By Damien Burton @Mr_Yib
In early November 2018 those in attendance at the SSE Hydro Arena in Glasgow witnessed a bizarre occurrence that handed an astonishing career revival opportunity to erstwhile four-division world champion, Nonito Donaire.
Suffice to say that less than a fortnight from his 36th birthday Donaire was widely considered the underdog when he entered the ring to face Northern Irish amateur standout and then-WBA Super World Bantamweight champion Ryan Burnett. Already no spring chicken and with the onset of age often seeming more pronounced among the lower weights, Donaire was facing a man ten years his junior and was fighting at 118lbs for the first time since 2011.
That his previous fight had been a lopsided loss at featherweight, to Carl Frampton, was simply the icing on a particularly foreboding cake. This combination of factors seemed insurmountable but for the first few rounds the action didn’t bear out the expectation.
Donaire was pressing, if not always controlling, the action, and was taking Burnett’s shots well while giving the Belfast native enough return fire to keep him on his toes. But this was not to be Burnett’s story. A back spasm after missing with a reaching right hand two minutes into the fourth round brought Burnett to a knee and caused his trainer, the ever sage Adam Booth, to retire his charge prior to the commencement of the fifth.
Seemingly the recurrence of an injury from his amateur days, that twist of fate denied the fans a more satisfactory ending while handing Donaire his golden ticket to the last-chance saloon.
Nor do I feel unduly harsh calling it that; the fight was rightly described beforehand as a crossroads. A loss would’ve seen Donaire pushed even further back – perhaps even irredeemably so – on the comeback trail. Instead though he heads toward an April 27th WBSS semi-final showdown against South Africa’s Zolani “Last Born” Tete, at the Cajundome in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Tete’s ascent to wider recognition in boxing’s western hemisphere began in earnest in March ’15 when he upset bookmakers in defying Paul Butler’s attempt to become a two-weight world champion.
Since then he’s made the UK something of a second home, fighting there five times in succession in his subsequent eight fights. However, while regular activity’s quite the virtue in modern boxing, the level of Tete’s competition leaves something to be desired. Most had never contested a recognised world title.
Siboniso Gonya would claim the dubious distinction of becoming the victim of the quickest-ever knockout in a world title bout when he found the canvas rising to meet him almost before the opening bell had ceased its reverberations. Making history took a mere eleven seconds, and five of that was the count.
Tete’s two most recent opponents would offer more substance. The first, Omar Narvaez, at 42 proved the archetypal wily veteran when he lost a shutout UD12 in April of 2018. Interestingly, Narvaez had been the last opponent Donaire faced at 118lbs, losing another shutout seven years earlier. Comparison is understandably inevitable but the fact that Narvaez had weathered the storm against a Donaire who at the time was in the midst of a destructive run that propelled him onto P4P lists, is surely proof positive of the Argentinian’s credentials and suggests that Tete’s inability to secure a stoppage may not be such a disgrace.
Similarly, while superficially a UD12 against Russia’s Mikhail Aloyan may seem a cause for concern given Aloyan’s 4(0)-0 record going into the fight, Aloyan has a more than respectable amateur career behind him, with a brace of gold medals in the European and World Championships, and the Boxing World Cup, as well as Olympic Bronze and notable wins over Brits Andrew Selby and Kal Yafai to his name. In light of that amateur pedigree and the recent fast-tracking of peers like Lomachenko, Usyk, and expected WBSS Bantamweight finalist Naoya Inoue, Tete’s UD12 seems a touch more respectable.
Certainly it seems enough for the bookies to install him as their favourite, and with a five-year age gap and advantages in both height and reach it’s hard to make a case against Tete emerging triumphant. Donaire has faced bigger punchers than Tete; his sole stoppage defeat came against a hammer-handed featherweight, and his experience against top-tier opposition should give him the edge in wit and guile, but whether that proves sufficient to overcome both his relative youth deficit and the weight cut required to return to bantamweight, remains to be seen.
While his last win may flatter to deceive and with the odds against him Donaire undoubtedly faces an uphill struggle come April 27th, but one can’t help but wonder if he has enough left in his locker, so long as Father Time doesn’t come to collect.