After a banner 2012 in which Nonito Donaire fought four times on HBO, he was among the candidates for fighter of the year. Ultimately Juan Manuel Marquez received that distinction from THE RING but Donaire was bestowed the honor by the Boxing Writers Association. He accepted the award just days before his fight with Guillermo Rigondeaux.
There were rumors that Donaire’s camp wasn’t as good as it could have been. Looking back, Donaire agrees: “I didn’t want it hard enough. They studied the fight, they studied me and I didn’t do any study at all and I didn’t train to what I should.” That was evidenced in his rather flat performance. His best moment came in the tenth round when he dropped Rigondeaux, but aside from that the Cuban master boxer picked his shots extremely well, outpointing Donaire by scores of 116-111, 115-112 and 114-113.
Since the loss that saw “The Filipino Flash’s” record drop to 31-2 with 20 knockouts, the former three-weight world champion has taken time to spend with his newborn son and also had an operation to sort out a troublesome shoulder injury.
Now a refocused Donaire is ready to return, starting where, in many ways, it began for him: against Vic Darchinyan. The two met in the summer of 2007 at flyweight, and Donaire announced his arrival on the world stage in the most emphatic way he could, separating the previously unbeaten fighter from his senses with a huge left hand in what was recognized by THE RING as both the knockout and upset of the year.
With his 31st birthday looming, Donaire is keen to make an impression all over again, this time at featherweight. He believes Darchinyan’s strength can also be his biggest weakness: “He gets too eager, he wants to land his power punches and he gets set up with every trap you lay in front of him.”
Donaire-Darchinyan 2 is part of an HBO tripleheader from Corpus Christi, Texas, that will also see Mikey Garcia step up to junior lightweight where he’ll challenge Roman Martinez for the WBO title, and Vanes Martirosyan will meet Demetrius Andrade for the vacant WBO junior middleweight crown in a battle of unbeaten former Olympians. The show will air live on HBO Saturday at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT.
Nonito Donaire – The timing couldn’t be better. I’m recovering my ability to see the punches to enhance myself all over again, get back my boxing ability, my jab, just the basics I’ve lost through time.
AW – You’ve fought Darchinyan before so you know all about him, what does he bring to this fight?
ND – He’s going to try to be aggressive and I know that he has a lot of weight on his shoulders going in to this fight because of what has happened in the past to him. We’re not looking past him but Darchinyan’s always going to be Darchinyan, that’s how he’s going to be every time he goes into that ring.
AW – What do you see as his weakness?
ND – The same thing: He gets too eager, he wants to land his power punches and he gets set up with every trap you lay in front of him. That’s pretty much how Darchinyan is, he knows how to fight one way and that’s ‘be the Raging Bull.‘
AW – If I can take you back in April you lost to Guillermo Rigondeaux. Can you tell us about the fight?
ND – I didn’t want it hard enough. They studied the fight, they studied me and I didn’t do any study at all and I didn’t train to what I should. I trained hard – that was a mistake looking past my opponent but now we’re trying to recover everything, so I’m being smart and studying my opponents.
AW – How good would you say Rigondeaux was?
AW – I’ve faced people faster than him. He is indeed slick, that’s one thing that he has. Was he good? He was definitely good. He beat me but I want to see if he can do it again. That’s the question in my mind: If I’m 100 percent can he do it again? Is he that good, because that question is yet to be determined. Definitely he’s at the level where he’s champion.
AW – You said you’ve fought faster people than Rigondeaux?
ND – There’s guy who I’ve fought in the amateur’s who’re faster than him in the U.S that were faster. One of my sparring partners Vic Pasillas I sparred before for that fight was faster. In terms of speed there were guys who were faster but in terms of being slick he was on a high level.
AW – Going in you had a few things on your mind: the birth of your first-born child plus you had a shoulder problem.
ND – It’s amazing with my little guy, he’s an amazing kid. I look forward to seeing him every day. He watches me train.
The shoulder’s doing really well. We’re now able to throw power punches without worrying about hurting it. That’s another plus added to this fight: I don’t have to worry about the shoulder, I can throw it without pain. It’s been good.
When a fighter goes into the ring he should leave everything outside of the ring. When you’re inside that ring that’s what you should focus on, being your best.
AW – How do you feel about fighting at featherweight?
ND – I feel good with the division. I don’t have to worry about losing weight, at the same time I’m gaining all my speed back, I’m not sluggish, I can throw combinations, not just one punch. Its been great so far, I’ll test it out in a fight in terms of how I feel inside that ring.
AW – Can you tell us about growing up in the Philippines?
ND – I did go to the same school as Manny Pacquiao in General Santos City but we didn’t know each other. My mother was a teacher and one of her students was Buboy Fernandez, who’s Pacquiao’s right-hand man. There’s a little connection.
It was really tough growing up in General Santos City. Our neighbourhood was known as “The place of Thieves.” They’d be hiding away and in the back area is where they usually take people and take care of them and kill them.
Life was simple, we had to work for food. I got the chance to harvest rice in the rice fields but I only did it once or twice. There were a lot of things out there that were simple. They had a small village way of living where they dried fish so they had food if nothing comes in. It was something that I can remember and it makes me who I am and that‘s why I appreciate where I am and worked hard to get there. It was the way of living in the Philippines.
AW – How did you come to move to America?
ND – My grandfather was born in Hawaii, he was a U.S citizen. My father didn’t realize that so when he applied (for a U.S visa) he was an automatic citizen and when everything was done he was able to bring us in.
AW – What was your path into boxing?
ND – I was 9 years old when I arrived in America. It’s funny because I was always the kid who was bullied and made fun of. Boxing was nowhere near my thing. My father would watch boxing and I think Gatti was fighting, he was bloodied up and I was terrified and when he asked me I was like, ‘heck no.‘ A few months, maybe a year after I got into it, because my brother was a fighter so he would get all the attention and of course being young you want attention from your father as well. So I started boxing and when I started, well, I kept going.
AW – Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
ND – I would say my father because there was a time when I was an amateur and it was him I tried to please. I worked hard and I would win nationals. In terms of a fighter, I was based on Sugar Ray Leonard. He was my father‘s favorite fighter. My father influenced me to box and be better.
Cameron (Dunkin) is amazing. Cameron is like family to me, I would do anything for him. A lot of fighters at this level would manage themselves but I opted to be with Cameron no matter what. He’s good at what he does, there’s a loyalty and respect that we have, it’s amazing. Cameron’s been the best person I could have in the boxing world. He looks out for me. He’s an amazing man and he knows what to do out there; he‘s the best manager out there. I’m always grateful for what Cameron has done for my career before and in the future.
AW – What goals do you still have in boxing?
ND – I just want to keep winning these titles, as many as I can, division after division if I can. Keep mentally strong and keep winning from this point on. Eventually I’ll move up to 130 as well. I want to capture a title at 126 then move up to 130 and see from there and go for the big guys.
AW – Do you think you may peak at 130?
ND – If I don’t work out in terms of weight, it could be my top weight but I expect to take the supplements, protein, and do some weight training – I can go to 135, to 140. As you get older your body does get heavier. I think I can make that happen but at the same time we want to be safe.
AW – Could you give us your thoughts on each of the fighters ranked by THE RING magazine at featherweight…
C – Mikey Garcia – Mikey’s a very intelligent fighter, he deserves to be where he is. He’s not only a strong puncher, he’s an intelligent guy I got to hang out with Mikey in Mexico and I think as long as he has that desire to fight he’ll always be winning.
1 – Chris John – I’m not sure about Chris John, he’s been fighting for a long time, he’s not been beaten. I’m not too familiar with him but I did want to fight him this year – that was my goal but we couldn’t get that fight so they gave us Rigondeaux. We always want to aim for the high guys.
2 – Orlando Salido – Salido’s a very tough guy that’s always going to be him. He can take punches but he can go out there and do some damage and be a dangerous guy. He’s a tank when he goes out there. Fighters like me and Mikey don’t like those sort of fighters because they don’t go down!
3 – Jhonny Gonzalez – He’s been there awhile, he’s been up and down, he had a good coach, he has Nacho (Beristain) with him. He’s an intelligent guy but not only that, he has that power that can surprise you at any moment in time. He may be slower than some guys but he does have that power to land one punch like the Mares fight.
4 – Abner Mares – Mares has been there, he’s been tested, he’s fought everyone they’ve put in front of him and I think he’ll come back against Gonzalez and do a good job. Mares is easy to hit and at the same time Gonzalez is a good puncher. Mares deserves to be one of the top guys, one of the guys people want to fight, he’s fought his way there.
5 – Daniel Ponce De Leon – That fight with Mares was a tough fight. Mares kept catching him with that hook. He’s been there for awhile and he always comes back.
6 – Evgeny Gradovich – He’s an amazing guy, I’ve sparred him and I know who he is, he’s a friend of mine. He’s like an Energizer bunny – he just never stops punching and he’s a tough guy and he has the desire to be a top fighter.
7 – Billy Dib – I don’t know too much about him but I’ve heard a lot. I guess the fight with Gradovich was very close. He was the champion so deserves to be here and they’re going to have a rematch.
8 – Nicholas Walters – I’m not familiar with Nicholas Walters. I’ve never seen him fight but he is a champion and you cant have a champion far from the top ten.
9 – Javier Fortuna – I’m not familiar with Fortuna.
10 – Hozumi Hasegawa – Hasegawa is an amazing fighter, he just needs to stick to his gameplan and not get too overly aggressive. But he’s always going to be a contender because he knows how to fight. He’s a southpaw and he’s fought guys and has a history of being a champion.
AW – In closing, do you have a message for Vic Darchinyan?
ND – Just work hard. I want him to be at his best and may the best man win. Be ready, I’ll be ready and we’ll have a good fight.
Photos: Al Bello-Getty Images; Bob Levey-Getty Images; Naoki Fukuda ; Ethan Miller-Getty Images