MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- With holiday shopping on the minds of many this time of year, it was particularly thoughtful of Showtime executive Ken Hershman to put the main event of his year-ending card on first Saturday night rather than waiting until after Vernon Forrest and Antonio Tarver had beaten pedestrian opponents in less-than-exciting fashion at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut.
That way, fans had the opportunity to see one of boxing's up-and-coming young stars and still get plenty of sleep without feeling like they'd missed anything.
IBF flyweight champion Nonito Donaire made the first defense of his title an impressive one by dominating and badly bloodying Luis Maldonado before their bout was finally stopped at 1:16 of the eighth round. It was about two rounds too late for poor Maldonado, who ended up in a local Connecticut hospital to have both eyes heavily sutured to staunch what had become a raging river of his own plasma by the end of the third round.
It was about seven rounds too late for Donaire, whose left hand was badly swollen after the fight from an injury he sustained in the opening round on the hard head of the challenger from Mexicali. But it was about right for fans just getting familiar with the fast hands and one-punch power of the Filipino Flash.
When Donaire won the title by starching Vic Darchinyan in July with one punch, some chose to label it a fortuitous convergence of fist and chin. He was accused of being a one-punch wonder, even though Darchinyan was the 18th opponent he'd sent to the floor in 19 professional fights, 11 of whom declined to get up. That is why he was looking to use Maldonado as a measuring stick for the rest of the boxing world, who had seen Darchinyan stop the Mexican challenger in six rounds 17 months earlier.
It took Donaire a round-and-a-half longer to dispose of him, but only because poor Maldonado had the misfortune of having both a brave referee and a brave ringside physician monitoring his condition.
Cut above the left eye in the second round by a punch and over the right in the third by an inadvertent clash of heads, Maldonado spent the entire evening being drilled by hands far too fast for him to block even under the best of circumstances, and he was not in the best of circumstances from the outset.
Despite his swollen hand and what Donaire later claimed was an inexplicable sluggishness, the champion made a clear statement to not only Darchinyan but also WBC champion Daisuke Naito, WBA titleholder Takefumi Sakata and WBO champ Omar Narvaez, that he is ready to match any of them, assuming they are willing to involve themselves in a unification effort that would require squaring off with a very heavy-handed, left-hook wielding opponent.
"I'd love to fight Darchinyan again," Donaire (19-1, 12 KOs) said. "That's what boxing is [about]. I want to fight the best fighters. There were people who said I was a one-punch wonder after Darchinyan, but I came in there and did my thing. I guess my validation was today. I'm here to stay."
If Darchinyan has no interest in trying to reclaim his title and the other flyweight champions don't want to become involved in a unification fight, Donaire would be just as happy to move up to super flyweight or even to challenge former champion Jorge Arce in the bantamweight division. Considering what he went through to come in at 111 pounds Saturday night, Donaire would probably welcome it in fact.
"I couldn't get myself going," said Donaire, which would come as news to Maldonado. "I just felt slow; I couldn't move. I didn't have my legs. If I had my legs, it would have been an easier fight.
"I was 135, 140 pounds when I started training a month ago. I needed more time. I can make the weight but next time, if I get two months to train, it will be easier."
It won't be easier for his opponents, be it the other top flyweights or bigger men like Arce or super flyweights Cristian Mijares (who Maldonado fought to a draw before losing to Darchinyan), Alexander Munoz, Fernando Montiel or anyone else who might want to challenge the 25-year-old Donaire.
The biggest concern for his immediate future though, seemed to be the condition of his bruised and aching left hand rather than any of his future opponents. Donaire made clear this was not the first time the hand had been a problem and considering the way it looked, he might be wise to not only spend some time away from the gym but also find someone new to wrap those hands; after all, it's his hands that will determine how far he goes and how long he lasts in boxing.
"It hurt from the first round but it's nothing new," Donaire said. "It was really hurting but I just kept saying 'You got to do it. You got to go forward."'
That he did and brave Luis Maldonado could do nothing to dissuade him of it because Nonito Donaire had come to Foxwoods to do more than win. He was there to issue a declaration of war on any fighter from 112 pounds to 118.
"I want to fight all the best fighters," Donaire said. "Like my promoter [Gary Shaw] said, I'm ready to fight anybody from 112 pounds to 118. I'll take them all down."
Ron Borges, who has won numerous Boxing Writers Association of America awards, covers boxing for HBO.com and for Boxing Monthly.