|Donaire/Julaton/Donaire (Photo credit: Matt Ortega)|
One week after Mexico's Juan Manuel Marquez knocked out Filipino legend Manny Pacquiao with one shot with one second left in the sixth round in a stunner, junior featherweight titlist Nonito Donaire evened the score in what is fast becoming boxing's best nationalistic rivalry.
Donaire, known as "The Filipino Flash," annihilated Mexico's Jorge Arce with a crushing third-round knockout -- with one second left in the round, on a huge left hook -- to retain his junior featherweight world title on Saturday night at the Toyota Center.
"I have a lot of respect for Mexico," Donaire said. "I hope I made the Philippines proud tonight."
Before a crowd of 7,250 -- largely made up of Hispanic fans rooting for Arce -- Donaire was dominant in retaining his 122-pound title for the third time and sending Arce into retirement.
With the victory, Donaire completed an impressive year that makes him the favorite to land fighter of the year honors. In an era when top pound-for-pound fighters rarely fight more than twice annually, Donaire (31-1, 20 KOs) fought four times in 2012 and easily beat four quality opponents as he moved up to junior featherweight and won two world title belts.
"I will leave it to the sportswriters and I will leave it to the people," Donaire said of the award. "It would be a great honor, and it would be an amazing Christmas gift to me."
In February, after giving up his bantamweight belts, Donaire moved up to 122 pounds, then promptly knocked down Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. and won a decision to claim a vacant belt.
Then, Donaire rolled past Jeffrey Mathebula, scoring a knockdown, breaking his jaw and winning a lopsided decision to unify two titles in July. Donaire later gave up one of the belts but followed with a two-knockdown, ninth-round stoppage of former titleholder Toshiaki Nishioka in October.
Then, Donaire blew away former titleholder Arce.
"I pretty much timed Arce," Donaire said. "I knew he would open up. He hurt me a little. My left hand is not completely healed. I needed to figure out the distance to get him to open up."
Donaire came into the fight with a balky left hand due to a nagging injury to a knuckle. He cut it open against Vazquez and did it again against Nishioka two months ago. Some in his camp didn't want him to take the Arce bout, but Donaire elected to fight, no doubt influenced at least somewhat by a career-high payday of $1 million coming his way.
"A lot of people said, 'You fought well this year.' I asked the doctor about my hand and he said it's not going to be 100 percent, but that I could fight if I was comfortable," Donaire said. "Tonight it didn't bleed, but I was kind of worried about it."
He needn't have been concerned. Donaire measured Arce for a right hand in the first round that landed clean, but Arce took it well. In the second round, though, Donaire knocked him down for the first of three overall in the fight.
Donaire landed a right-left combination as Arce went down a minute into the second round. In the third round, Donaire dropped him again with a right hand and a left uppercut. There seemed to be little chance that Arce would make it out of the round, but he wasn't about to give up.
He waded back into the battle, and Donaire unleashed a savage left hook that landed flush on Arce's chin. Arce crashed into ropes and then sprawled onto his back. Referee Laurence Cole didn't bother to finish the count, calling off the fight at 2 minutes, 59 seconds.
"I was a lot faster than Arce," Donaire said. "He knew I was a powerful fighter. He knew every mistake he would make would be a tremendous mistake, but Arce is a great fighter. It was difficult for me to get him in the beginning because he was wary of the left hook and he was ducking out of the way.
"The reason why people survive with me is because they are afraid to open up. I have a lot of respect for him. He wasn't afraid. He was aiming to surprise me. But when I can throw sitting down on that left hook, everyone will go down."
Arce came into the fight having rehydrated all the way up to 135 pounds, while Donaire weighed 129, according to HBO's fight-night scale. But Donaire still looked bigger and his punches clearly harder.
Arce was down for a couple of minutes as the doctors checked on him. When he was able to get himself together, he announced his retirement in his postfight interview with 81-year-old Larry Merchant, who was calling the final fight of his 35-year career with HBO.
The 33-year-old Arce (61-7-2, 46 KOs) earned a career-high $800,000, and if this is truly the end for him, he went out like the warrior he always has been. But he simply couldn't deal with the power, speed and size advantages of Donaire, 30, who lives in San Leandro, Calif.
Arce will go out having been one of the most exciting fighters of his generation and having won world titles in four weight classes (junior flyweight, junior bantamweight, bantamweight and junior featherweight), plus an interim belt in another (flyweight).
"My career is over. He is the best man," said Arce, who is good pals with Donaire. "I have a family to take care of. I promised them I would leave the ring if I lost. He's very good. I am proud to have lost to the best. It fills me with honor.
"I will go home to watch the fighters on TV and to be a commentator."
There is a chance Donaire will move up to featherweight after having already won titles at flyweight, bantamweight and junior featherweight, plus an interim title at junior bantamweight. There are still attractive opponents at junior featherweight, however, in fellow titleholders Guillermo Rigondeaux and Abner Mares.
Rigondeaux (11-0, 8 KOs), the former two-time Olympic gold medalist, was supposed to continue to try to make his case for a fight with Donaire in the co-feature in a defense against former titleholder Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym (48-2, 33 KOs) of Thailand. However, the fight was canceled on Thursday after Kratingdaenggym failed a prefight blood test and was refused a license by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. Instead, Rigondeaux sat ringside.
Mares is represented by Golden Boy Promotions, while Donaire is with Top Rank. The companies don't work together, making it very difficult to arrange the match.
Donaire said he is ready to fight either man, even though he might also go to 126 pounds and pursue another world title.
"Bring 'em all on," Donaire said. "Mares is my first choice because he's calling me out, but we have Rigondeaux ready if that fight cannot be made."
Whomever he fights, Donaire will find himself in another significant main event in 2013 as he continues to try to polish his pound-for-pound résumé.
That left hook of his has already brought him near the top.
"I sat down on it, and when I sit down on that left hook, I will knock out anybody," Donaire said.