HOUSTON – Nonito Donaire wanted to end 2012, a year in which he may well have been prizefighting’s best, with an exclamation point. He did exactly that. Pity Mexican Jorge Arce for being the dot at the bottom of that point.
Saturday at Toyota Center, before an announced crowd of 7,250, a crowd that was partisan Mexican and partisan Arce, Donaire outboxed, outclassed, outmaneuvered and in every other way outdid Arce, stopping the Mexican at 2:59 of Round 3 with a left hook that dropped Arce on the blue mat for a count much longer than 10.
“My left hook was my damaging punch,” Donaire said after successfully defending his RING junior featherweight championship. “It was very strong. I could land it when I wanted to land it.”
From the opening minute, Donaire (31-1, 20 knockouts) showed a resolution to end things violently, winging a vicious right uppercut that narrowly missed and might have ended the fight in its early seconds had it landed. Arce (61-7-2-1, 46 knockouts) was forewarned.
“I went there and pretty much timed him,” Donaire said. “We knew he was going to open up. I caught him with a good straight right hand, and then the counter hook came in.”
The second round brought the first of three knockdowns for Donaire, when a right-cross counter caught Arce rushing in. Arce rose, and Donaire spent the remainder of the stanza endeavoring to get Arce back over his front foot, in the hopes of ending the match suddenly.
“(Donaire’s) power was unreal,” the Filipino’s trainer, Robert Garcia, said. “Beautiful. Perfect. Wherever Nonito hits you – head, side, neck – it’s going to hurt. And it’s going to hurt bad.”
After stunning Arce with a counter right behind the ear in the final minute of round three, Donaire took hold of the moment and went for his spectacular ending. Arce rose from the match’s second knockdown, retreated to the ropes and nodded, calling for Donaire to fight him. Donaire obliged, timing Arce with the left hook that closed the show.
“We knew what we were up against,” Donaire said. “But we just had to figure out the distance.”
Donaire’s left hook brought an end not only to the match but also Arce’s career.
“I am retired,” Arce said. “I promised my children that if I lost, I’d leave.”
Arce, who in a career spanning almost 17 years and 71 matches won titles in five weight classes, from junior flyweight to junior featherweight, found solace in losing to the best man in his division.
“He did a very good job,” Arce said. “I feel proud that I lost against the best.”
Donaire, who showed open affection for Arce at their Friday weigh-in, often failing to keep his face straight long enough for photographers, was quick to compliment the man he knocked unconscious moments before.
“Arce’s a dear friend of mine,” Donaire said. “And he’ll be a dear friend of mine for the rest of my life.”
Asked for his 2013 plans and preferred opponents, Donaire initially offered to fight all comers. Pressed by HBO commentator Larry Merchant, though, Donaire committed firmly.
“First off, I want to get (Abner) Mares,” Donaire said, referring to the RING’s No. 3-ranked junior featherweight. “Because he’s been calling me out.”
Both Donaire and Arce offered Larry Merchant congratulations on his unprecedented career behind an HBO microphone, a career that came to an end of its own Saturday. Ring announcer Michael Buffer, too, acknowledged Merchant’s career, beginning his fighter introductions by saying, “This one’s for Larry.”