WITH the denouement of Manny Pacquiao’s brilliant career inevitably creeping upon us, pressure mounts on those waiting in the wings to step up to the plate and to deliver.

Enter Nonito Donaire Jr. Arguably the best among the heir-apparents, the “Filipino Flash” is already a boxing superstar in his own right.

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He is rated among the top 10 pound-for-pound fighters by the Ring Magazine. Barring any accidents and assuming he continues to perform his craft according to elite standards, the day the Pacman retires, “Jun” will rightfully become the country’s flagship fighter.

He is fast, strong and tall for his weight. His primary weapon is a savage left hook which famously separated the then unassailable Darchinyan from his senses in 2007.

But his greatest strength comes from his cerebral approach to the fight game. He doesn’t wade in throwing bombs nor does he mechanically apply a pre-determined game plan.

Donaire likes to take his time in figuring out what his opponent brings to the table. He is capable of making adjustments mid-fight and when he feels he has his opponent’s dance card, he ends it. In a flash.

Enter Bernabe Concepcion. This native son of Binangonan, Rizal achieved pugilistic prominence in 2007 when he came out of nowhere to pancake Gabriel Elizondo in 4 rounds to grab the NABF super bantamweight title.

He followed it up with an impressive 7-0 romp with 5 coming inside the distance until he got derailed by a disqualification loss to Steven Luevano. In that fight, he was outboxed but was steadily gaining ground when he hit Luevano after the bell rang to end the seventh round.

He bounced back nicely with a decision win against Mario Santiago last February.

TODAY. Both of these proud Pinoy warriors strut their stuff in San Juan, Puerto Rico—eager to lay claim to the throne that will soon be abdicated by Pacquiao.

Though his opponent comes in with an impressive record of 27-1, 20 KOs, Donaire appears to have the easier assignment. Hernan “Tyson” Marquez has never been in there with a fighter of Nonito’s caliber.

Additionally, the smaller Marquez looked like a kid standing next to Nonito’s taller, wider frame at the weigh-in. If he doesn’t get too bothered by his struggle to lose the weight and gets into his rhythm early, look for Donaire to punch holes in Marquez and win by TKO in the seventh.

Concepcion, on the other hand, has a tall order in front of him, literally. Juan Manuel Lopez is one of the most feared fighters in the sport, with an immaculate record of 28 wins, with 25 coming via the abbreviated route.

He is listed as being three inches taller than Concepcion. He brandishes a rapier-like jab, owns a brutal right hook and loves to torment his opponents with a punishing left hand.

It’s daunting, to say the least.

KEYS. It’s a no-brainer that the odds are stacked against Concepcion. But I’m keeping my hopes up because this underdog has one of the best equalizers in the fight game—a brutal right hand.

If he finds a home for it early and lands it often enough, the “Real Deal” has a good chance of pulling off the upset. Lopez looked vulnerable in his decision win against Rogers Mtagwa and seemed flummoxed by the latter’s aggression.

The key here for Bernabe is effective aggression. There’s no hope in attempting to outbox his taller, faster opponent. He should take the fight early to “Juanma” but the trick is not to over-rely on that brutish right hand of his.

Another key factor here is conditioning. Bernabe should dictate a frenetic pace like his idol Pacquiao. He may not be able to outbox his talented opponent, but he surely can outlast him.

LAST ROUNDS. Are on my buddy, Atty. Kenneth T. Yap, and Ma. Theresa F. Zosa who are celebrating their birthdays this week. Cheers!

(jingo_quijano@yahoo.com)