With Jorge Arce throwing his hat in the ring with the larger, quicker and less shop-worn Nonito Donaire in Houston, and Amir Khan in Los Angeles trying on a new trainer and hoping to avoid an unthinkable losing streak, here are five things we learned from those and other fights from a packed Saturday slate:
1. Donaire is up there
He has persevered over opponents difficult to hit and unwilling to engage. He has overcome hand injuries to gut out victories with heart. And he has finished veteran fighters in spectacular fashion. Nonito Donaire completed the masterpiece that was his 2012 campaign with his fourth victory of the year, sending Jorge Arce into retirement via third-round TKO. Donaire isn't only the favorite for fighter of the year and the proven pound-for-pound king of the smaller weight classes; he's also a trail blazer as a volunteer for 24/7, year-round drug testing. Yet there's a feeling that Donaire will never truly get the mainstream credit to match the critical praise often heaped upon him until he challenges and defeats a crossover name with true mass appeal -- something not often found in his division. Donaire, 30, is in the absolute prime of his great career. Here's hoping that enough casual fans get on board to avoid missing out before it's too late.
2. Khan's questions still outweigh his answers
There was plenty to like about Khan's faith-restoring victory over Carlos Molina in his first bout under new trainer Virgil Hunter. But unfortunately there was nothing to be gained from that information because of how poor of a threat Khan's smaller, feather-hitting lightweight opponent proved to be at 140 pounds. Hunter did an excellent job of helping rewire the disconnection between Khan's reckless tendencies and the true brilliance of his technical ability. Still, as good as the fighter looked using his jab to create space and taking a few ticks off his fastball to avoid losing control, there wasn't a moment during Saturday's main event at the Los Angeles Sports Coliseum when you believed a puncher of any consequence couldn't have changed the tenor of the fight with one shot.
Khan, whom Molina buckled momentarily during a particularly vulnerable second round, easily proved that he deserves to carry on by avoiding a disastrous third consecutive defeat. But clever matchmaking failed to provide an answer regarding his questioned intangibles. The jury is still out regarding whether a change in style was ever able to fix Khan's deficiencies in the first place.
3. The blueprint for beating Leo Santa Cruz, if you dare
Santa Cruz's bantamweight title defense against Alberto Guevara was intended to showcase the high-volume puncher's exciting style in CBS' first live televised fight since Santa Cruz was in elementary school. What we got instead -- outside of an eventual impressive victory from Santa Cruz -- was a blueprint from the gutsy Guevara over the first four rounds detailing how to potentially beat the 24-year-old rising star. But good luck finding anyone who can carry it out over 12 full rounds.
The light-punching Guevara succeeded in making Santa Cruz appear human by relying on footwork and counterpunching to frustrate the champion before leaping out of harm's way. In doing so, Guevara revealed Santa Cruz's dependence on punching with his feet set while exposing his need to get off first in order to build momentum off his relentless pace. In fact, Santa Cruz never actually solved Guevara's strategy as much as his punching power did it for him, slowing Guevara down enough to be found. And therein lay the question facing any fighter attempting to outwork and expose Santa Cruz's freight-train attack: Do you have the heart, durability and endurance to carry out the plan to completion in the face of such a menacing body attack?
4. Something Wilder for the heavyweight division, perhaps?
There are already enough pretenders in the heavyweight division to dampen excitement over more pronouncements of "The Next Big Thing." So don't worry, I won't try to sell you on the notion that the 6-foot-7 Deontay Wilder is exactly that. But the 2008 bronze medalist, now 27, capped off a busy 2012 with his sixth victory of the year on the Khan-Molina undercard in the exact fashion you'd like a 27-0 prospect with 27 knockouts to do so: with a one-punch knockout. The untested Wilder's victory over Kelvin Price won't leave anyone calling for a Klitschko (or even a Povetkin, for that matter) to warm up in the bullpen, but it won't hurt his stock moving forward, either.
5. Merchant was as good as it gets
Not lost in the excitement of an action-packed night of boxing was the quiet exit of the great Larry Merchant from his ringside seat on the HBO broadcasting team after calling his final fight in Houston. The 81-year-old Merchant, a throwback to the glory days of journalism, was as big as the moment called for him to be, never wasting a word as he eloquently said goodbye in the classic editorial style that has defined his career. The close of Merchant's 35-year run of calling fights in its own way marks the end of a memorable era in the sport. From the birth of pay-per-view to the fall of the great heavyweight division, Merchant was there for every step of the journey and was as important to the telecast as the fighters themselves. Boxing will never be the same.