By John J. Raspanti
Back when I was a young buck, when a boxer hit 30 he was on the back nine of his career. The greatest example of this is when two of the greatest fighters in history, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier met for the second time in 1974.
Ali was 32, Frazier 30. Their first fight, held three years earlier at the legendary Madison Square Garden, was a classic. Ali got off to a fast start, but Frazier, “Smokin” like he never would again, rallied to floor Ali in the last round and win the match by a unanimous decision.
When the rematch finally went down, Frazier was no longer champion and Ali had lost to Ken Norton. The experts said they were past their primes. Were they?
This Saturday at the SSE Arena in Belfast, Ireland, former champions Carl Frampton and Nonito Donaire meet in a high-class crossroads fight.
Frampton (24-1, 14 KOs), the former WBA featherweight titleholder, lost his crown to Leo Santa Cruz in a rematch of their exciting 2016 battle. He returned to the ring last November, winning a hard-fought decision over tough Mexican battler, Horatio Garcia. The reviews were mixed. Frampton hit the canvas in round seven, more a slip actually, but some whispered that he looked sluggish at times.
Donaire (38-4, 24 KOs), who has held titles in five weight divisions, lost his WBO championship to young gun, Jesse Magadaleno, 17 months ago. Donaire fought well at times, but the judges went with the aggressive Magadaleno by a wide margin. Shaking off the disappointment, Donaire defeated rugged Rueben Garcia Hernandez last September.
Frampton, nicknamed “The Jackel,” is super quick. Rhythm is his key. When he finds it, he can be a nightmare—due to fast hands and feet. He can also punch a little, scoring 14 knockouts in his 24-fight career, but none since 2015.
Though roughly the same size, Donaire will have a reach advantage of six inches over Frampton. His left-hand packs dynamite—starching Vic Darcinyan in 2007 to win his first world title and separating former super bantamweight Jorge Arce from his senses five years later. The punch is a game-changer. Just ask Darchinyan, who thought he was on his way to defeating Doniare in a rematch until Donaire caught him with the same punch that had knocked him out six years earlier. Same punch, same result.
Frampton knows how important his fight with Donaire is.
"For me it’s make or break,” said Frampton in an article posted at www.telegraph.co.uk. “Because if I win this fight I’m going to be fighting at Windsor Park in the summer. I need to win this, I know how important it is. But I know how dangerous Nonito is, and in that sense it is a make or break for me.”
Oddsmakers installed Frampton as a 6-1 favorite (I expect the odds to be closer to 2 ½ -1 at fight time).
Donaire doesn’t agree.
“I don’t even think it’s a fifty-fifty fight,” Donaire told The Star a few week ago. “I’m confident of beating Frampton. I’ve trained hard for this fight and I’m in the best shape of my life. I’ve got a good feeling about this. I figure my chances are seventy percent to win.”
Confidence is important, but wear-and-tear is like Mother Nature. She’ll eventually defeat you. Donaire is the older man by four years. He’s had 17 more fights than Frampton—who will also be fighting in front of his rabid fans.
I see a close fight in the first half, with the busier Frampton pulling away to win a relatively close decision. Unless Donaire lands his left, then all bets are off. In that case, age and all the other factors won’t matter.