The hunger remains for Donaire
A deep love of family propels Nonito Donaire. Yet, despite winning titles in five weight divisions and experiencing glories beyond the sphere of most of his peers, a raw, fighting hunger remains.
The Filipino-American is a throwback to boxing’s old school, when the best fought the best and those with a world class pedigree, or even a pretence of one, never shirked a challenge.
In an astonishing period from July 2010 to October 2014, Donaire took on 12 consecutive world champions and battled many of the dangermen swerved by other fighters. A willingness to engage with all-comers is a badge of honour Donaire wears proudly.
“I want to fulfill that desire for fighting the best out there,” the affable Donaire told Boxing Monthly at McSorley’s Ale House in the Venetian Macao four days before scoring a brutal second round KO over Frenchman Anthony Settoul (Donaire was drinking juice). “I could have just taken it easy in my career. I didn’t need to take on [Guillermo] Rigondeaux, [Simpiwe] Vetyeka, [Nicholas] Walters, [Jeffrey] Mathebula or [Toshiaki] Nishioka. I didn’t have to take any of those fights. I could have held on to a title belt to this day, fighting somebody [ranked] who no-one knows. But I’m not like that, I never have been. I will fight the toughest guy.
“Even when I fought all these champions in a row, some still thought I was fighting patsies. I was fighting world champion after world champion and they thought I was still picking my fights. I wasn’t - I was fighting them because they were champions. I was trying to get their belts.
“And I will always take the challenge,” continued Donaire, 35-3 (23 KOs). “Even if it’s an uphill battle for me. I’m not here to run away from fighters who people think are better than me. Sometimes it’s foolish, like the Walters fight where we only got six weeks of training. My guys were saying, ‘I don’t think we’re ready yet’, but being a warrior sometimes can take you out. This is about becoming smart now, fighting the right way and being prepared 100%.”
The old Donaire fire that saw him rip through five weight divisions seemed to have returned in Macao. The Filipino-American looked razor sharp on the pads with trainer/father Nonito Sr in the Venetian’s basement gym with that zip in his punches very much in evidence.
“Since the Walters fight, I’ve been training all year round which I have never done before in all my career,” Donaire told BM. “[My punch] is something that will never leave me no matter how old or slow I get. My power will always be there and I am always going to be a boogieman. Other fighters will always know that I can end the fight with one punch.
“At the time that I beat [Fernando] Montiel, I fell in love with my power. All I wanted was knockouts. It didn’t matter if you outboxed me. If you are going to beat me, you’re going to beat me, but otherwise I am going to take you out. This time we’re going to be smart. I want to be in this game for a long time and I want to be entertaining. But I have to find the balance. That’s something we’re trying to figure out, but it will come.
“When I see someone in front of me I am like a hungry lion. Ready to pounce on my opponent and feed,” he continued. “Against Walters [LTKO6] and Rigondeaux [L12], I fought instinctively without thinking. I went out there with power – and that’s what I relied on. I was in tremendous shape, but I was defeated in strategy not because of power. Walters knocked me out, but he used his head. When he was face to face with me, I got him and that’s when he started countering and moving back. He then caught me with an uppercut. Even after that he wasn’t going for the [finish]. He was jabbing his way in and became cautious and strategic. I was defeated by strategy and not by force.
“There is no excuse about how big he was – I was just small,” said Donaire, who hurt the hulking Walters badly at the end of the second round before succumbing to his superior size. “I was 128-129lbs. He was probably 142lbs [on fight night]. That is a huge leap in weight, but I knew I almost had him. We’d like to get that rematch, but there is no certainty. They are not going to do the fight for $500,000 – they will want more because I am a dangerous fighter. I will always have that chance of landing something and ending the fight."
In a career that has confounded the modest expectations of his younger days, Donaire’s standout performances were highlighted by stunning knockouts - Vic Darchinyan WKO5 in 2007 and Fernando Montiel WKO2 in 2011 - each earning widespread plaudits as the ‘knockout of the year’.
“When I fought Darchinyan, I was a nobody. Everybody thought that Darchinyan was going to eat me alive. They looked at me as a sacrificial lamb,” Donaire told BM. “But I did the impossible and got knockout of the year. With Montiel, I was nervous. I saw somebody who was on a par or better than me and I went out there and executed the gameplan. I predicted that second round, too. I told them that Montiel is an amazing fighter but if I work out his speed and timing I would get him in the second and that is exactly what happened. That was the only time that I’ve predicted a fight. I got the biggest knockout of my career. It was amazing to accomplish. Both those fights are equivalent in terms of prestige to me.”
Fatherhood has radically changed Donaire and switched his priorities (his two young sons Jarel Michael and Jarel Logan were in Macao with the former adapting the Venetian’s basement gym into an impromptu playground). Team Donaire is very much a family affair with wife Rachel, a former Tae Kwon Do champion, a pivotal part of the team, “that’s one hell of girl and a wife to have especially in a fighting arena.” Father-in-law Gerry is head of security in a tightly knit group of family and close friends in stark contrast to the heaving entourages of other fighters.
“[Having children] changed me in every way. I look at all my achievements and it still doesn’t give me the same feeling as looking at my [oldest] son laughing when he’s jumping on top of me waking me up,” Donaire told BM. “Or when I am holding him and all he wants is his poppa. Nothing beats that. [Boxing achievement] seems empty when I think about it. There is no accomplishment that could ever compare to that joyous feeling. I love my family more than anything, but I still want to be in this game because this is something that I am and I’ve always been.
“I want [my kids] to know that anything in life is possible. But I also want them to know nothing is handed to you. Whatever it may be, you have got to work to create your path, but at the same time to know the virtues of life, loyalty, respect and being kind to people. I want them to feel that helping others is something that is good and should be built inside you. With my father, he wanted me to box. I didn’t have the option to do what I wanted, which is good because I’m here, but I can create a better path for my sons. Free in choosing whatever they want.”
So with a loving young family and, after achieving so much in boxing, why does Donaire continue? “It’s just to say thank you to the world of boxing and my fans who have given me this and pushed me and motivated me throughout the years. It’s to be an inspiration for others. If people tell you that you’re down, just keep pushing and try to rise beyond.
“As long as I know that I am safe and not too beat up in fights, I think I can go at least 10 years. I really think I can do that. Just purely through the love of fighting. Nothing more. That’s the motivation I have. If it’s too taxing for me and my family then I will gladly hang up the gloves, but I want to look way beyond five years. I think I have a lot more years to go.”
The conversation briefly stops as a shaven-headed security guard runs past us and grabs a fleeing Chinese gambler with an outstretched hand and, in one motion, drags him away to a fate unknown. This is Macao as the night draws in – a magnet to strangeness and a haunt for lost and fallen souls.
“It’s funny because before my kids were born I wanted to be remembered as the dangerous fighter, the tough fighter who people were afraid of, but now I just want to be remembered as an inspiration to others – that nothing is impossible,” Donaire told BM. “You can take me down, I’ll get up. If I can, I want to rise higher than before.
“When I was fighting at 112lbs, I didn’t know I was going to be a 126lbs world champion. Anything can happen as long as you keep walking towards your dreams. Someway, somehow, you might get it. Always have faith in the path that you choose.”