Dogged Alexandro Santiago defeats legendary Nonito Donaire to claim WBC title

Fight No. 50 was a bridge too far for Filipino legend Nonito Donaire.

One of the best boxers of the generation, the 40-year-old simply did not have enough left in the tank against a fresher, ambitious Alexandro Santiago and Donaire lost a clear decision in a fight that was both sad to watch and one-sided.

Santaigo wept as he was crowned the WBC bantamweight champion inside the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, having won the vacant title by scores of 116-112 (twice) and 115-113.

For a moment in the third round, when Donaire wobbled Santiago with a left hook, it looked as though the Donaire fairy-tale would continue but the crab-like Santiago – who was cut above both eyes – would not be denied, trudging forwards all night through the storm for a deserved victory.

“I’m disappointed,” said Donaire. “Big congratulations to Alexandro, he’s a tough guy. I love the sport so much, but the thing I told my wife is I need to go back and talk to her. I didn’t pull the trigger. I was trying to counter too much and loading up too much.”

That was true, all of it, including Donaire now needing to talk to his wife and coach Rachel about where he goes from here.

Neither committed much in the first round. Santiago was trying to time a right hand over the top while Donaire was attempting to step in with his jab to force the noticeably smaller man back. And even though Santiago started to get caught more in the second, the Mexican would not be discouraged and towards the end of the second he landed to Donaire’s body and was aggressively seeking a foothold in the fight.

The third was Donaire’s best of the fight, featuring the left hook with his back to the ropes that caused Santiago to stumble backwards, but Donaire was unable to capitalise. However, Santiago was cut by his right eye from the shot and he emerged for the fourth with a lump of Vaseline wedged above his eye. Yet in the fourth, Donaire’s right eye was becoming puffy, a sign of Santiago’s steady success, and the WBC No. 3 slotted a lead left uppercut through Donaire’s defence near the bell.

Santiago was sticking with it, through the fifth, throwing pesky jabs and proving to be frustratingly resilient. His variety was steady, too, mixing up his attacks and the shots he decided to lead with.

The bleached hair on the head of Santiago kept bobbing persistently forward. Donaire was struggling to time his attacks, often loading up too much, and Santiago was becoming emboldened as the fight wore on. Donaire was not firing off his combinations of old, but of course he remained a threat with one shot anyway. The third-round left hook had showed that.

Santiago had an early breakthrough of right hands and left uppercuts in the seventh but the fight was paused after a clash of heads caused the left side of the Mexican’s face to start ballooning up. Fortunately, it did not change the course of the fight for Santiago, who is not a conventional fighter, but he is effective.

Donaire started looking for the left hook more in the eighth – perhaps more out of desperation than strategy – but Santiago only appeared to be getting stronger and by the ninth he was outworking and out jabbing Donaire comprehensively. It looked as though the bandwagon of the future Hall of Famer from the Philippines was about to come to a crashing halt. Santiago opened up near the end of the round and Donaire, courageously, looked for big shots in reply but couldn’t land anything that would deter Santiago, who was well in the ascendency at the bell.

And that was how it went through the championship rounds. Donaire’s head movement had all but disappeared, Santiago kept hustling and sensing his final chances in the last round Donaire launched more bombs but he didn’t set them up and his timing and distance was off.

Maybe a prime Donaire would not have let Santiago off the hook in the third round. A prime Donaire would have won the WBC bantamweight title tonight. The 40-year-old version will see a weary face when he looks in the mirror, but he should be incredibly proud of what he has achieved.

The Filipino icon had hoped this fight would be the start of a new chapter on his way to becoming an undisputed champion for the first time in his career. But he has nothing left to prove and now might be the time to close the book on his wonderful career.