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.

A's spring training Day 8: Top pick AJ Puk attracts a crowd

A's spring training Day 8: Top pick AJ Puk attracts a crowd

MESA, Ariz. — The A’s are excited about 2016 top pick A.J. Puk, that much was apparent by the crowd the lefty attracted for his first “live” bullpen session Tuesday.

Among those watching closely were executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane, general manager David Forst, manager Bob Melvin and pitching coach Curt Young.

Puk, who shaved about 20 pounds off his 6-foot-7 frame over the winter, looked strong against a group of hitters that included touted infield prospects Franklin Barreto and Yairo Munoz.

Melvin in particular liked the way Puk, the No. 6 overall pick out of the University of Florida, worked his curve ball into the mix. That’s a pitch he hadn’t used since high school, but he dusted it off back in the fall instructional league with some encouragement from minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson, and he’s working to sharpen it this spring as a complement to his fastball, slider and changeup.

“It’s just nice to have another pitch that’s slower than my other three pitches,” Puk said before Tuesday’s workout.

“It’s a four-pitch mix,” Melvin said. “He’s really starting to distinguish between this slider and curve ball. It was quite a crowd around his cage too. When you’re a young kid you tend to notice that, but I thought he responded really well.”

Puk, 21, is rooming with shortstop Richie Martin, a teammate at Florida whom the A’s made their top pick in 2015. They also lived near each other in Tampa this offseason and worked out together.

Puk comes off very quiet upon meeting him, but Martin warns against being fooled.

“It takes him a while, but once he feels comfortable he’ll break out. You’ll see.”

Melvin was impressed with Puk’s physical shape, saying he’s fielded his position well in pitchers’ fielding drills.

CAMP BATTLE Jesse Hahn will start the A’s Cactus League opener Saturday against the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs. It’ll be a chance for Hahn to make an early impression in his bid for the fifth starter spot.

“After the year he had (in 2016), it’s important for him this year. We have to show some faith in him,” Melvin said. “He performed well for us the year before. Last year wasn’t really consistent. We’ll try to get him out there and get him off to a good start.”

Kendall Graveman will take the ball in Sunday’s spring home opener against the Angels. Sonny Gray and Sean Manaea both will pitch Monday against the Giants and Jharel Cotton and Andrew Triggs will be among the group throwing Tuesday against the Indians.

PROSPECT WATCH: Sean Murphy, the A’s third-round pick in June, has shown a very strong throwing arm early in camp. Is it any wonder Melvin, an ex-catcher, was impressed?

“The kid can throw, it’s special,” Melvin said. “We really like him.”

NOTEWORTHY: Still no word on when reliever Santiago Casilla will arrive at camp from the Dominican Republic. Melvin said he isn’t concerned at this stage, and noted that Casilla has been working out at the team’s complex in the Dominican Republic and gave a motivational talk to the younger players there.

Cousins thanks Sacramento: 'Wouldn't trade it for anything'

Cousins thanks Sacramento: 'Wouldn't trade it for anything'

The Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday, prompting the All-Star big man to post a heartfelt message on his Instagram account.

Words can't even express how hard it is for me to have to leave the city of Sacramento and all of the amazing people that I have met while out here. I gave it my all for you and you gave it right back. The most amazing fans on the planet and I just want you to know that your support has meant everything to me. It's hard to believe that it was seven years ago that this young kid from Alabama showed up in Sacramento scared and not knowing a soul. As I look back upon my time here, I wouldn't trade it for anything. I have met so many amazing people, many of whom went out of their way to make me feel right at home from day one. Each and every one of you have played such an important part in my life and helping me become the person I am today. I don't just consider you all as fans, you all are my family...and a couple thousand miles aren't going to change a thing. Thank you Sacramento. 
#LoyaltyisLove #sactownkingforever

Cousins, 26, averaged 27.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.3 blocks and 34.4 minutes per game for the Kings this year.

Words can't even express how hard it is for me to have to leave the city of Sacramento and all of the amazing people that I have met while out here. I gave it my all for you and you gave it right back. The most amazing fans on the planet and I just want you to know that your support has meant everything to me. It's hard to believe that it was seven years ago that this young kid from Alabama showed up in Sacramento scared and not knowing a soul. As I look back upon my time here, I wouldn't trade it for anything. I have met so many amazing people, many of whom went out of their way to make me feel right at home from day one. Each and every one of you have played such an important part in my life and helping me become the person I am today. I don't just consider you all as fans, you all are my family...and a couple thousand miles aren't going to change a thing. Thank you Sacramento. #LoyaltyisLove

A post shared by DeMarcus Cousins (@boogiecousins) on