(Nicholas Walters, right, Nonito Donaire, right; via)
That was an exceptional performance Saturday night on HBO by Nicholas Walters, to knock out the never-KO’d, rarely-even-hurt Nonito Donaire. He had to fight through an early trademark counter left hook from Donaire to do it, but once he got going, he made a former pound-for-pound top 10 guy submit, making him appear shellshocked, even.
We knew this would likely be a fight where either one guy would establish that he remained near the top of the sport, or the other guy would prove he belonged. Walters arrived. He did so in the best way imaginable — he overcame trouble, then finished in style.
The 1st round was Walters’, as he outworked Donaire. Donaire picked up the pace in the 2nd, though, and near the end of the round, blasted Walters with that patented left. Walters had never been in with this caliber of puncher; it seemed as though he might be exposed around that moment.
But by the very next round, Walters got on his jab, using his superior size, and then hurt and dropped Donaire with one of his own best punches, a big right uppercut. Donaire, apparently realizing he needed to win a firefight, started to step inside the next round, but he wasn’t winning the left hook exchanges. This was a very bad sign about how things might go for the rest of the night for Donaire.
By the 5th, bloodied along the nose and on his way to being bloodied around both eyes, Donaire was tentative. He tried to step it up anew in the 6th, fatally: Walters caught him with a clubbing overhand right on the side of his head, and he promptly fell flat on his face and rose, shakily, near the count of 10. The referee ended the affair for Walters, correctly.
Walters will have a case now as the best featherweight in the world. It’s true that Donaire has overextended himself physically — he’s been doughy over the last several weight classes and coasting on absurd talent — and is no longer in it mentally as much as he once was. But this was an exceptional performance from an exceptional talent against a still-exceptional fighter, even at this weight and age. At the end of the fight, Walters embraced Donaire, telling him that he was his favorite fighter. Donaire responded, “You’re my favorite fighter now.”
Walters, with his knockout power, has added “battle-tested against an elite” to his rising status. It was the emergence of a potential superstar in the lighter divisions. Walters-Vasyl Lomachenko would be utterly sensational.