This is another busy weekend for combat sports fans with two UFC shows, a stacked Bellator card, K-1, and more. One key fight that should not get lost in the shuffle is Saturday night's boxing showdown between Nonito Donaire (30-1, 19 KOs) and Jorge Arce (60-6-2(1), 46 KOs). Donaire vs. Arce airs this Saturday night, December 15, live on HBO. The event starts at 9:30 p.m. ET / 6:30 p.m. PT.
Donaire may not have a huge profile outside of the boxing world just yet, but he's a fighter who is perhaps on the verge of becoming the sport's next major star. He's a four division champion, a top pound for pound fighter, and is closing in on becoming the fighter of the year for 2012. Those are all tremendous accomplishments.
And yet, in a way, they're not quite enough. Because Nonito Donaire finds himself in a tough position. As a smaller fighter hailing from the Philippines, he will forever draw comparisons to a certain other noted Filipino fighter. When you look into Donaire's accolades and biography, it's interesting how much the name Manny Pacquiao comes up. Donaire is the second Asian fighter to win titles in four divisions (the first? Pacquiao). As a boy, he attended the same grammar school as Pacquiao. And, like Pacquiao, he's recognized as one of the prize athletes from the Philippines.
With Pacquiao falling so hard last weekend at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez, and with his future now in doubt, the pressure to represent his home country will become even greater for Donaire. If Pacquiao is done (and even if he's not, it certainly seems like just a matter of time now), then it's up to Donaire, the so called "Filipino Flash", to carry that flag.
The thing is, he can do it. Donaire is a truly gifted fighter who has grown up in boxing. He's a skilled athlete, able to combine speed, technique, and power to effectively outstrike opponents from either orthodox or southpaw. He is aggressive, but not reckless, and that aggression has resulted ins some of the most spectacular KO's and knock downs you'll find in boxing. His status as a pound for pound great is well deserved, but with that status comes that sense of responsibility - to himself, his trainers, and his country. A thoughtful, human fighter, Donaire is acutely aware of that responsibility, as he has talked openly about his need to not let others down in the ring.
That responsibility begins this Saturday night as he takes on Jorge Arce. And again, the Pacquiao loss adds an extra layer of responsibility, as Mexico's Arce is a countryman of Juan Manuel Marquez. This Philippines vs. Mexico rivalry has become fierce in boxing, largely on the back of Manny Pacquiao, who went to war with numerous Mexican opponents, typically coming out on top. Right now though, the Mexican side clearly has a massive boost thanks to Marquez. It's up to Donaire to avenge that loss and reassert the Filipino victory laid out by Pacquiao.
If he can, he will likely take home the fighter of the year honors, and very possibly set up a big fight with the undefeated Guillermo Rigondeaux (provided Rigondeaux wins Saturday's undercard fight against Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym). He'll also take another step towards breaking through to the superstar level. But even with a win, two big questions will remain. First, will the public get behind a fighter at this low weight class? And second, if he does break through, will it be because he is "the next Manny Pacquiao" or because he is simply who he is - Nonito Donaire, one of the best in the world? We'll find out at least some of these answers Saturday night.
Prediction: Nonito Donaire by KO
UPDATE: The Rigondeaux vs. Poonsawat fight has been cancelled. Poonsawat failed his pre-fight medicals, reportedly for testing positive for HIV. No word yet on if Rigondeaux will fight a late replacement opponent, though on such short notice, I would not bet on it.