HOUSTON, Texas—Nonito Donaire Jr. knocked Jorge Arce out cold with a patented left hook in the third round on Saturday night (Sunday in Manila) to keep his World Boxing Organization super bantamweight crown and lift the sagging spirits of Filipinos back home, as well as here and beyond.
Flashing tremendous power, the “Filipino Flash” downed Arce earlier with a right, followed by a left uppercut, but the proud Mexican chose to fight it out rather than back down.
As Arce waded in, Donaire exploded his left hook on the Mexican’s chin with one second to go in the round, sending him to the ropes and then flat on his back, motionless for about a minute.
“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, who boosted his record to 31-1 with 20 knockouts, found his range for the first time in the second round when he caught Arce with a combination capped by a short right.
The protagonists, good friends in real life, delivered on their promise that the bout wouldn’t go the distance. Arce announced his retirement after the fight.
That it was Donaire who finished the fight standing elated Filipinos barely recovered from the shock of seeing Manny Pacquiao knocked out senseless by Mexican rival Juan Manuel Marquez in the sixth round in Las Vegas on Dec. 8.
In a weird coincidence, both bouts ended with one punch delivered at 2:59—or just a second left—of the round.
“There were a lot of fans who said, ‘You have got to get him. This is for the Philippines.’ I hope they can be proud of what I did,” Donaire said. “My left hook was a damaging hook tonight. I felt very strong in the ring.”
Less than three hours after the end of the fight that lured 7,250 fans into the home court of the Houston Rockets, Donaire—who got his first seven-figure pay—made his sentiment known on his Facebook page.
“To all the Pinoys all over the world, Salamat (Thank you) and God bless! I hope I lifted your spirits through these times of trials and wish blessing and happiness this Christmas. Mabuhay Pilipinas (Long live the Philippines)!”
Seeing Arce motionless, referee Lawrence Cole did not even bother to count as Donaire leaped into a corner and raised his hands in triumph, sending the outnumbered Filipinos in the gallery into a frenzy.
Fighter of the Year?
The 30-year-old Donaire, who claimed his 14th Mexican victim, thus put himself in front of the race for Fighter of the Year honors with four victories against quality opponents this year. He has not lost since the second fight of his career back in 2001.
Praising his opponent, Donaire said he saw the knockout coming after Arce chose to open up and engage.
“I was a lot faster than Arce,” he 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.”
Donaire said he would rest for one month and forget about boxing, before gearing up to fight any contender lined up for him by Top Rank in March.
Their shouts drowned by the boos of a predominantly Hispanic crowd, the Filipinos got the chance to celebrate when Donaire’s hands were raised.
“The reason why people survive with me is because they are afraid to open up,” Donaire said. “I have a lot of respect for [Arce]. He wasn’t afraid. He was aiming to surprise me. But when I can throw sitting down that left hook, everyone will go down.”
Donaire, with wife Rachel watching at ringside, said he was willing to take on anybody that promoter Bob Arum would put against him.
“Bring them all in,” Donaire said, directing his challenge at Abner Mares and World Boxing Association super bantam champion Guillermo Rigondeaux.
Arum can’t commit Mares, who’s under chief rival Golden Boy Promotions’ stable. That leaves Rigondeaux as the next possible choice.
For Arce, a future Hall of Famer, the time has come to hang up his gloves. His record dropped to 61-7-2.
“My career is over. He (Donaire) is the best man,” said Arce, who’ll get $800,000 for the fight. “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.”
‘His power is unreal’
Even Donaire’s trainer, Robert Garcia, was impressed with the Filipino’s performance.
“Nonito’s power was unreal,” Garcia said. “It was spectacular, it was perfect. I worked perfectly on it.”
Donaire said he would likely to visit the Philippines this month or early next year.
Malacañang welcomed Donaire’s victory.
“We’re happy with this win because many of our countrymen are still in disbelief over the loss of Manny Pacquiao to Marquez, and the loss of the Azkals in the Suzuki Cup. So it’s a welcome victory not just for Filipino sports fans but for all Filipinos,” Undersecretary Abigail Valte, deputy presidential spokesperson, said on state-run dzRB.
“Once again, the Filipino Flash … showcased the strength and toughness of the Filipino on the world stage,” Valte said. With reports from TJ Burgonio and AFP