Nonito Donaire: No one is shocked that Donaire stopped Jorge Arce with a crushing left hook in third round Saturday in Houston. The Filipino-American was too good and too big even for an experienced warrior like Arce, who announced his retirement after the fight. And no one is surprised that Donaire went 4-0 in 2012, with convincing victories over world-class opponents Wilfredo Vazquez Jr., Jeffrey Mathebula, Toshiaki Nishioka and Arce. We’ve come to expect greatness from Donaire, who has been as dominating as any fighter the past several years. I don’t think he has a weakness. He was born with great speed, reflexes and athleticism; he has excellent boxing skills; and he has one-punch knockout power. Those are characteristics that can lead a fighter directly to the International Boxing Hall of Fame. I have to respect the ability and accomplishments of Floyd Mayweather Jr. but, in light of what I saw when Mayweather fought Miguel Cotto, I have to wonder whether Donaire (31-1, 20 knockouts) is the best fighter alive.
Jorge Arce: The immensely popular Mexican went out with a whimper, assuming he follows through on his announcement that he plans to retire. The setback doesn’t mean much, though; he took on an impossible task and fell short, which was predictable. We certainly won’t remember him for what we saw on Saturday. Arce (61-7-2, 46 KOs) was one of the most-entertaining fighters of his generation. He took on every top fighter in or near his weight class and fought with an infectious spirit, one that rarely if ever left the fans wanting after he waged war. That’s all fans can ask of a fighter. And it’s the reason so many fans loved watching him fight. Arce won five major titles in four weight classes, which are almost certainly Hall of Fame credentials when combined with the excitement he generated. I guarantee there will be a lot of smiles when he’s inducted.
BIGGEST WINNER II
Amir Khan: The former junior welterweight titleholder was never in danger of losing to Carlos Molina, a game opponent with solid skills who was fighting too far above his class. Still, Khan (27-3, 19 KOs) accomplished a great deal on Saturday at the old Sports Arena in Los Angeles. He was stopped by Danny Garcia in July, the result of fighting recklessly against an opponent with considerable punching power. Afterward he left trainer Freddie Roach and joined forces with Virgil Hunter, under whom he hoped to improve his defensive and overall skills. So far so good. Khan boxed well, picking Molina apart from the outside before Molina’s corner ended matters after the 10th round. And he fought patiently, a marked improvement over the Garcia fight. He fought aggressively but in a controlled manner, which generally kept him out of danger. It was a good first step toward rebuilding his career. His next opponent could be Josesito Lopez. A victory would put Khan back into the thick of the title picture.
Carlos Molina: The stocky young fighter from the Los Angeles area was hired to provide some resistance and lose. He did his job. He also demonstrated that he’s a real fighter. He clearly couldn’t cope with Khan’s hand speed, reach and all-around ability but never gave up. He had trouble hitting his elusive opponent but kept throwing, finding some success. And he ate a lot of leather but kept coming. He somehow demonstrated in a one-sided beating that he has solid skills and a great deal of heart, two traits that should serve him in what can still be a successful career. Molina (17-1-1, 7 KOs) didn’t sound discouraged immediately after the fight, saying he planned to get back into the gym and work as soon as possible. Good attitude. The setback could become a positive going forward if he uses it as a learning experience.
Deontay Wilder: I don’t think much of Wilder’s boxing skills, which are passable at best, but he can crack. That’s why he has 26 knockouts in 26 fights and the reason those at Golden Boy, his promoter, are so excited about him. You have to love a 6-foot-7 heavyweight who can end any fight in an instant. That’s what Wilder did on the Khan-Molina undercard. He looked about as ordinary as a 225-pound giant with no body fat can look before a huge overhand right put opponent Kelvin Price down and out 51 seconds into the third round, a thrilling moment that took the breath of the fans at the Sports Arena. Now, if Wilder wants to compete with best heavyweights, he’s going to have to grow as a boxer because he can’t rely solely on his power. He’s only 27, which is young for a heavyweight. He has time to improve. And he’ll always be fun to watch as he does so.
Larry Merchant’s: I had the good fortune of growing up in Los Angeles with the voices of Vin Scully and Chick Hearn, broadcasting legends who became as much a part of their sports as the athletes. I feel the same way about Merchant, who has retired after a 35-year run as an analyst for HBO. The Donaire-Arce card was his last. Larry Merchant was part of the fabric of boxing for more than a generation. His thoughts – so eloquently articulated – gave what we saw in so many big fights clear perspective and he seemed to always ask the right post-fight questions, even if they ruffled feathers. No one did it better. His departure will leave a significant void in the sport. That fact is particularly sad for those of us who know Merchant, who is as impressive off camera as he is on. The good news is that he plans to participate in television projects going forward. We know they’ll be worth watching.
Saturday was a great day of boxing. First, there was the doubleheader at the Sports Arena in L.A. The first part of the show, which took place in the afternoon, featured Leo Santa Cruz and was free for any fans who wanted to attend. The afternoon session was also on CBS, a free network. The sport should be this good to the fans more often. Then, in an evening session that required tickets for entry, the fans got to see the likes of Khan, Wilder, Alfredo Angulo and some U.S. Olympians. And finally, when I got home, I got to watch my favorite fighter – Donaire – score a dramatic knockout. I recorded it on my DVR. … Santa Cruz (23-0-1, 13 KOs) received a challenge from tough Alberto Guevara (16-1, 6 KOs) but ultimately wore down the San Diegan to win a one-sided decision. Judge Fritz Werner’s score of 119-109 seemed a bit out of line. … Angulo (22-2, 18 KOs) outpointed underdog Jorge Silva (18-3-2, 14 KOs) but had to work extremely hard to do it. It was a so-so performance for the popular Mexican. … Shawn Porter (20-0-1, 14 KOs) and former lightweight titleholder Julio Diaz (40-7-1, 29 KOs) fought to an entertaining draw on the Khan-Molina card. Diaz, 32, proved he can still fight. Porter still must prove he’s a legitimate contender. …
In London, super middleweight George Groves (16-0, 12 KOs) came close to shutting out 43-year-old Glen Johnson to retain his Commonwealth title Saturday, a solid step in Groves’ promising career. Let’s hope that Johnson, one of the most-popular boxers in the world for many years, finally calls it quits. … Former cruiserweight titleholder Giacobbe Fragomeni (30-3-2, 12 KOs) and former light heavyweight champ Silvio Branco (62-11-3, 37 KOs) had a combined age of 89 years when they fought Saturday in Italy. Fragomeni, 43, defeated Branco, 46, by a split decision. … Arthur Abraham (36-3, 28 KOs) won his fourth consecutive fight since his Super Six disaster, stopping Mehdi Bouadla (26-5, 11 KOs) on Saturday in Germany. … Jean Pascal (27-2-1, 16 KOs) had no trouble with Aleksy Kuziemski (23-5, 7 KOs) in his first fight since he lost his light heavyweight title to Bernard Hopkins in May 2011, winning a one-sided decision Friday in Montreal. Next up is a rematch with Chad Dawson on March 23 in Quebec.