Best of BM in 2019: Donaire's philosophy of fighting
Luke G. Williams
Photo: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
Across Christmas and the New Year, Boxing Monthly is presenting some of our most memorable features from 2019. Today we go back to April, when Luke G. Williams spoke to the legendary Nonito Donaire about his fistic philosophies...
Few fighters are as eloquent as Nonito Donaire when it comes to articulating what the sport of boxing means to them.
"I love my sport," the Filipino icon tells Boxing Monthly during the early stages of his training camp for his planned World Boxing Super Series semi-final clash against Zolani Tete - a fight that transmogrified into a showdown with St Louis' Stephon Young this week after the South African suffered a shoulder injury which forced his withdrawal.
"Boxing has given me everything that I am," Donaire continues. "I don’t ever want people to think that just because we’re fighters we have to talk smack or just because we’re fighters we have to disrespect others. That’s not the role of a fighter, a fighter is someone who respects the camaraderie of boxing. You go out there you fight to your best but at the end of it all you shake hands."
As Donaire continues his words soon acquire the skilful cadences and seductive rhythm of crafted poetry or prose.
"As fighters we go through hardship, we sacrifice time away from our families, we sacrifice our bodies. I will always respect the guys in front of me because I know what they go through and I want people to respect that. We put our lives on the line. We sacrifice so much more than just time, we sacrifice so much more than our bodies – so much more beyond that, the emotions the spiritual, whatever it may be.
"I always want boxing to be seen as a gentleman’s sport. I’m not someone who goes about talking smack for attention or likes or whatever. The way I see boxing is as a gentleman’s sport that needs to be respected. As fighters we know what fighters go through. I want everyone to cherish and at the same rime respect each and every fighter. Because our lives are on the line. Sometimes we don’t come out of there. To me it’s crucial to represent my sport from that aspect."
Despite his gentlemanly instincts, Donaire admits that there is another, darker side to his personality.
It's a concept he expands upon when I ask him to explain how he 'flicks the switch' and banishes his usually sunny disposition when it is time for a fight to begin.
"It’s a process where experience comes into play," he says. "I’ve been through this so many times. I go out there to destroy. Once l’m in that ring I’m no longer caged. I’m no longer the person that you might talk to outside the ring. This is my territory and I will do everything that I can to destroy you. That’s the mentality I have inside the ring.
"But there’s no switch any longer. It’s a part of my personality. It’s embedded within me. When l’m with my kids I’m very patient, I understand my role in their lives. When I’m with people I smile and I enjoy those moments.
"But when I’m inside the ring the personality changes. It’s work and I go out there and I turn it on. There’s no kindness in me, but there’s respect in terms of I am going to give the other fighter all I am to prove where I’m at. And may the best man win.
"Boxing is fun for me. It’s exciting. There is a turmoil of emotions in your mind, from using your mind to create a strategy to the excitement of the power of your punches. There’s every emotion in that rollercoaster when you’re inside the ring."
Remarkably, although he is now 36 years of age and a 44-fight veteran, Donaire's insatiable hunger for fistic glory shows no sign of waning - despite having already won world titles at fly, bantam, super bantam and featherweight.
"My motivation comes from gratitude," he explains. "The gratitude of living, the gratitude or having the opportunities have. I love what I do and I’m going to give it all I’ve got, give it everything. I don’t want to sit down when I’m 80 years old and say I wish I had had ten more years or I wish I had kept going – or whatever.
"I don’t any feeling of 'shoulda woulda coulda'. I want to give the very best I can. That’s where my motivation is. I’m enjoying this. I’m enjoying the [WBSS] tournament. I’m enjoying the thought of fighting the best out there. That’s my motivation for what I do.
"I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to be doing the things I love doing. In the long run being able to inspire kids or people to do what they love doing and to seek and create something for themselves that they love or enjoy that’s where I am. I’m grateful for that opportunity and I’m hopeful that I can continue to inspire people."
Donaire freely admits that he struggles with the concept and potential banality of retirement.
"For a fighter it’s very difficult to stop," he says. "Boxing is something I’ve done all my life. That’s why I’m giving everything l’ve got as a fighter to prolong my career and have longevity in this sport, by doing the right things and being around the right people. At the end of it all, though, I know when I say goodbye it will be goodbye."
Before he contends with retirement, however, Donaire has a burning desire to prove himself the best bantamweight in the world. That is something he can do if he lifts the Muhammad Ali trophy come the end of a high quality WBSS bantamweight tournament which, despite the withdrawal of Tete, still contains top quality operators Naoya Inoue and Emmanul Rodriguez in the opposite semi-final to Donaire vs Young.
“I’m really excited about this tournament," the Filipino stresses. "Facing the best guys is what boxing is about. It’s a very exciting as a fighter. I’m willing to fight anybody. It’s where I want to be. It serves boxing well as you have the best guys fighting each other."
In the WBSS quarter-finals Donaire was a surprise victor against Northern Ireland's Ryan Burnett. Much attention focused on the back injury that forced Burnett to retire in round four, but Donaire firmly rejects the notion that his victory was in any way fortunate.
“I’ve reviewed the fight so many times and I know exactly where we hurt him in that fight," he argues. "You can replay it over and over and see where I got him with a punch to the body which led to him being injured. He kept throwing his right and he’d had some success but I was timing him right into the body and when you do that… the last right he threw I got him really good in the body.
"It was close to the end of the round and in the next round the damage had accumulated. In the next round he aggravated it early on in the round. As the fight was going on I was feeling really strong and getting into my groove. That body shot which I landed was crucial. That’s what I saw in the replay."
And if Donaire reaches the final, who does he expect to face?
His response is typically diplomatic, thoughtful and as respectful as ever of his fellow warriors.
"There’s a lot of talk of Inoue pulling it off, but Rodriguez is a very talented fighter. I haven’t seen much of both guys yet but I know they’re very good at what they do. My focus has been on my fight. The next guy, whoever that may be, will be the next guy!"