MANILA, Philippines – “Am I at this level, or am I at the elite level?”
That’s the question Nonito Donaire Jr asked publicly of himself at a press conference at Araneta Center on Monday, March 2. It’s probably a question he’s been asking himself privately for the last several months
The 32-year-old Filipino-American boxer will be seeking a rebirth to his career when he faces William Prado on March 28 at Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, Philippines. Speaking of the relatively unknown Brazilian, Donaire mistakenly called him Prada – momentarily confusing him with the luxury bag brand – and admitted that the bout is just the first step towards definitively answering that question.
“To show that is to be overwhelmingly victorious in this fight in every way,” said Donaire. “That will answer the question of whether Nonito Donaire is still capable of becoming world champion.”
Donaire (32-3-1, 21 knockouts) of San Leandro, California, will be fighting in his country of birth for the first time since his four-round knockout of Raul Martinez in 2009. It’ll also be the first time Donaire fights since the first knockout defeat of his career in October 2014, when he went down twice in a six-round loss to Nicholas Walters.
The loss prompted him to drop 4 pounds to the junior featherweight division, where he campaigned to win the 2012 BWAA Fighter of the Year award, and start anew.
“Physically and emotionally, it wasn’t hard to recover for me because I just kinda admitted defeat. And that was the easiest thing: admitting your defeat and realizing that you’re human. Now it’s time to rise and be better,” Donaire told Rappler.
“I’m thankful that my function is well, I can talk properly, nothing was really permanently damaged, and I got a second chance to do it again. And now, it’s time to take advantage of the time that I have, which is to learn.”
(READ: Donaire favors Pacquiao over Mayweather)
Prado (22-4-1, 15 KOs) is a significant step-down in class for Donaire, who had faced 12 straight world champions prior to this fight. In Prado’s two attempts to step up in class, he lost a decision to one future WBO bantamweight titleholder Paulus Ambunda in 2012 and was knocked out in three rounds by future WBA junior featherweight titleholder Scott Quigg in 2013.
Both Ambunda and Quigg won world titles in their next fights.
“I don’t know anything about him, really, except that he’s Brazilian,” conceded Donaire. “This is what they’ve given me and I said okay.”
Donaire Jr was not accompanied by his constant companions, wife Rachel and their son Jarel Michael. Rachel is currently back home in the US pregnant with their second son, whom they will name Jarel Logan.
Donaire says the couple has developed an affinity for the name Jarel as it stands for “Jun and Rachel’s everlasting love,” and the middle name Logan because that’s the government name of Donaire’s favorite X-Men character Wolverine.
“I’m a big Marvel fan, comics fan, animé fan, so I grew up with it, and that’s why… if I have another son, it will probably be Ronin,” said Donaire, who cites Bleach, Ninja Scroll, Fairy Tail and the boxing-themed show Hajime No Ippo as his favorite animé programs.
Accompanying him on his trip to the Philippines is father Donaire Sr, whom Donaire reunited with prior to his 2013 rematch with Vic Darchinyan after several years apart. Donaire Jr still ran his own show in the gym and refused to take his father’s advice to heart.
“Matigas ang ulo,” or hard-headed in English, Donaire Jr admits. “The prodigal son.”
“After we broke up a long time ago and then we came back together, I was just holding mitts for him. He hears me but he’s just like ‘Yes, yes,’” Donaire Sr expounds.
Donaire Sr says that he advised his son to use his superior speed and outbox the heavy-handed Jamaican Walters. Donaire Jr didn’t heed his advice and opted to trade punches instead, to his own detriment.
“After he got knocked out, we talked. He said ‘Dad I’m so stupid that I didn’t listen to you.’ That came from his mouth. Now he said it’s all your call. With his training, it’s been very, very different.”
Donaire Jr will finish up the week in Manila before flying to Cebu to train at the ALA Gym alongside RING magazine junior flyweight champion Donnie Nietes (34-1, 20 KOs), who will headline the March 28 show against Gilberto Parra, plus 122-pound prospect Albert Pagara (22-0, 15 KOs), who will face Rodolfo Hernandez (26-5-1, 24 KOs) in a twelve-round bout that night.
The fight will be promoted by ALA Promotions as part of their Pinoy Pride 30 event.
Donaire’s position in the 122-pound division remains to be seen. The division leader, RING junior featherweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux, already holds a 2013 decision victory over him, while the other titleholders Quigg and Carl Frampton remain unbeaten but untested outside of the United Kingdom.
“If they rank me enough and I do well enough that I’ve changed and got rid of the bad habits, then I’ll be ready for a title. But if I’m not ready for it yet because I have bad habits still, then I’d rather push another fight before the world title fight.”
What are his bad habits?
“I love to fight, man. When I get hit, I forget and I go to berserker mode. I go out there and I just want to hit something. This time, I get hit, and I re-think. I’m like, ‘Oh, okay, just be smart. I shouldn’t get hit with that.’ See that’s the mentality I want now and I’m doing that sometimes. It’s just that sometimes when I’m exhausted, I get hit and then I want to brawl. So that’s another bad habit that’s still coming out, lingering, and that’s something I need to get rid off.”
Donaire Jr knows better than anyone that a struggle against an unknown fighter would be devastating for his career and reputation. Anything less than a knockout on par with his flashes of brilliance against Fernando Montiel or in his first fight with Darchinyan will be criticized widely.
But he just may have the opponent in front of him to look at his best once more.
“Stay tuned to see if I still have a lot in me. And if not, time to hang up the gloves,” says Donaire Jr. “But if I do, you’ll see me for a very, very long time.” – Rappler.com
Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.
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