Pacquiao and Donaire at the crossroads of their boxing careers

By Ludwig O. Daza

Bob Arum, the long-time promoter of Pacquiao, said that the latter will fight in middle of the ring but offered the idea that, similar to what he did against Miguel Cotto, Pacquiao might lean on the ropes in the first round to test the power of WBO welterweight champion Jessie Vargas. That is a dangerous proposition, considering that Pacquiao is already at the twilight of his career and the considerable age disparity with Vargas.

While I believe age will be a non-factor in this fight, testing the power of Vargas in the first round is just ridiculously reckless. He did it against Antonio Margarito and Cotto, but not in the first round. And that was years ago when he hasn’t yet tasted the canvas against Juan Manuel Marquez.

I expect Jessie Vargas to come charging in the first round, while Manny Pacquiao will be very careful and methodical. In the early rounds, I expect Manny to counter-punch Vargas. If Manny catches Vargas with combinations in the first three rounds, the fight will not last the distance.

While in Manila, except for catching a cold while winding up his training in the Philippines, Pacquiao’s routine has been a breeze. A typical day for him is to start the day running inside a plush subdivision where he lives and then attend senate hearings in the afternoon, and in between, probably play chess in addition to a bible prayer. Time management has always been his ready answer when asked about his job as a legislator and a professional boxer.

I once attempted to watch him train in the Elorde gym in Pasay City, but the hassles of even catching a glimpse of the man, with the hangers-on and security protocol, would not be worth the wait when just to go to the place is taxing enough. Eventually, when the crowd watching him train grew bigger as the fight nears, Freddie Roach had to shut down the gym from onlookers.

During his supposed retirement, it was just a matter of time for him to say he will fight again. Judging from his behavior while attending senate hearings, one can feel his longing for boxing. In the company of senators he knew he overachieved, but at the same time he know he is the underdog in that place – like a fish out of water.

To a man who finally ditched the underdog tag usually attached to the poor and marginalized people, becoming the toast of the country by providing them entertainment and pride, senate chores has a way of making him feel like a little guy again. He has to go back to his stomping ground and make himself comfortable again.

Passing the Torch

Nonito Donaire was the supposed heir-apparent to Pacquiao. When Pacquiao failed to deliver TKO in any of his subsequent fights after running roughshod over Cotto, and coupled with the shocking defeat that shattered his aura of invincibility, Donaire was ready to take up the cudgels for the Filipino fans. Scintillating performances against Fernando Montiel, Jorge Arce and Wilfredo Vasquez Jr. firmed up the status of Donaire as the next big thing from the Philippines.

But the fight against Guillermo Rigondeaux happened, then Nicholas Walters. Donaire’s rise to boxing heights similar to that of Pacquiao’s took a hit. As slick as Rigondeaux is, the right fight plan would have allowed Donaire to eke out a decision by employing a swarming offense of which he is capable. Rigondeaux’s style turned out to be a bad match for Donaire, frustratingly denying the latter the chance to showcase his skills by clinching and cunning.

Despite his lackluster performance, Donaire’s rising star remained on course, paving the way for a match with Walters at a higher weight division, which resulted though to a devastating loss that brought Donaire back to earth.

Before the fight, doubts on whether Donaire can take his punch power to higher divisions were abound, and said fight against Walters was telling enough. The power of Walters was just too much for Donaire whose explosiveness can end a fight in a blink of an eye. But against Walters, Donaire’s vaunted power hardly dented the much bigger and stronger body frame of Walters.

While Donaire was licking his wounds, Pacquiao was back in harness. He would again saw action against the brass Brandon Rios who never knew what hit him. Rios was so buzzed he failed to recognize his opponent after the fight. He would later ask whether he fought Pacquiao or a monster with multiple hands since he didn’t see where the punches are coming from?

For both fighters, ensuing fights enabled them to pick up the pieces and continue their now parallel course, which several years back seemed headed the opposite directions. Donaire was poised to take the torch of Philippine pride from Pacquiao when the latter suffered defeat in the hands of Marquez. But Donaire would falter against Walters, allowing Pacquiao to regain his stellar billing with string of victories.

But Donaire was not done yet. After several fights, he will now share a top-billing with Pacquiao this coming November 6 at the Thomas and Mack Center Arena in Las Vegas. Two Filipino boxing superstars aim to make fans happy in one fight-card. What more could we ask for?

Crossing Paths

While their tormentors have faded, Pacquiao and Donaire remained in the limelight. For Pacquiao, his fights against Rios, Algieri and rematch with Bradley were considered confidence-boosting. But his last fight against Tim Bradley showed why his loss to Marquez is now just a history of a freak accident that will never be repeated. That defeat scarred his boxing memory and in the process given him a defensive mind-set that does not afford even a moment of lapse in concentration, lest he lay unconscious on the canvas again.

The Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight was so wracked with controversies that neither fighter gained anything of value other than the financial side of it.

In Pacquiao’s mind, his last fight against Tim Bradley reinforced more his confidence than his performance against Floyd Mayweather in terms of erasing the gory knockout he suffered. His victory against Bradley allowed him to regain his mental equanimity, prompting him to hastily announced his retirement and re-direct his focus to politics.

Meanwhile, Donaire, by outlasting the durable Cesar Juarez and showing his grit and heart, bolted himself from quagmire and is again worthy of a pay per view audience and payoff. When he blasted Zsolt Bedak, his comeback was complete.

Even the short-lived retirement of Pacquiao cannot side-tracked the parallel paths that these fighters are now threading, and which are about to converge eventually to give the Filipino fans a fight to remember for a long time.

Physically Poles Apart

In all his fights that ended going to the scorecards, except from the first fight with Erik Morales, Manny Pacquiao looked always good for another three rounds. On the other hand, Donaire, in some fights, looked spent, and adding another round has the potential to end tragically for him.

Although much younger than Pacquiao, the wear and tear seemed to have caught up early with Donaire. I wonder if his diet while growing up in America could be a factor in assessing his bodily wear and tear as opposed to that of Pacquiao who, having lived for the most of part of his growing years in the boondocks with sustenance mainly sourced from green leafy vegetables, is still able to show today his boxing form he displayed ten years ago.

Physically, Pacquiao is going to hold up his own against Jessie Vargas more than Donaire against Jessie Magdaleno. However, having gone toe to toe with Juarez until the last round, Donaire will be wearing that badge on his shoulder when he enters the ring.

You only live twice

In a way, these two fighters have been shot dead, but they resurrected themselves and are again on the firing line, more assured and determined to stamp their class once again. If their opponents loss, they will still live to fight another day. But if Pacquiao and Donaire loss, I doubt if they can still carry on when the writing on the walls are there for all to see.

But who could be hungrier than those who have seen debilitating defeats and have lived with the demons on and off the ring. In these fights, they can finally put to rest any lingering doubt on their ability to still put on a show for two more years. I know that’s a lot to ask for but the boxing gods can make it happen.

Looking for knockouts

I will be disappointed if no knockout happens. The Jessies will enter the ring with a stoppage in mind. To definitively defeat these grizzled veterans will mean fame and fortune for Magdaleno and Vargas. Going to the scorecards is not an option; convincing victory is the only option, and nothing can be more convincing than a knock-out.

For Pacquiao, it’s been a long time coming. He could have knocked out Chris Algieri, Rios and Margarito, but it seems religion have gotten in the way and blunted his killer instinct. We’re in for a change though. The Philippine President, a political ally and long-time friend of Pacquiao and now an international figure in his own right, wants Pacquiao to deliver a knock-out. And from the looks of it, Bob Arum’s prediction of a knock-out happening may prove prophetic.

The blueprint to defeat Jessie Vargas is the fights against Antonio Margarito and Brandon Rios. No disrespect to Jessie, but Manny will put him to clinic and deliver a beating with surgical precision. The mercy bestowed on Rios and Margarito will be absent in this fight. Manny have been served taller fighters such as the likes of Algieri, Margarito, De la Hoya and Jorge Solis and never tasted defeat.

Donaire will be looking for his offense early against Magdaleno. A knock-out is more likely to happen in this match than in the main event. As the fight progresses in later rounds, Donaire’s chance of knocking out Magdaleno gets slimmer. But if Donaire’s punches in the early rounds find their marks, the accumulation would weigh heavily on his opponent and he can still deliver a knock-out by taking a page from his fight against Juarez. If Jessie Magdaleno is half the man as the tough hombre Suarez is, Donaire is in for a long night.