Nonito Donaire Doesn’t Deliver His Best Performance Against Rafael Concepcion, But He Beat A Junior Featherweight In His Step Up To Junior Bantamweight

Against an opponent three divisions above his most recent fight, Nonito Donaire on Saturday beat an unprofessionally overweight Rafael Concepcion in a difficult, tense unanimous decision that proved he can handle bigger men but that also showed he has massive room for improvement.

On the undercard, featherweight Steve Luevano beat Bernabe Concepcion by disqualification when Concepcion landed an extremely late punch at the end of the 7th round, mercifully ending a hideous slow-motion fight that was expected to be the best of the evening but was anything other than.


I’ve tried to like Luevano, because smart people — among them boxing writer Doug Fischer — have suggested that everyone ought to enjoy the way Luevano does his thing. But I’ve seen about five fights of his, and one of them (Mario Santiago) was very fun, and the rest I’d count among the worst boxing matches I’ve seen in the last half-decade or so. This goes on the list. Luevano is talented, for sure, and he knows how to box, but he is a walking eyesore in the ring, prone to not doing very damn much but circling and jabbing, and he has a knack for freezing his opposition with his skillful counterpunching.
Enter Concepcion, who in one round threw 15 punches and landed three. The 21-year-old prospect showed no sense of urgency, and mainly just stood in front of Luevano and juked humorously but with little offensive purpose. It worked out OK for him in the 1st round, as he flung right hooks from range and landed what few he tossed to powerful effect. But Luevano’s a smart fighter, you have to give him that. He figured out Concepcion’s timing and deceptive speed and started countering him, meaning Concepcion did less and less seemingly every round.
In the 6th, Concepcion came out significantly more aggressively, and good for him, since he was now in about a 4-1 hole on the scorecards and needed to do something. He still didn’t win the round, but at least he gave himself a chance. That is, until he landed a huge right hand well after the bell as Luevano moved in to do a sportsmanlike touch of the gloves, the same gesture he and Concepcion exchanged at the end of every single round. Why did Concepcion do it? No clue. Probably frustrated that he couldn’t connect on Luevano much. And yes, Luevano left himself very defenseless and shoulders some of the blame for ending up with an icebag on his head, but he was just doing what he’d done at the end of every round with no apparent threat of Concepcion doing some between-rounds violence. Concepcion got disqualified, and very rightfully so.
Bob Arum, the promoter of the entire “Pinoy Power 2” card, said he’d see about arranging a rematch in December. A rematch is the right decision from the standpoint of what’s just, but wow, I am not looking forward to that one. I’d rather be defenestrated.
One of the headlines here is that Concepcion deserves serious derision for coming in 4 1/2 pounds over the junior bantamweight limit. At 119.5, Concepcion was a junior featherweight. Donaire was just moving up from flyweight. I had hoped Donaire would make him pay for his lack of professionalism. I never root for anyone to be seriously hurt in boxing, but a few broken ribs on Concepcion would have hit the spot. And in the 1st round, it seemed like the weight gap wouldn’t make a difference — Donaire had the look of a special fighter against a quasijourneyman, outclassing his limited, slow but powerful foe the way special fighters do when fed such quasijourneyman. Concepcion was cut and overmatched after one.
One round later, though, Concepcion was landing flush right hands that, while they didn’t stagger the iron-chinned fighter, definitely had Donaire reconsidering life. As fast, powerful and skilled as Donaire is, it’s impossible to ignore his many flaws. He carries his hands way too low, something he can get away with some because of his extraordinary reflexes. He doesn’t fire his jab often enough. In this fight, he was only interested in landing single shots. It was enough for the slow-handed Concepcion to get through far more often than he should have, given the deficit in natural physical abilities as well as boxing capabilities. The connect percentages throughout the bout heavily favored Donaire, but Concepcion often delivered the more meaningful, hurtful blows. Some of that was because of the weight difference, no doubt. Donaire said afterward that if Concepcion had come in at 115 like he was supposed to, Concepcion would have gone down, and that’s probably true. By the same token, if Donaire had fought better, Concepcion would have gone down, too. After, Concepcion talked some smack about Donaire running away from him, but he loses all privileges to talk smack in my book after failing to, you know, meet simple, basic standards for professional behavior.
I had it nine rounds to three for Donaire at the end, and the judges had it 117-111, 115-113, 116-112. All of those scores were within reason. That Donaire had a reasonably close fight with a guy of Concepcion’s caliber says a little something about how tough Concepcion is, and a little bit about how much a few pounds’ difference in the lighter weight classes can make, but it also says a bit about how much more work Donaire needs to do. He’s very inconsistent. Still, after this fight he’ll finally crack my pound-for-pound top 10.
Donaire is talking about fighting Jorge Arce next, but I think everyone knows how that will go. It’s probably not a bad fight for Donaire’s profile, since Arce is such a big name in the bottom few weight divisions, but I’d rather see how Donaire does at 118 against Fernando Montiel, another fight that he and his team are talking about, thankfully. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — Donaire-Montiel is one of the best fights in boxing. Sooner is better.
In other undercard action — and I must say, this card ended up not being worth the money:
  • Lightweight Anthony Peterson pulled out a unanimous decision over Luis Arceo that I had seven rounds to three for Peterson. Arceo exploited the Peterson brothers’ major flaw — they don’t punch when someone’s punching at them, opting to cover up and wait instead of countering. Good for Arceo for making it close, since he’d lost seven of nine coming in and proved himself worthy of another decent payday with his effort. Maybe Peterson was a tad rusty coming off a knee injury, but I think Arceo deserves most of the credit. Peterson says he wants to fight Edwin Valero next, and I wouldn’t count him out entirely.
  • Junior welterweight prospect Mark Melligen has some people amped up, but don’t count me among those people. He can punch some, sure, but he’s too ponderous for my tastes and even a slow junior welter like Juan Urango looks faster to me. He scored a 4th round KO of Ernesto Zepeda, loser of four of his last six coming in, three by knockout. Someone clue me in if I’m missing something.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.