By: Mark F. Villanueva / Photo by: Chris Farina / Top Rank
Nonito Donaire Jr. throws the quick jab no sooner than he settles in the middle of the ring to open every round. It's a classic move that reminds me of one of the greatest chess players of all time, Bobby Fischer.
The jab is like Fischer's strategic maneuvering of the white king's pawn to four spaces to commence a chess match; an opening move which he aptly describes as the "best by test" to establish his presence in the middle of the field just as Nonito Donaire consistently aims to do when he opens a round with an effective jab. While Fischer continues his masterful movements of his pawns for support, the Filipino superstar uses his jabs to pave way for his body movement and eventually dictate how the fight progresses.
Great fighters know that a punch is not just a single act in itself. Every stroke you throw is a set up for something bigger and more powerful, otherwise you are just wasting energy and contributing to your own demise like those boys beating each other up in full throttle at the park during fiesta. The better a boxer becomes, the more succinct he is; careful yet calculating, cunning, and highly efficient.
A lot of things happen between two great fighters that you don't actually see in the ring. As you watch Donaire set up his jab he has already anticipated a parry or a slip and a left hook by Nishioka, but this doesn't come as the latter, with his experience, is able to see his opponent pivoting towards his vulnerable side to retaliate. The great ones are always a few steps ahead and a lot of aggression is actually nullified in the process of foresight, but this is hard to appreciate as it is a fight you do not see. While lesser boxers give you full action and excitement, great fights, if you do not have the eye for it, excite you only up to what is visible and ready for the eyes to devour, and the thrill of mental warfare is dissipated unto the atmosphere that is inhaled by the spectators and converted into long and winding boos.
As I write this article facing the windows of our home, the sunlight comes in sliced by its panes. I can actually hear George Foreman's voice saying "Boxing is like Jazz. The better it is the less people appreciate it."
Nishioka has never lost a fight for the last eight years. Looking back to the day of his dream fight with the "Filipino Flash" it is highly probable that he already knew, for the great fighter that he is with his long experience, that he was going to lose after seeing it for the first few rounds. But he didn't have the luxury of premature surrender like a chess player. Boxing is a highly mental game, but it is also gravely physical. And there is no boxer out there who does not know pain in its truest sense, and to hear people judge Nishioka's low output for fear is irresponsible judgement. Nonito was faster, more agile, and powerful, but above all these he knew how to manipulate his talents to full advantage. He read his opponent's strategies as plainly as you, my reader, follow the lines of this article at this very moment. He is one of the smartest fighters out there today who is supremely gifted in physical ability with a technical skill and endurance only disciplined fighters will ever develop.
As the day was about to end, Nonito explained to me how much he has learned from Bruce Lee (which is a subject of another article). We were both tipsy but I gulped every word he had said to me as I have the contents of our bottles of beer at the FHM beach party a year ago. But yesterday was an entirely different experience, as I watched him battle the Japanese prizefighter, Toshiaki Nishioka (39-5-3). He was more than just a fighting machine that matched muscle for muscle. He opened my eyes to a new dimension so I saw in him Bobby Fischer box.