Nonito Donaire will enter the squared circle in Houston’s Toyota Center on Saturday night with THE RING belt around his waist, the swirling controversy of performance-enhancing drugs in the air, and the hopes of his native Philippines on his shoulders and in his heart.
A resident of San Leandro, Calif., who is nicknamed “The Filipino Flash,” Donaire (30-1, 19 knockouts) will put his junior featherweight belts on the line against Jorge Arce (61-6-2, 46 KOs), of Los Mochis, Mexico, one week after Philippines national hero Manny Pacquiao was left lying face-first and motionless in a sixth-round knockout loss to Mexican four-division titlewinner Juan Manuel Marquez.
Pacquiao’s loss dropped is mark against notable fighters of Mexican decent to 12-2-1, with seven knockouts, and it was his first setback against a fighter from South of The Border since losing to four-division beltwinner Erik Morales in March of 2005.
Pacquiao’s first significant victory over a Mexican legend began in November of 2003 with an 11th-round knockout over Mexico City native Marco Antonio Barrera, a man he later unanimously decisioned in their return bout in October of 2007.
Pacquiao also has secured knockouts over Morales in the 10th and third rounds of their match-ups in January and November, respectively, of 2006, owns a split- and majority decision over Marquez, a decision against Oscar Larios, and knockouts over Hector Velazquez, Jorge Solis, David Diaz and Oscar De La Hoya.
In addition, Pacquiao’s loss was part of a an overall difficult night for fighters from the Philippines.
The card also featured IBF lighweight beltholder Miguel Vazquez, of Guadalajara, Mexico, earning his 12th straight win by unanimous decision over previously unbeaten southpaw Mercito Gesta, of San Diego by way of Mandaue City, Philippines.
Also, there was ex-featherweight titleholder and former Cuban Olympic gold medalist Yuriorkis Gamboa rising from a ninth-round knockdown after scoring two knockouts of his own to win a unanimous decision for the WBA’s interim junior lightweight belt over another game southpaw, Michael Farenas, of Paranaque City, Philippines.
One bright spot on the night was emerging junior lightweight Dodie Boy Penalosa Jr. (10-0, 10 KOs), of Cebu City, Philippines, earning a second-round stoppage over Jesus Lule.
The 23-year-old son of former IBF junior flyweight and flyweight titleholder Dodie Penalosa Sr., Penalosa Jr. is also the nephew of former WBC junior bantamweight and WBO bantamweight titleholder Gerry Penalosa.
Fighting for the first time outside of his home country, Penalosa Jr. benefited from training alongside Pacquiao in General Santos City and at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Los Angeles.
Heading into the Arce fight, Donaire said he is being asked by his Filipino countrymen to “Get revenge,” and, to “Do it for Manny,” much as his fifth-round stoppage of Vic Darchinyan came against a man who had beaten his brother, Glenn.
In addition, the immediate aftermath of Marquez’s victory was shrouded in speculation concerning his physical transformation under strength and conditioning guru, Angel Hernandez, a graduate of Texas A&M’s exercise science program whose past includes involvement in performance-enhancing activities.
Marquez and Pacquiao each had his urine tested after the fight for anabolic steroids, masking agents and marijuana, the results of which are due next week, according to Keith Kizer, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
Saying “I am a clean fighter,” Marquez told the Los Angeles Times on Monday that he expected his drug tests from the NSAC to return negative, adding. “I feel very happy with my training, I feel great about the tests. I won’t have a problem.”
Hernandez, who was never convicted of any crimes, told RingTV.com that he will be ringside for Donaire-Arce, having spent “almost five weeks” working with Arce, whom he called, “a good friend of mine.”
But Hernandez also has an advesarial relationship with former BALCO founder Victor Conte, the primary catalyst in Donaire’s commitment to year-round, random drug testing that is being conducted by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA).
Conte once served a prison stint for his work with illegal performance-enhancing drugs, building a four-year career out of helping professional athletes circumvent Olympic-style drug testing policies until BALCO was raided in 2003.
But since exiting prison, Conte oversees Scientific Nutrition for Advanced Conditioning (SNAC), an organization that supplies legal sports nutrition products and supplements.
RingTV.com: I understand that you finally received your RING belt over the weekend, so how does it feel to actually have it in your possession?
Nonito Donaire: It’s cool. It’s cool, man, that I finally got it. One of my guys, Gilbert [Martinez,] he brought it to me and I was able to view it.
I was like, “Wow,” now I have every belt that there is. The four belts, and THE RING belt. I have them all in my possession now.
And to see that belt that has been held by the long-reigning champions of the past who have held it, and now, to be able to hold it too, I’m really happy with it.
RingTV.com: Your thoughts on Pacquiao’s loss, those of Gesta and Farenas, and any perceived pressure they place on your shoulders?
ND: The thing is that this is boxing. You have guys who are elite fighters who are going to go out there for a win, and they’re going to try their best. But things like what happened to Pacquiao, that will happen in boxing.
You’ve got to accept things like that. But other people, when they see things like that, for example, with Pacquiao lying in the ring, especially a guy like that who has been winning for a long time, it’s difficult.
For some people, for a guy like that to go down at all, people were heartbroken with that. But with me, it’s just something that I’ve accepted. There’s no shame in it. They both fought very hard.
Pacquiao fought really brilliantly, except for that unexpected turnaround. But there is really nothing you can do. Still, there are a lot of people who were not expecting anything like that, so they’re heartbroken about it.
For me, I’m more of, “Let me just go out there and do my best.” I’m just going to go and do the things that I do inside of that ring.
Things happen, and, sometimes, it’s just one of those things that are unexpected. You can’t let that take you into another world and take you out of your game.
So we’re just focusing on our game plan and on not letting any negativity into my head. I’m not looking past Arce or anything, because things like that can be costly.
RingTV.com: What sort of things are you hearing from your Filipino fans, and the people in general?
ND: There’s a lot of people saying, “Get your revenge,” and, “You gotta do it for Manny,” and “You’ve gotta lift our country back up again.” I understand and all of that, because, I mean, people are just heartbroken.
People are just in pain having to see him that way. He’s their hero, and their idol. That’s all that they kept saying, like, “You’ve got to pay them back.”
RingTV.com: How does that make you feel?
ND: A lot of people are saying that the pressure is on me, because of the fact that I’ve got to perform. But like I’ve said, I’ve accepted it. This is boxing. I’ve been through a lot of situations like this.
Like when Darchinyan beat my brother, or when a friend of mine has gotten knocked out by somebody, I’ve seen it all. But it’s at a completely different level with Manny.
It’s like you have thousands of people, even millions of people who are watching, and who are affected, and who are feeling the pain. They’re coming to me and saying different things.
But it’s boxing. The other guy, Marquez, worked hard. Manny worked hard. It’s just part of the game, and the other guy, Marquez, he deserves all of the congratulations because he did a good job.
I thought Manny was phenomenal that night, except for that one mistake in that single second or two. But again, I’ll just go out there and perform the best that I can, and then hope that everybody can be lifted.
I’m going to go out there and try to win the best that I can, and to do it in the best possible way, which is not to overlook Arce. So we’re going to just go out there and work hard for the victory.
I know that a victory is good enough for the people, as long as I do my best. Everybody did their best. To me, there is nothing to look down on.
I was saddened to see Manny go down like that, but at the same time, he looked phenomenal. Then, Farenas did great. I mean, all of these guys, like Gesta.
They fought big, but they just didn’t get the decisions and they didn’t win their fights. But to me, that was a statement in the way that they fought and how hard they fought.
RingTV.com: Is there a Mexican-Filipino rivalry brewing?
ND: Definitely. There’s a lot of it. Some of my Filipino fans have got to understand, though. They’re saying, “Kill the Mexican,” but I’m not at all about that.
Just because Manny lost to a Mexican doesn’t mean that I have to go out and kill a Mexican. I have to say that, to me, they’re all boxing fans.
It’s not like they tied down Manny in any way, and then started beating him up. It’s not like that. Marquez worked hard, and they both worked hard.
It’s just that people have never seen something like that. It’s new to them, and they’re angry enough to say something that you can’t take back.
People are upset, especially after hearing him getting booed all over the arena. I’m just not into saying things like that.
I’m all about respect, and to me, I just need to do the things that I need to do inside that ring — and that is, to win. It’s not about race to me.
RingTV.com: What are your thoughts on the climate of PEDs in relation to Marquez and your upcoming fight?
ND: There are a lot of things being said out there, like, with people saying “Look at how big he was,” and this and that. Somebody might be enhanced, and they might be strong, and they might be doing something.
But they’re still human, they’re still vulnerable. Their face still gets beat up, their mouth still bleeds, and their eyes still get cut. Their face still gets broken up, and they still get knocked out.
To me, if anybody I’m fighting is on the stuff, I’m just going to go out there and use the gift that God has given me, and I’ll prevail. That’s the faith that I have.
I’m going to be the smarter guy, no matter how tough the other guy is. I’m going to go out there prepared because I know what to do in a step-by-step process.
I just go out there and execute the game plan. I believe that if you set the trap, no matter how tough they are, somehow, they’ll fall.
RingTV.com: Is there any irony in the spotlight on PED speculation regarding Marquez-Pacquiao a week prior to your fight, and the fact that you are engaging in year-round drug testing?
ND: It’s God working in mysterious ways, that’s pretty much how I sum it up. Things sometimes just roll that way, you know what I’m saying?
I fight for my country because they’re proud of me, but I also just say things the way that I feel about things, and I’m honest with myself. I think that’s the best way to live.
So as long as you’re honest with yourself, and you’re honest with people, that’s all that matters. A lot of people think that’s being cocky, but that’s not how it is. I’m just stating the facts, and that’s what I do.
But I don’t try to do it in a disrespectful way. Again, this is boxing, things happen, and a lot of media guys are saying, “are you going to go for revenge?”
But when I fought Darchinyan, who did a good job with my brother, it wasn’t for revenge. I was just there to beat Darchinyan. It’s the same thing that goes with Arce.
Manny lost, and a lot of people are saying, “You’ve got to beat the Mexican,” but, you know, I have a lot of Mexican friends, so it’s not about their race.
It’s about just being proud of beating the man, whether it’s a fellow Filipino, or a fellow Mexican, or whoever you are.
When it’s all over, you just shake hands with your Puerto Rican fans, or your Mexican fans, who whoever it is, and all is good. It’s just the sport.
Photo by Naoki Fukuda
Photo by Chris Farina, Top Rank
Photos by Naoki Fukuda
Photo courtesy of Rachel Donaire
Photo by Naoki Fukuda
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com