With his unanimous decision loss to Guillermo Rigondeaux this past Saturday night at Radio City Music Hall, Nonito Donaire not only lost his WBO super bantamweight title but also became the first "Fighter of the Year" (FOTY) in the past eight years to have lost the next fight following the bestowment of such an honor.
Donaire was declared 2012 FOTY by the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) earlier this year in recognition of his achievements over the proceeding 12-month period. This included four fights in his first year as a super bantamweight, winning the vacant WBO belt in February 2012 and successfully defending it three times against legitimate, albeit somewhat unspectacular and/or faded, fighters.
Those who criticized his selection for this award point to the fact that Donaire did not fight the best available super bantamweights last year, including the crafty Rigondeaux or the hungry Abner Mares. The stage was set for the Filipino star to kick off his 2013 fight season in grand form, and solidify his elite status among the current pound-for-pound greats who received top honors by the BWAA in years before him, with a long awaited fight against Rigondeaux. With a victory, any lingering doubts regarding his overall impact on the sport would have likely been erased. Instead, an unprepared and one-track minded Donaire failed to make the necessary adjustments against the talented Cuban and performed in no way resembling that of a top-five pound-for-pound fighter, pointing to a variety of excuses including external pressure and distractions, a shoulder injury and difficulty making weight.
It would be the first time in eight years that a reigning FOTY would lose the next fight after being bestowed with such an honor. In looking at just the recipients over the past five years prior to Donaire, all had their own respective challenges and pressure to overcome as they returned to the ring in their very next fight.
Injuries sidelined 2011 FOTY Andre Ward for the majority of 2012 but when he did finally return to the ring in September to defend his super middleweight titles against WBC light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, he was involved in a match-up that involved two of the best fighters in their respective divisions and who were considered among the top 10 pound-for-pound in most circles. The probable effects of Dawson's weight loss aside, Ward thoroughly dominated the fight with a tenth round technical knockout victory and solidified his top ranking within the sport.
Sergio Martinez, the 2010 FOTY, found himself fighting for respect and recognition throughout 2011 after the WBC stripped him of the middleweight belt that he won in impressive fashion against Kelly Pavlik in April 2010. Instead of defending a title that he earned with a hard fought battle in the ring, he was forced to chase after it while new champion Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. was granted time to gain more experience. Determined to not lose focus on his ultimate goal and refusing to get consumed by the politics, the veteran Martinez stayed the course and kicked off his crusade by defeating Serhiy Dzinzurik with an eighth round TKO in March 2011. Eighteen months later he recaptured the title that rightfully belonged to him with a unanimous decision victory over Chavez last September.
Manny Pacquiao won consecutive FOTY awards in 2008 and 2009, a feat in and of itself that carries its own pressure along with all of the other expectations placed upon one of the most famous fighters on the planet. He defeated Joshua Clottey in a one-sided 12-round affair in March 2010 and knocked out Ricky Hatton in May 2009 following an extraordinary 2008 with victories in three different weight classes, including a second meeting with nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez and a career-defining eighth round stoppage over Oscar De La Hoya.
It was a split decision victory in his light middleweight debut over De La Hoya in May 2007 that helped propel Floyd Mayweather Jr. into pay-per-view king status and win 2007 FOTY honors. After stopping Hatton in the tenth round later that year, Mayweather temporarily retired for almost two years and did not fight again until September 2009 when he defeated Marquez by a lopsided unanimous decision, keeping his unblemished record intact and furthering his position atop many pound-for-pound lists.
Former IBF light heavyweight title holder Glen Johnson is the last FOTY to have lost in his very next fight following receipt of the honor. After winning the 2004 FOTY, Johnson lost a unanimous decision to Antonio Tarver in June 2005. A complete list of recipients can be found on the BWAA website.
In addition to Donaire's apparent underestimation of Rigondeaux's abilities, it likely did not help matters that the BWAA annual banquet was held only two nights before the fight, keeping him up late and in the spotlight. It was yet another opportunistic move by Top Rank promoter Bob Arum to stage the fight at the exorbitantly expensive (but beautiful) Radio City Music Hall so that he could capture a stream of publicity for Donaire from writers and photographers who would be in attendance at the BWAA event. The exposure was expected to help the personable fighter pick up straying fans as Manny Pacquiao’s star fades, but it now appears that the more prudent tactical approach would have perhaps been to concentrate on preparing for Rigondeaux.
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