Donaire marching toward Fighter of the Year

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Donaire marching toward Fighter of the Year

Abraham Lincoln once said, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

At times, San Leandro’s Nonito Donaire feels like he can’t please anyone at all.

“You can never make everybody happy,” Donaire said before his latest junior featherweight title defense against Jorge Arce this Saturday at Houston’s Toyota Center (HBO, 9:30 p.m. PT).  “But as long as everybody’s happy in my camp, the people that I care about, the people that care about me, [and] my fans, I’m just going to fight whoever is given to me.”

At last year’s annual Boxing Writers Association of America meeting in Las Vegas, I stated my case for Andre Ward’s worthiness for Fighter of the Year, and I thought it was a good one, because he ended up winning.  Donaire, who has made the final cut of five nominees this time around, shouldn’t be too hard on himself, especially given what he’s accomplished over the past 12 months.  

In an age where it’s customary for elite boxers to only appear one to three times a year, Donaire (NorCal No. 2; 30-1, 19 KOs) will be gunning for his fourth win of 2012 against Arce, a former 122-pound beltholder from Los Mochis, Mexico.

“[Arce] knows he can’t beat me by boxing and keeping his distance for 12 rounds,” Donaire said.  “It’s going to be a war.”

Moreover, Donaire’s quality of opponents during that stretch is nothing to scoff at, with Wilfredo Vazquez Jr., Jeffrey Mathebula, and Toshiaki Nishioka (former or reigning titleholders with a combined ledger of 86-8-6) all incurring decisive defeats at the hands of the 30-year-old East Bay product.  In doing so, Donaire answered several doubts about his skills along the way.  



There were questions about Donaire’s power carrying over from 118 to 122 pounds; in February, Vazquez ate the canvas thanks to a signature left hook from “The Filipino Flash.”  Qualms surfaced in July about Donaire’s ability to deal with a taller fighter in the crafty 5’10’’ Mathebula, so he broke the South African’s jaw.  

Perhaps the most impressive performance of all came in October against Nishioka, the top-rated junior featherweight in the world.  The Japanese southpaw, wary of Donaire’s power, refused to engage and glued his right hand to his face in an effort to deter his foe from throwing the left hook.  

But like any great champion, Donaire made the necessary adjustments, and patiently waited on his opponent to make a mistake.  Sure enough, Nishioka finally decided to lunge toward him in the ninth round, and whiffed.  Moments later, Nishioka found himself knocked out—with a Donaire straight right hand no less.

“People can say, ‘Oh, Nonito’s going to have a hard time with this guy,’ and then when I do something that they didn’t expect, they’re like, ‘Oh, that guy was too short,’ or when I fought someone taller, ‘Oh, that guy was too weak,’” Donaire said.  

Now his detractors wonder why he hasn’t faced the other two beltholders left in the division, Abner Mares and Guillermo Rigondeaux.

“When I beat Mares, they’re going to be saying, ‘Oh, he’s an up-and-coming guy.  He’s slower for the Flash,’ or with Rigondeaux, ‘Oh, he’s too short.’  You’re never going to satisfy those critics, no matter what, but I’m there to fight anybody.  I want to be undisputed at 122 [pounds],” Donaire added.

So Donaire’s been active and he’s beaten some very good competition.  Is that all?  Actually, no. One could argue that his actions outside the ring are what have set him apart from the field this year.

In July, Donaire became the first fighter in the history of combat sports to submit to year-round random drug testing administered by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA).  In the midst of high-profile fighters like Lamont Peterson and Erik Morales testing positive for banned substances in recent times, it was refreshing to see someone take the lead in cleaning up a sport in desperate need of more than a spitshine.

“I do it for my own reasons, for my fans, and for my beliefs,” Donaire said.  “But aside from that, I’m just there to do the things that I do best, to go in there and work hard and prove to everybody that whatever God has given me is all that’s in there.”

Last week, Juan Manuel Marquez unveiled an uncharacteristically chiseled physique, and the 39-year-old found the fountain of youth by scoring a shocking Knockout of the Year against Manny Pacquiao.  But despite his monumental victory and elevating consideration for Fighter of the Year, many inquiries have surfaced about the process by which Marquez has attained his newfound strength.  

Marquez’s strength coach, Angel Heredia Hernandez, admitted in 2000 to supplying track stars Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery with performance-enhancing drugs. Since that event, Hernandez has claimed to have gone clean and stated that he has been working with the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) for the last six years.

Marquez is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and one of the most precise pugilists in the sweet science; his work ethic is a big reason why I shouldn’t have any reservations about whether or not he’s juicing.  In addition, both Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach—who said he would kiss Marquez’s behind if he were “natural”—and strength coach Alex Ariza refused to diminish Marquez’s triumph by lobbying any further PED allegations after the loss.  In fact, Nevada State Athletic Commissioner Keith Kizer said both fighters passed their prefight and postfight drug tests.

But it must also be said that peeing in a cup mere hours before and after a fight leaves a lot of leeway before that brief window for anything to occur.  And in a modern landscape where cheating is rampant in a multitude of sports, the absence of random testing over an extended period before competition makes it downright impossible to determine who is clean as a baby’s bottom—and that goes for anyone, not just Marquez.  As my friend Norm Frauenheim of 15rounds.com eloquently penned, “In the court of public opinion, however, the negative result won’t allay the suspicions.”

And while Donaire initially took some heat for deciding to work with nutritionist Victor Conte, who did prison time for his own PED-related transgressions as founder of the infamous BALCO, the pair have soundly silenced their critics by not only verbally pushing for the most stringent testing available, but by actually putting it in practice.  

A frustrated Donaire took to the Twittersphere Thursday night: “Latest Drug testing results are in blood and urine. Results are NEGATIVE. I'm pretty disappointed that no other professional boxer has submitted themselves to 365 24/7 testing with Vada (the only organization that has effectively caught people who are cheating). What do you guys think stops them?”

Is there a connection between last week and this week’s fight?  Well, Hernandez is also Arce’s strength coach, although the fighter said earlier this week that the two men did not work as closely for this camp.  

The 33-year-old Arce (61-6-2, 46 KOs), a tremendous brawler in the lower weights who was built quite a following over the years for his devil-may-care style, has made no secret that he plans to go toe-to-toe and feels sturdy enough to withstand Donaire’s power.  

“My left is very strong.  My right is very strong.  I can knock him out with either hand,” Arce told BoxingScene.com.

Fully cognizant of what lies ahead, Donaire has prepared accordingly.

“I’ve been sparring bigger guys—guys at 130, 135,” said Donaire, who has mainly been trading leather with Sacramento’s Guy Robb and Redwood City’s Jesus Partida.  “They’re pushing me, and I’m able to push them back.  I’m able to handle their strength, their power, their weight.  I’m expecting a tough fight.  Regardless of how the fight’s going to be.  It can be an easy fight, or it be can a tough fight, but I’m ready for whatever [Arce] gives me.”

As Donaire demonstrated in the Nishioka fight and his two highlight-reel knockouts of Vic Darchinyan and Fernando Montiel, pressing forward plays right into his hands, and Ring Magazine’s panel of experts has subsequently picked “The Filipino Flash” to win by a resounding 13-0 margin.  A staggering 11 of them (myself included) don’t see it going the 12-round distance.

On the other hand, Marquez was a 3-to-1 underdog before blasting Pacquiao; can Arce repeat the trend?  

“The last time I was in Texas, I beat Vazquez pretty clearly and one of the three judges still gave him the decision,” Donaire said.  “That’s why I want to knock Arce out.  I want to give the fans what they want and I want to keep it out of the judges’ hands.”

Spoken like a man who knows what he has to do to secure Fighter of the Year honors.


REGION 11 AMATEURS SHINE AT STATE SILVER GLOVES

A new crop of champions were crowned at the 2012 California State Silver Gloves, which took place at the South El Monte Community Center in Southern California earlier this month.  The winners advanced to the Regional Silver Gloves in Pasadena on January 3-6, 2013.  Here’s a list of Senior Division champions from Region 11, the area encompassing Northern and Central California.

GIRLS (14-15):
106 lbs.: Caroline Riojas (Central; Velarde’s TC, Fresno)
112 lbs.: Odalys Camacho (Central; Ten Count BC, Bakersfield)
119 lbs.: Iris Contreras (Northern; D.F. Boxing, Richmond)

BOYS (14-15):
80 lbs.: Peter Tavares (Northern; Unattached, Gilroy)
95 lbs.: Fernando Venegas (Northern; Golden State Bloodhounds, Sacramento)
119 lbs.: Ruben Villa IV (Central, Back Yard BC, Salinas)
178 lbs.: Suray Mahmutovic (Northern; 415 BC, S.F.)


THE SPITBUCKET

49ers running back Frank Gore gave his vocal support to Donaire this week, posting a YouTube video with local videojournalist Ken Guanga…Watsonville’s Carina Moreno became NorCal’s sixth reigning world champ with an upset of Susi Kentikian in Germany by split decision for the WBA flyweight title…Super middleweight king Andre Ward’s promoter Dan Goossen informed me that the Oakland star doesn’t need surgery on his right shoulder and will return in February or March… Promising prospect Omar Henry, who relocated to the Bay Area last year, is in good spirits after a recent trip to the hospital revealed he has cancer.  The way “O.” fights, cancer doesn’t stand a chance…Promoter Don Chargin is trying to bring boxing to Redwood City.  South Bay is a fertile ground for fight fans.  I’d love to see it… For those of you hoping to see Guillermo Rigondeaux call out Donaire on Saturday, he’ll have to do it from a ringside seat.  His opponent, Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym, tested positive for HIV and the fight is off…If either of the TV bouts on TeleFutura ends in early stoppage, I hope Jonathan Chicas-Moris Rodriguez gets on the tube.  That’ll be a good one…Former Region 11 amateur star and 2012 U.S. Olympian Jose Ramirez of Avenal needed all of 125 seconds to win his pro debut on the Pacquiao-Marquez undercard…Fresno’s Gary Salazar might be the next to follow in Ramirez’s footsteps.  He raised some eyebrows by advancing to the quarterfinals at the AIBA Youth World Championships…Don’t miss the CBS main event Saturday afternoon.  If you like fighters with a hellacious body attack and can finish with the best of them, watch Leo Santa Cruz.  The kid’s a whirlwind…My picks: Donaire in five, Amir Khan over 12, Alfredo Angulo in two, and Paul Mendez in 10…The final list of nominees for the 2012 CSNBayArea.com NorCal Boxing Awards will be released next week.  If you would like to nominate someone, my contact information is below.

CSN Bay Area Boxing Insider Ryan Maquiñana is a voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and panelist for Ring Magazine’s Ratings Board.  E-mail him at rmaquinana@gmail.com, check out his blog at Norcalboxing.net, or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.

Steve Kerr's absence from Warriors' bench means two things for sure

Steve Kerr's absence from Warriors' bench means two things for sure

Programming note: Warriors-Blazers Game 4 coverage starts tonight at 6:30pm with Warriors Pregame Live on NBC Sports Bay Area, and streaming live right here.

Steve Kerr’s physical absence from the stage in the NBA Playoffs means a lot of things. It all depends on what you want from this development.

If you think the Warriors should win anyway, you will decide it will mean something but not a lot. If you think they should lose, it is a catastrophe, and when layered with Kevin Durant’s injury, it is a three-story catastrophe with a massive entry hall, a huge spiral staircase, a vast backyard with an Olympic pool and a shooting range.

But here are two things it means for sure.

One, nobody will be able to say they were lucky if they win, which for some reason still bothers people around here, as though luck is some sort of shame-inducing insult to be avoided.

And two, they will not accept your pity if they lose, least of all Kerr. Kerr is much better at showing anger than he is acknowledging pity, and you saw plenty of the former at his presser Sunday.

In an attempt to both granularize and overthink what has been pretty boilerplate playoff series so far, many folks have gone to Mike Brown, Kerr’s new Luke Walton, to declare an Achilles heel.

Except that (a) players determine success in the NBA, and only the very worst coaches impede talent from achieving its true level. Mike Brown is not among those coaches, and those who think he is are fools.

Except that (b) Kerr will be around for planning sessions, and there will be the rest of the coaching staff at Brown’s side so that continuity will not be an issue unless Brown’s voice is so alien that a group of veteran players who have won one title and nearly won a second will somehow lose their way.

The danger here is that we might be minimizing his absence, when in fact we don’t have the slightest idea how it will affect the Warriors. Even with the 43 games Walton coached in Kerr’s absence after this first back reaction, when people feared the team would fall off the earth, the Warriors played more than half those games against non-playoff teams, while playoff games are almost by necessity are high-leverage situations piled atop each other in a gigantic heap.

It’s not comparing cats and dogs, but it is comparing terriers and rottweilers. In short, this could be a lot tougher than we think it is. We have no idea, because there is no real metric for this, only a lot of half-educated guesswork.

You know, what we do best.

Even Five-Thirty-Eight.com, The Place Where Twos And Fours Go To Find Love, took the Warriors’ two wins last week, factored in Kerr’s absence and decided that the Warriors are now 67 percent favorites to win the title, up from 63 percent.

But if the Warriors cannot navigate the postseason without Kerr, then they’ll have failed, pure and simple. Context is all well and good, and we believe in context with all our might, but one of the contexts of this Warrior team is that no excuses will be accepted. It is the price they pay for being a 2-to-1 favorite from the second they signed Durant. After all, life is as windy as it is lonely at the top.

Kerr will return when he can, and it is hoped that he won’t do it until he knows he can, rather than thinks he can or hopes he can. But as it affects the Warriors . . . well, the nation has spoken.

No alibis. No luck. Until there is new evidence, they do, or they do not. Period.

This is cruel: Steve Kerr imprisoned by misery that has engulfed his body

This is cruel: Steve Kerr imprisoned by misery that has engulfed his body

Programming note: Warriors-Blazers Game 4 coverage starts tonight at 6:30pm with Warriors Pregame Live on NBC Sports Bay Area, and streaming live right here.

PORTLAND -- Steve Kerr can’t golf. His body won’t allow it, hasn’t in two years. He has spent most of his life being able to golf, enjoying it immensely, and not being able to do so now saddens him deeply.

He can’t play basketball, either. Can’t even shoot free throws, not comfortably, and he spent half of his adult life playing the game at the highest levels.

Kerr, 51, can’t enjoy even the simplest things in life. Not now. So coaching an NBA team, the job he loves, a vocation that fulfills his lifelong need to compete, is out of the question.

Coaching the Warriors in the playoffs, in pursuit of a championship, is put on hold all because 21 months ago he made a reasonable, rational medical decision he may regret for the rest of his life.

Kerr opted for back surgery.

The after-effects have been devastating. He is imprisoned by misery that has engulfed his body. Kerr told NBCSportsBayArea.com earlier this season that he felt he had exhausted just about every possibility he is willing to trust, all in a quest for physical normalcy. He has researched hundreds of books in search of relief. He has talked to dozens of specialists. He has tried opioids and other medical treatments, herbal treatments, spiritual treatments and marijuana in a form he reluctantly revealed. And his reluctance, once revealed, was easily understood.

“I can tell you if you’re listening out there, if you have a back problem, stay away from surgery,” Kerr said Sunday in his first comments since Friday. “I can say that from the bottom of my heart. Rehab, rehab, rehab. Don’t let anybody get in there.”

The covers were pulled back on Kerr’s condition Saturday afternoon, when it was announced he would not coach Game 3 of the Warriors-Trail Blazers series. Now it was public, everybody knowing what those of us who work closely with him already knew. Much of what we’ve known, and some of what we’ve suspected, came tumbling into the open Sunday, when Kerr told the world that his condition, which had nagged at him ever since the summer of 2015, which he had suppressed with an admirable degree of success, finally had gotten best of him -- at least for now.

In private conversations this season with NBCSportsBayArea.com, Kerr has acknowledged his agony. He has admitted that he has never been more miserable and expressed his regret over having the first back surgery, which resulted in a spinal fluid leak, which led to a second surgery -- which has sent him plummeting down this path of torment.

Kerr lives with pain that most commonly might be associated with sinus headaches or, worse, migraines. Now that it has reached a level of utter despair, he no longer can even pretend to hide it. Gutting it out, a term often linked to competitive sport, was possible until this weekend.

“I was able to manage the pain and the discomfort over the last year and a half and, suddenly, things got a lot worse,” he said.

“I don’t know why. I’m trying to figure out why.”

This is cruel, and Steve Kerr knows cruelty. He has a great job, a great wife, a solid family -- yet none of this can completely eclipse the tragic death of his father. Dr. Malcolm Kerr was the president of the American University of Beirut when he was assassinated by a group of terrorists in January 1984.

Losing a father to senseless violence in a faraway place is not something a son gets over, not completely. Steve Kerr doesn’t often reference his father, but every time he does it is beneath a cloud of melancholy.

To have a great childhood, followed by unimaginable heartache while entering adulthood, leaves open the possibility for bitterness, maybe even the desire for vengeance. Not with Steve. He chose to continue living following the example set by his father, namely that the world is a place in need of healing.

It’s why anyone who knows Steve Kerr can only admire his principles and dedication. His innate goodness always shines through.

And now he has this great job, one in which he has more than earned his salary. He is a championship coach who always points to his players and his staff. He has a policy of openness that put everyone around him at ease.

And now this, such an unkind cut it seems profoundly unfair.

Kerr has so much that enriches him and can’t savor any of it. He wants nothing more than another Warriors championship and to be pain-free. At this stage, who could blame him if he yearned more for the latter than the former?