Mikey Garcia and Nonito Donaire were both heavy favorites going into their fights on Saturday night at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, Texas, and both won by knockout. But each got to the violent end result in much different fashion.
Other than getting dropped in the second round by a sharp counter right hand -- and he was not badly hurt -- Garcia thoroughly dominated Roman "Rocky" Martinez before scoring a clean knockout on a left hook to the liver in the eighth round to win a junior lightweight world title, one fight after getting stripped of his featherweight belt for failing to make weight for a June defense.
It was a very impressive performance for Garcia, who, by taking Martinez's 130-pound title, knocked off Puerto Rico's last remaining titleholder -- an almost unimaginable situation for an island that has produced so many great champions.
Donaire, on the other hand, appeared extremely vulnerable and sluggish before finally coming alive in the ninth round to drop and then stop Vic Darchinyan in a bout that saw both men move up to the featherweight division in a rematch of Donaire's 2007 one-punch, fifth-round knockout to win a flyweight title and put himself on the boxing map.
Garcia (33-0- 28 KOs), 25, of Oxnard, Calif., is as poised as any fighter in boxing, so when he got nailed in the second round -- only the second time in his career that he has been on the deck -- he remained calm, took his time and got up.
"I'm not used to that," Garcia said to HBO's Max Kellerman in his postfight ring interview. "I just got caught. I was coming with a 1-2 and he caught me with his right hand. It happens in boxing. He caught me on the chin. I was fine. I wasn't dizzy. He just caught me with a good right hand."
And then Garcia proceeded to catch Martinez with every shot in the book, taking the normally relentless pressure fighter out of his game and essentially putting him into survival mode.
"I think he had respect for my power," Garcia said in an understatement.
After the knockdown, Garcia spent the next several rounds battering the 30-year-old Martinez (27-2-2, 16 KOs) -- who had appeared shaky in his two previous defenses and even in the bout in which he won the vacant title -- with left hooks and right hands, backing him up and clearly winning the rounds. Garcia had a huge sixth round, rocking Martinez repeatedly. Then he cut Martinez over his left eye in the seventh, another big round. And then Garcia put him away with a cracking body shot in the eighth round, with referee Laurence Cole counting out Martinez on his knees at 56 seconds.
"I had him hurt earlier [in the eighth round] with a right hand on top, and he was covering up, so I went for the body and caught him on the liver," Garcia said. "He was pretty hurt."
The CompuBox statistics showed just how dominant Garcia was. He landed 113 of 297 punches (38 percent), while Martinez was limited to landing just 45 of 311 blows (14 percent). As good of an offensive fighter as Garcia is, his defense is quite underrated.
Unlike the brutal weight struggles he suffered in June for the featherweight fight with Juan Manuel Lopez, Garcia had no issues making the 130-pound limit against Martinez. Garcia weighed in at 128¾ and said he could go down to the 126-pound featherweight division if there was a fight worth going there for. Whichever division he fights in, or even if he has to move up to lightweight, he is primed for a major fight. The bout that HBO and Top Rank, his promoter, are interested in making is one with interim lightweight titlist Yuriorkis Gamboa (23-0, 16 KOs), the former unified featherweight titleholder and Cuban Olympic gold medalist.
Garcia has always been open to fighting anyone, and it's no different with regard to Gamboa.
"I'm willing at 135 [pounds] if he doesn't want to come down," Garcia said.
Although the ending of Garcia's fight came as no surprise, that wasn't the case for Donaire's major struggle with Darchinyan, the Armenian-born Australian brawler who has won titles at flyweight and junior bantamweight but who has struggled since moving higher up the scale. Donaire had put Darchinyan away easily in their first encounter, but six years later it was as tough as any fight the Filipino star has had in years, save for his most recent bout, in April. That's when Donaire, still celebrating his 2012 fighter of the year award, didn't bother to get in top shape, took his junior featherweight unification fight with Guillermo Rigondeaux lightly and got his rear end handed to him in a decision loss, his first defeat since his second pro fight, in 2001.
Coming off the loss, Donaire had a lot going on in his life besides boxing. He had shoulder surgery, his wife gave birth in July to their first child (a son) and there was also a September reunion with his father, Nonito Donaire Sr., who had trained him for most of his career, including the first win against Darchinyan, and was back in the corner once again (although Robert Garcia, Mikey's brother and trainer, is still the head man).
Although Donaire (32-2, 21 KOs), 30, said all the right things leading up to the fight and, by all accounts, trained hard for the rematch with Darchinyan, he didn't look very good until his final burst put the 37-year-old Darchinyan away. He just did not look like the "Filipino Flash" we have all come to know -- the dominant fighter who had roared up pound-for-pound lists in recent years.
Instead, what was expected to be a showcase to help him put the Rigondeaux loss behind him turned into an epic struggle against a Darchinyan (39-6-1, 28 KOs) who wasn't nearly as faded as many had thought.
Although Donaire caught him with some nice left hooks -- his best punch -- and hurt him in the second round, Darchinyan returned fire and connected more often than Donaire is accustomed to getting hit. Darchinyan, a southpaw, won many of the exchanges and knocked Donaire into the ropes with a left hand at the end of the fifth round.
After the sixth round, Robert Garcia knew Donaire was in trouble and begged him in the corner to throw more punches.
Going into the ninth round, Donaire was trailing on the scorecards before rescuing himself when he dropped Darchinyan to his knees with a clean left hook. Darchinyan was shaky when he got up, and Donaire went for the knockout. He let his combinations fly and nailed Darchinyan with an overhand left and a left uppercut during a barrage before Cole, also handling this fight, jumped in to stop it at 2 minutes, 6 seconds.
Whereas Garcia had stormed to victory and looked like a fighter still on the rise, Donaire endured a mighty struggle and, although still an excellent fighter, might be on the way down.
"I tried to work hard every day [in training camp], but it was hard to be better," Donaire admitted.
He also said he thought Darchinyan, a hard puncher, had broken his cheek, although he didn't say at what point during the fight.
"Part of my mind was like, 'Is this it for me? Is this it for me? I'm losing the fight. Should I keep going?' But I put my heart into it. I will never quit."
Then he called for a rematch with Rigondeaux, although Rigondeaux is first scheduled to fight former bantamweight titlist Joseph Agbeko on Dec. 7.
Whether Donaire fights Rigondeaux again or somebody else next, one thing is clear: Donaire needs to show more of what Mikey Garcia did on Saturday night than what he displayed in his own fight.