20 years ago and has fought an elite level for about 15 of them can still give virtuoso performances.

Donaire talked before and after the fight about mental strength and the resilience of one’s body if one takes care of it, as he does. Obviously, there is something to be said for what the man has been preaching.

That said, his ability to push the great Naoya Inoue to his limits in his previous fight and the manner in which he annihilated Oubaali a two-time Olympian, speaks to something more nebulous, something limited to a handful of fighters, something like magic.

Watching Donaire quickly reduce a good fighter like Oubaali to helpless prey at his age was like witnessing something impossible. That’s what made it so dramatic. I asked myself as it was happening, “How is he doing this after so many years?”

Magic.

Donaire expressed gratitude afterward, thanking everyone who played a role in getting him the opportunity to fight Oubaali. I thank him.

***

BAD

Devin Haney doesn’t deserve much criticism after his performance against Jorge Linares on Saturday in Las Vegas. After all, he defeated an elite opponent by a well-earned unanimous decision.

The problem for the 22-year-old was the manner in which he finished the fight.

Haney demonstrated for nine-plus rounds why he’s considered one off the brightest young stars in the sport. He boxed beautifully behind his superb jab, landing quick, hard power punches while always keeping defense in mind.

And one must admire his willingness to engage Linares as much as he did, which was an effort to stir the passions of fans. It was shaping up to be a brilliant performance.

Then, in the final seconds of Round 10, things changed in an instant. Linares, a strong puncher, buzzed Haney with a big right hand. The young man insisted multiple times afterward that he wasn’t hurt but I doubt many believe him.

He held much of the final two rounds, at first, it seemed, to regain his senses and then for unclear reasons. Was he simply wary of Linares’ power? Was he tired? Maybe it was a combination of both.

Bottom line: Haney’s behavior in Rounds 11 and 12 took some of luster off what was otherwise a fine performance, one that might’ve been his first career-defining victory.

Again, we shouldn’t be too hard on Haney. He looked good most of the fight and emerged with a clear victory. And he survived some adversity to do it, for which he arguably should be commended.

And he’ll probably be a better fighter going forward because of the experience he gained. That might not be good news for the other top 135-pounders and those at 140.

***

WORSE

Devin Haney holds his secondary WBC belt after his victory. David Becker / Getty Images

I still cringe when I hear people refer to “titles” like the one owned by Haney as legitimate. It’s not.

The WBC calls Haney it’s lightweight titleholder even though he sits below Teofimo Lopez, who outpointed Vasiliy Lomachenko to become undisputed champ in October.

Lomachenko won the WBC title by outpointing Luke Campbell in August 2019 and was later elevated to what the sanctioning body calls its “franchise” champion, a special designation that absolves the beltholder from facing mandatory challengers.

That’s when Haney was elevated to “full” titleholder even though he sat below Lomachenko and then Lopez, which is the cause of confusion that persists to this day.

The boxing world generally recognizes four sanctioning bodies, the IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO. Three of those organizations have 17 divisions, one (the WBC) has 18. That means 69 fighters could be champions if each body gets one per division.

Yet they’ve created more than one – sometimes more than two – in each weight class, clear evidence that the title system has spun out of control. To be clear: The more titles that exist, the less they mean.

Why do the bodies create more than one title? Greed. They charge a pretty penny to wear their pretty belts. The more the create, the more money and influence they accumulate.

Yes, the system is broken. And everyone buys into it nonetheless. The fighters love the shiny belts, the managers and promoters love to say they’re staging title fights for marketing purposes and the media goes along for the ride.

Boxing Junkie limits the mention of titles or minimizes them – calling Haney’s belt “secondary,” for example – but even we acknowledge them because readers expect it.

The good news? Haney could end up fighting Lopez for the undisputed championship. At least then there would be no more confusion.

***

RABBIT PUNCHES

Two aspects of the Donaire-Oubaali fight were arguably controversial. One, Donaire seemed to hit – and badly hurt — Oubaali a split second after the bell to end Round 3. Referee Jack Reiss ruled that the punch was legal and Donaire can claim he either initiated the punch before the bell or couldn’t hear it. However, I’m guessing Oubaali will forever claim that he lost his title in part because of a foul. And, two, Reiss was criticized for allowing Oubaali too much time to recover after the aforementioned punch, which put the Frenchman down. I tried to time what followed. Oubaali was given 11-plus seconds to get to his feet, in part because Reiss had to clear the area. And the loser had about 1 minute, 21 seconds from the time he got to his feet to recover. That’s because Reiss needed time to assess Oubaali’s condition. Frankly, I don’t agree with the criticism. Reiss is required by rules in California to conduct the assessment if a fighter’s ability to defend himself is in question. He could’ve stopped the fight but didn’t do so because he believed Oubaali was able to continue.

Gary Antuanne Russell demonstrated against Jovanie Santiago (14-2-1, 10 KOs) on the Donaire-Oubaali card why he’s considered one of the best prospects in the world. The brother of Gary Russell Jr. used controlled, coldly efficient aggression to break down an opponent who was supposed to be his most-significant test to date. A battered Santiago quit on his stool after Round 6 of the 140-pound bout. The younger Russell has now stopped all 14 of his opponents. To say he’s one to watch is an understatement. … Subriel Matias (17-1, 17 KOs) also made a strong statement on the Donaire-Oubaali card. The 140-pounder from Puerto Rico walked down and beat up Batyrzhan Jukembayev (18-1, 14 KOs) of Kazakhstan until the latter’s trainer decided he was taking too much punishment and ended the toe-to-toe brawl after eight rounds. Batyrzhan simply couldn’t cope Matias’ relentless output of power punches. Impressive performance. … Jason Quigley (19-1, 14 KOs) defeated Shane Mosley Jr. (17-4, 10 KOs) by a majority decision in an entertaining middleweight fight on the Haney-Linares card. Quigley, the one-time amateur standout from Ireland, remained a player in the 160-pound division with his victory. I doubt he could beat the top middleweights but he has probably earned a shot at one of them. I have to give Mosley some credit. I remember writing after his pro debut that he had little hope of succeeding but he has proved me wrong. He’ll never approach the heights reached by his father – that would be too much to ask – but he has turned himself into a solid fighter. … Azinga Fuzile (15-1, 9 KOs) gave a strong performance on the Haney-Linares card, stopping Martin Ward (24-2-2, 11 KOs) in eight rounds. The 130-pounder from South Africa can box and has some power. He also demonstrated mental toughness: He was coming off a crushing eighth-round knockout loss to Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov.

Related

Nonito Donaire still has that magic at 38 years old

Devin Haney overcomes late adversity to outpoint Jorge Linares

Gary Antuanne Russell beats up, stops Jovanie Santiago

Jason Quigley ekes past Shane Mosley Jr. by majority decision

Azinga Fuzile stops Martin Ward in eight rounds