NEW YORK — Following Wednesday’s final press conference for Saturday night’s HBO-televised clash at Radio City Music Hall, RING, IBF and WBO junior featherweight champion Nonito Donaire and WBA counterpart Guillermo Rigondeaux engaged in a brief, yet extremely intense staredown as the media in attendance took it in at The Theater lobby of Madison Square Garden.
As Donaire (31-1, 20 knockouts) and Rigondeaux (11-0, 8 KOs) stood face-to-face mean-mugging one another, their respective trainers — Donaire’s Robert Garcia and Rigondeaux’s Pedro Diaz — stood behind each of them.
When the smiling Donaire broke his glare and turned away, “The Filipino Flash” told Garcia that he saw fear in Rigondeaux’s eyes.
“I kept looking, and then, he looked away, and the only reason that I looked away is because he broke his stare at me. Then he started to look at my nose and at my mouth, so I said, ‘Okay, I’m good.’ So today was my moral victory in terms of me being able to face off against him. I know that he felt my energy and that’s why maybe he looked away from me, because I was starting to get heated and that’s always me,” said Donaire.
“The warrior inside of me starts to come out. I’m a very nice guy and a very peaceful guy, but when I’m in that mode with another fighter, another person that is my alter ego comes in, and you see that energy and you feel my breathing. I know that he felt my energy that I brought out there and that’s the same energy that I’m going to bring. Fearlessness. I’m not afraid of anything. I’m just confident. That’s anything and everything that a warrior is.”
Garcia agreed, saying that Diaz had coached Rigondeaux to maintain his stance.
“When they did the staredown, Nonito was doing it by himself. So Nonito chose to do it on and he chose not to turn. So when you have the fighter in front of you being guided by the trainer behind him, then that don’t mean he’s the one who wants to do it. It means that it was the trainer who was the one that wanted to be in the staredown. I speak Spanish, and I was hearing everything that he was telling Guillermo. He was telling Guillermo, ‘Don’t turn, don’t turn. Don’t turn until he turns away first,’” said Garcia.
“So that’s not the fighter who was making the decision. That was the trainer telling you want to do. I wasn’t telling Nonito what to do. Nobody tells him what to do. Nonito chose to do that himself. There was a couple of times where Rigo did not turn, but his eyes went to Nonito’s mouth. That’s what we saw, but his coach wasn’t seeing that. His coach was telling him, ‘Don’t turn, don’t turn,’ so he was being guided by his coach. Inside the ring, it’s not going to be you. He’s a great trainer and I’ve got nothing but respect for him, but come on, he’s not the one who is fighting.”
RIGONDEAUX ASKS ‘WAS NONITO SCARED?’
Following an unimpressive and dull decison over Panama’s Ricardo Cordoba in November of 2010, Rigondeaux responded with consecutive stoppages over Willie Casey, Rico Ramos and Teon Kennedy in the first, sixth and fifth rounds, respectively, before securing September’s unanimous decision victory over Robert Marroquin.
Rigondeaux believes that it was his performanes, and not Donaire’s bravery, that earned him the chance to unify the belts.
“When I fought Cordoba, I jumped from four to 12 rounds. But every opponent is different. I’m just out to do the jobs and I got the knockouts. I think that put fear into Nonito, because when you’re the champion, you’re supposed to fight the best and to fight anybody. Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez, they’re champions and they fight anyone. Was Nonito scared? You tell me. He was so worried that he couldn’t sleep,” said Rigonddeaux.
“I’m the other champion in the division, and he knew that he had to take the fight. He didn’t want it, then he wanted it, and then he didn’t want it, and then he did wat it. Definitely, I think he just had a lot of pressure on him. So he felt the pressure and he had to take the fight. But now, this is very important for me because this is the fight that everyone expected and it’s the two best fighters at 122 pounds. We came here to do what we have to do, and we’re ready to go.”
DIAZ HAS SPLIT VICTORIES WITH MIGUEL COTTO IN NEW YORK
Diaz debuted as a professional trainer with three-division titlewinner Miguel Cotto, guiding the Puerto Rican star to a 10th-round knockout of Antonio Margarito in December of 2011 that avenged an 11th-round stoppage loss which was the first of Cotto’s career in July of 2008.
In his second fight with Diaz, Cotto lost by unanimous-decision to Floyd Mayweather Jr., who added Cotto’s WBA junior middleweight belt to his WBC welterweight title in Las Vegas in May of 2012.
Diaz returned to The Garden for his third fight with Cotto, December’s unanimous decision loss to WBA junior middleweight beltholder Austin Trout.
Diaz became Cotto’s trainer after replacing Emanuel “Manny” Steward, who died in October of last year at the age of 68, after Cotto had won two fights under the Hall of Famer, ninth- and 12th-round stoppage victories over Yuri Foreman and Ricardo Mayorga in June of 2010 and March of 2011, respectively.
On Saturday night, Diaz, who served as an amateur coach for Rigondeaux, will try to improve to 2-1 in New York with a victory over Donaire.
“With Cotto, with Rigondeaux, and with the rest of the boxers that I work with, I always try to do the best job. Once they are inside of the ring, it’s up to the boxer to do what they have to do,”said Diaz, a PhD in Pedagogical Sciences and an ex-university professor in sports science.
“I always come and try to do my job and make the fighters as fit as possible and in the best shape possible. I try to look up to Nacho Beristain, Freddie Roach and Robert Garcia, so even though I’m young in the sport, I consider myself an apprentice. I know that I’m always going to learn from them. So this fight is a blessing, and Rigondeaux is going to unify the belts.”
GARCIA CAN GET EVEN WITH DIAZ, ALTHOUGH HE DOESN’T SEE THE FIGHT THAT WAY
Donaire has insisted that he remains focused despite the fact that his wife, Rachel, is pregnant with their first child, a son who will be named Jarel, and who is due to be born in July.
On Thursday in New York, Donaire will be honored as The Boxing Writers’ Association of America’s Fighter of The Year, and Garcia, as Trainer of The Year.
On Saturday, however, Donaire and Garcia will have a fight on their hands, with Garcia having lost his matchup to Diaz when he worked the corner of Margarito against Cotto.
“Pedro is a great trainer, and I don’t look at what he did in his last fight with Cotto or whatever, but he could go back and say, ‘We beat Cotto when Cotto fought Margarito, so I can beat him again.’ But they’re just totally different fights, and I don’t see it like that, like he beat me once, so I’ve got to beat him this time. I’m not going after Guillermo because now we’ve got to get even with him because he beat me with Margarito,” said Garcia.
“No, that’s not even in my mind. I know the talent that Nonito has, and I know what Nonito can do inside of the ring. I know that Guillermo is a talented fighter and Guillermo is so skillful that he is one of the best out there. But, inside the ring, it’s going to be Nonito and Guillermo, not the trainers or the assistants trying to push him to be something that he’s not.”
BOB ARUM EMBRACES RANDOM DRUG TESTING
Top Rank CEO Bob Arum appears to be have warmed up to random drug testing, this, after having long insisted that the testing procedures be limited to those of the respective state commissions.
Donaire and Rigondeaux have contractually agreed to submit to random testing for performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) through the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA).
From here on out, Arum said that Top Rank will pay for the VADA testing for his major main events.
“The fighters have instituted the testing themselves, including [Tim] Bradley and [Ruslan] Provodnikov, Donaire and Rigondeaux. And they’ve all have had high praise for the way that VADA has conducted it. Well, if the fighters don’t feel that it’s intrusive and that it doesn’t interfere with their training, then it’s a great thing to have,” said Arum, specifying that he meant main event or pay per view main bouts.
“So that’s what I have meant by having it prove itself. We now know that they’re testing for performance enhancing drugs and not nonsense, and that’s good, because nobody wants these athletes to come in with an unfair competitive advantage. We will go to the fighters and suggest that this be done, recommend that it be done, and we’ll tell them that if they agree, then we’ll pay for it.”
Arum’s message sounded like good news to Donaire, who has committed to year-round drug testing by VADA.
“I think that as long as nothing goes wrong, the promoters are going to be happy about it. So they support it as long as nothing goes wrong. If Bob says that he will pay for the testing, then that would be good. I’m hoping that he stays true to his word, because it helps out the world of boxing,” said Donaire.
“I hope that one day, drug testing will be mandated in boxing. That would be really good for the world of boxing. This drug testing for our fight was sponsored by VADA, but from this point on, even if there is no sponsorship from anyone, then we’ll most likely do it ourselves. I really believe in the testing and I’ll continue to do it.”
ARUM STANDS TALL THROUGHOUT PRESS CONFERENCE
Even on the heels of last week’s trip to China for last Saturday’s HBO2-televised card from the Venetian Macao Resort Hotel in Macau, Arum showed little effects of jet lag or fatigue.
Throughout Wednesday’s press conference, the 81-year-old promoter was never off his feet and never sat down, even as many of his organization members say they can scarcely keep up with him.
“I’m demonstrating to people that age is just a number. Like Big George Foreman says to me, ‘age is just a number.’ If you buy in to how old you are, and then, therefore, you can’t do certain things, then you can’t do them. So if I say, ‘Hey, I’m 81, and I can’t do this anymore,’ or, ‘I can’t do that anymore,’ then I won’t be able to do it anymore. But if I say, ‘Hey, I’m 81, but so what, I can still do it,’ then I’ll still do it,” said Arum.
“Jet lag is also a mental thing. You get out of jet lag by taking a sleeping pill on the plane, and you put yourself back into the time zone that you’re going into. That’s the trick. Maybe you take a sleeping pill the next two nights, and then, you’re back on schedule. So if you get jet lag, it’s your own f___ing fault. The other guys are learning from me that you can overcome jet lag. All of these things that people succumb to are things that can be controlled. I’m not a genius, but I travel so much to the Philippines and here and there, that I’ve learned from my own body how to do it.”
Photo by Chris Farina, Top Rank
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com