A few years ago, a rematch between Nonito Donaire and Vic Darchinyan was among the very best fights boxing could make. But disputes between promoters and Darchinyan set-backs to Joseph Agbeko and Abner Mares stood in the way. On Saturday, the long-awaited second act will finally take place but now the overriding question is, to paraphrase Larry Merchant, is it better late than never or is it better never than late?
Statistical factors that may determine the outcome include:
Act One: Donaire's sharper punching (29%-26% overall, 16%-14% jabs, 40.4%-39.7% power) enabled the "Filipino Flash" to build a working lead in connects (59-44 overall, 15-13 jabs, 44-31 power) as well as on one of the judges' scorecards (40-36, 38-38 on the other two). Tellingly, the usually wild and aggressive Darchinyan threw more jabs (94) than power shots (78) while Donaire's offense was slightly more aggressive (95 jabs, 109 power). The pace was moderate (44.9 per round for Donaire, 37.9 for Darchinyan, both below the 62.3 flyweight average) as each had issues establishing range but the smashing one-punch knockout ending by Donaire erased everything that had preceded it.
Off the Rails: Donaire's 12-year, 30-fight winning streak came to a shocking end this past April at the educated hands of Guillermo Rigondeaux. The southpaw two-time gold medalist slowed the pace to his comfort zone (33 punches per round for Rigondeaux, 29.3 for Donaire), smothered most of the Filipino's blows (23% overall, 13% jabs, 30% power) while striking with a higher percentage of his own (33% overall, 25% jabs, 41% power). As a result Rigondeaux out-landed Donaire 129-82 (total), 56-18 (jabs) and 73-64 (power) en route to a closer-than-thought unanimous decision (114-113, 115-112, 116-111). Donaire looked sluggish, frustrated and pre-occupied while Rigondeaux was sharp, focused and perfectly conditioned.
Up until then Donaire had been firing on all cylinders. Against longtime WBC super bantamweight titlist Toshiaki Nishioka, Donaire averaged 56.2 punches per round, which was above the 49.2 he logged against Mathebula and the 46.3 and 55.5 he averaged against Vazquez Jr. and Omar Narvaez respectively. Moreover, he out-landed the Japanese 134-49 overall and 111-26 in power shots. He connected on 45% of his power punches and fielded 30% of Nishioka's power punches.
Against the always rugged but somewhat faded Jorge Arce, Donaire managed to bring down the Mexican's usual high-octane pace to a more manageable speed. Arce averaged 32 punches per round and could not penetrate Donaire's guard, for he landed just 14% of his total punches, 4% of his jabs and 22% of his power shots. Meanwhile, Donaire was far more accurate (30% overall, 19% jabs, 40% power) but he was unusually tepid with his output as he averaged 31 punches per round.
The Bull Rages Again: The 37-year-old Darchinyan was a decided underdog against undefeated prospect Luis Del Valle but once the bell sounded he fought like his prime self -- and in some ways better than that.
The hallmark of Darchinyan's performance was his accuracy, for while they threw a similar number of punches (Del Valle led 577-552), the Armenian led 41%-23% overall, 13%-6% jabs and 54%-25% power en route to big connect gaps (227-132 total, 22-3 jabs, 205-129 power). Del Valle's offense was one-dimensional (90.8% power shots) while Darchinyan's was more diverse (69% power shots).
That said, Darchinyan has had trouble against faster fighters. Lefty speed merchants Shinsuke Yamanaka and Anselmo Moreno -- both of whom defeated Darchinyan by decision in back-to-back bantamweight title bouts -- slowed Darchinyan's output (46.2 per round and 44.1 respectively) and the result was decisive margins in connects vs. Moreno (216-101 total, 103-33 jabs and 113-68 power off a mind-blowing 66% connect rate) and a late surge by Yamanaka following a good start (a 68-63 lead in total connects through the first six but trailed 129-118 after 12). Moreno and Yamanaka banked on superior speed and ring generalship to control the action and the 30-year-old Donaire hopes he'll exploit that weakness as well.
Prediction: Darchinyan will always be an awkward assignment for opponents because of his herky-jerky rhythm and protractor-defying punching angles. Though Darchinyan has seemingly re-discovered his form as of late Donaire, surely chastened by his comprehensive defeat to Rigondeaux, will be sharp and ready to regain his place among the elite. Also, the pair have swapped insults throughout the years so emotions will be running high. Donaire by TKO, probably in the later stages.