Nonito Donaire was already the oldest bantamweight champion in boxing history.
But he couldn’t set a new record Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena.
Donaire, a 40-year-old four-division champion who lives in Las Vegas, lost a unanimous decision (116-112, 116-112, 115-113) to Alexandro Santiago, who claimed the WBC’s vacant 118-pound title on the Errol Spence Jr.-Terence Crawford undercard.
Donaire (42-8, 28 knockouts) was 38 when he won the WBC bantamweight title from Nordine Oubaali via fourth-round knockout and 39 when he defended it eight months later by stopping Reymart Gaballo.
But he fatigued in the latter rounds and fell to Santiago (28-3-5, 14 KOs) — and perhaps to the inevitable effects of aging.
“I love the sport so much,” Donaire told Showtime’s Jim Gray. “I told my wife, who has the word (whether he will fight again), ‘We just have to go back to the locker room, talk about it, and see where we go from there.’ There were just some times there where I didn’t pull the trigger.”
Donaire has held titles at flyweight, bantamweight, super bantamweight and featherweight — most recently holding the bantamweight belt before losing last year to pound-for-pound great Naoya Inoue.
Donaire earned this bid at the vacant WBC title by holding the sanctioning body’s No. 3 ranking in the weight class. A 27-year-old Mexican, Santiago was the WBC’s No. 5 contender.
He earned his title Saturday by outmaneuvering the living legend.
Santiago withstood Donaire’s power in the early rounds and continued to apply pressure, tiring and outpacing a fighter 13 years his senior. Santiago threw 609 punches compared to 495 for Donaire. They landed 130 apiece, though Santiago’s output was more significant, especially down the stretch.
“It has been an honor to fight such a legend like Nonito Donaire,” Santiago said through a translator. “He said, ‘Thank you for giving me this great fight.’”
In the co-feature, fan favorite and lightweight contender Isaac Cruz (25-2-1, 17 KOs) secured a surprising 115-112, 114-113, 113-114 split decision over Giovanni Cabrera. Cruz, 25, from Mexico and known for enduring 12 rounds in 2021 with superstar Gervonta Davis, administered a beating to Cabrera (21-1, seven KOs) via flush shots to the chin and temple.
But Cabrera’s chin endured, allowing the 29-year-old from Chicago to finish the fight on his feet.
“I respect Gervonta, and at the same time I’m sure that I will have the opportunity to redeem myself,” Cruz said through a translator, speaking of a rematch with Davis. “When that opportunity comes, I’ll be ready.”
In the first fight on the undercard of the Showtime pay-per-view produced by Premier Boxing Champions, Cuban super welterweight prospect Yoenis Tellez (6-0, five KOs) beat veteran contender Sergio Garcia (34-3, 14 KOs) via third-round technical knockout.
The 23-year-old Tellez dropped the 30-year-old Spanish contender with a pair of right hands, prompting referee Robert Hoyle to intervene at the 2:02 mark following another flurry.