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The sad decline of elite fighters

Nonito Donaire’s loss to Carl Frampton via a shutout decision at Belfast over the weekend is another sad case of an elite fighter reaching a point of decline.

For much of the fight, Donaire was slow, no longer had fearsome power, and lacked perfect timing in losing to Frampton, whom I still cannot consider to be an elite fighter. Frampton won the interim World Boxing Organization world featherweight title by beating Donaire.

The Filipino can still recover by taking on mediocre opposition and trying a new conditioning program that will hopefully restore part of his speed, power, and timing. But at 35 years old, Donaire will be up against younger fighters at the championship level who will not hesitate to use him as a stepping-stone.

If I were Donaire, I would retire and become a trainer of future boxing champions.

I actually feared Donaire losing to Frampton judging by the Filipino’s fight against Ruben Garcia Hernandez at featherweight in September last year. In the fight, it was obvious Donaire no longer had his old speed and power, although he could land punches on his opponent, who, however, obviously lacked knockout power with a record of 23-3-1 with 10 KOs.

Even with his loss to Frampton, however, nobody can take away Donaire’s legacy of winning world titles in four weight divisions, and defeating a good number of top dogs at the championship level. He was not merely a world champion – he was part of boxing’s elite but in the second tier or below the likes of Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr., undoubtedly the top boxers of their era.

He won his first world title at flyweight by beating a then undefeated Vic Darchinyan in September 2007 via a stunning sixth-round stoppage. He racked up 13 wins in the next five years until getting decisioned by Guillermo Rigondeaux in April 2013.

In 2012, he figured in four championship bouts at junior featherweight (122 pounds) winning against Wilfredo Vasquez Jr. (decision), Toshiaki Nishioka (stoppage), Jeffrey Mathebula (decision), and Jorge Arce (stoppage). His first bout in 2013 was a defeat to Rigondeaux but he bounced back with a stoppage win over archrival Darchinyan in November the same year.

After a knockout loss to Nicholas Walters at featherweight in October 2014, Donaire was never the same in much of his next fights.

Although Donaire landed some good shots on Frampton that also rocked his opponent, it was obvious most of the Filipino’s power shots had little effect on the Irish boxer. Perhaps the few hard shots landed by Donaire also prompted Frampton to box instead of mixing up much of the time. Or Frampton still had respect for Donaire. Or both.

If the Donaire from 2012 was what Frampton faced over the weekend, the fight would have been over before the sixth round.

But alas, there is really a time when elite fighters decline because of age, wear and tear from the ring, and shots taken from fights. Donaire and Manny Pacquiao are no exception.

On Pacquiao, it was obvious from his last fight against Jeff Horn that he is also an elite fighter who has to face the reality of declining speed, power, and reflexes. If Horn faced the version of Pacquiao from 2012 or 2013, the Australian fighter would not have lasted six rounds.

And I am hoping Lucas Matthysse won’t turn out to be Pacquiao’s worst nightmare in the ring.

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