You wouldn’t have guessed it based on the fact that it was easily the most important year of his professional career, but Nonito Donaire was at one point contemplating retirement during 2012. Last year, Donaire fought four times on the way to earning Fighter of the Year honors from the Boxing Writers Assoc. of America.
“Honestly, after the [Toshiaki] Nishioka fight, I was really thinking about retiring,” Donaire told RingTV.com on Friday as he took in ESPN2′s Friday Night Fights in Las Vegas.
“I felt like I had accomplished everything I set out to. I had won titles in multiple divisions, had made it onto pound-for-pound lists. I was ready to quit, and then I got the [Jorge] Arce fight [in December] and just decided to get back in the gym.”
During 2012, Donaire conquered the 122-pound division, and his four-fight year was a rarity for a top fighter
Donaire has been out of action since April, when he suffered his first major setback after losing a unanimous decision to Cuban standout Guillermo Rigondeaux at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. It was Donaire’s first loss since 2001, when as a novice professional he lost his second pro fight to Rosendo Sanchez on a northern California club show.
During the leadup to Donaire’s loss to Rigondeaux, he had a tumultuous training camp. First, there was the split with sports nutritionist and former BALCO founder Victor Conte in the middle of their training camp.
Donaire and Conte had established a close working relationship since the two partnered in July 2010 prior to his fight with Hernan Marquez.
Donaire’s wife Rachel had informed Michael Woods of The Sweet Science that Conte sent a text message to Donaire informing him that he was quitting sometime during his early preparation for Rigondeaux.
To compound things, Donaire’s wife Rachel was pregnant with their first child, a son who was just born Tuesday morning.
Donaire was often flying back and forth from his training camp in San Carlos, Calif. to Las Vegas, where he and Rachel own a home. Also, head trainer Robert Garcia was often only driving in on weekends to work with Donaire, who was working at San Carlos’ Undisputed Boxing Gym with Brian Schwartz and Mike Bazzel otherwise.
Both Donaire and Garcia informed RingTV.com of an early morning meeting on Friday where the two discussed future plans.
“Robert has long been telling me to come to Oxnard for training camp, and after the loss to Rigondeaux, it is something I am truly considering,” said Donaire. “I owe it to Robert to try something different, so it is very likely I work in Oxnard for my next fight.”
“That is mostly why I came down [to Las Vegas] this weekend, to talk to Nonito,” said Garcia. “We needed to get on the same page with future plans, and I’m glad we were able to talk and hopefully we have figured out the best move going forward.”
With all that was going on with Donaire heading into the Rigondeaux fight, many thought he was due for a letdown performance.
“I’m not talking away anything from Rigondeaux, because he beat me clearly and fairly,” Donaire said.
“But my mind wasn’t really 100 percent on the fight. I honestly didn’t care about it that much. Most of the time, I was thinking about my kid. But I am glad that he beat me. I was seriously considering retirement, but that loss woke me up and told me, ‘Hey, I don’t want to quit. I want to do this for a lot more years.’”
When asked if the extremely busy 2012 schedule had burned him out, Donaire said it definitely played a factor.
“I never dreamed I would fight four times in a year,” said Donaire. “At the end of it, I was a bit burned out on boxing. It didn’t help matters that I had so much going on. The time off since the fight has been really great for me. When I get back in the ring, you’ll see that fire you saw in the [Fernando] Montiel fight.”
Donaire will return to the ring before the end of the year, with the likely opponent being Vic Darchinyan. Darchinyan is the fighter Donaire conquered just more than six years ago in order to make his splash on the world scene. Donaire stopped a then-unbeaten Darchinyan as a five-to-one underdog, and a few fights later had jumped ship from Gary Shaw Productions to Top Rank Boxing.
At one point in time 2011, Donaire was looking to jump ship to Top Rank rival Golden Boy Promotions. Donaire’s wish was denied, and it seemingly worked out for the best.
“Looking back, it is a good thing things worked out the way they did,” Donaire confirmed. “They didn’t have as many guys for me to fight and Top Rank did a great job getting my name out there and getting me on major television.”
The fallout from the Rigondeaux fight is interesting. Donaire’s comeback fight will most definitely be seen on HBO, whereas Top Rank CEO Bob Arum has indicated the network “throws up” whenever Rigondeaux’s name is mentioned.
Does Donaire think that is fair of HBO?
“Rigondeaux has to understand, this sport is about entertainment as much as anything,” said Donaire.
“I had to change my style in order to get on television. I’m better as a boxer, but it was only when I started knocking guys out that I started getting on HBO. Remember when I beat Luis Concepcion? I got ripped more for that win, where I felt I peppered the hell out of him and really beat him easily, than I did for losing to Rigondeaux. And that guy came in overweight and I still got ripped.
“It’s the reason a guy like Arturo Gatti was on HBO for pretty much his whole career. He wasn’t the best fighter in the world, but nobody was as entertaining as he was. When I started looking for the knockout more, my star began to rise and I started making more money.”
So does Rigondeaux have to change his style in order for people to want to see him, according to Donaire?
“Listen, in the 12th round of our fight, he really got me pretty good,” said Donaire.
“I couldn’t see anything. Instead of trying to finish me, Rigondeaux backed off and let me get to the final bell. He should’ve tried finishing me.”
Donaire is extremely good friends with fellow Bay Area fighter Andre Ward. The two trained alongside each other as youngsters at the same gym in Hayward, Calif., US Karate & Boxing, and have often supported each other at their respective fights.
Ward is one of HBO’s darlings at the moment, doing double duty as both a fighter and commentator on the network. Some find Ward’s style boring. What makes Ward different from Rigondeaux according to Donaire?
“With Andre, he doesn’t run from a fight,” said Donaire. “He’ll take the fight to you, move forward, and grind a guy down. Rigondeaux will punch, and then dance around the ring. He is a counter puncher whereas Ward is the one making the fight most of the time. I don’t think Andre is boring at all, I find his fights highly entertaining.”
Donaire has earned his position in boxing, moving up from 112 pounds to 122 pounds, picking up titles all along the way. There’s no confirmation as of yet when his next fight will be, and Darchinyan hasn’t exactly been locked up as the opponent.
Donaire’s hunger will return, according to the fighter. He’s stated that the birth of his son will serve as motivation for him moving forward. One can only hope we see that same fire in his eyes that was there when he blasted out Montiel in two rounds, signifying that we perhaps haven’t seen the fighter’s best yet.
Photos / Chris Farina-Top Rank, Naoki Fukuda
Mark E. Ortega is a contributing writer to RingTV.com and has been featured in boxing publications RING Magazine and Boxing Monthly. He is a member of the Boxing Writers Assoc. of America and can be reached via e-mail and followed on Twitter.