Saturday, September 23, 2023  |


Donaire still trying to take the next step

Fighters Network

Nonito Donaire seems to be the next Filipino star in waiting  and waiting  and waiting.

Donaire took a giant step in that direction when he knocked out then-unbeaten Vic Darchinyan with one mighty punch in the summer of 2007. Since then, though, the Philippines-born Californian has struggled to stay relevant.

He has won each of his four fights post-Darchinyan, including three by KO, but none of his opponents was well known and he generally hasn’t had large audiences.

Naturally, Donaire has been frustrated. At the same time, he said he used the time to sort out some issues and is confident his time will come. “I see it as a blessing,” he said. His manager, Cameron Dunkin, who certainly believes in his fighter, isn’t as positive.

“It looked like he was going to break out after he drilled Darchinyan,” said Dunkin, who works many top fighters and prospects out of Las Vegas. “All of his fights have been against opponents nobody cares about. We’ve been talking the past few weeks, me, Nonito, (his wife) Rachel. It’s almost to the point where we just gotta jump up in weight so he can get fights.

“Maybe he can get on some real TV, HBO, Showtime, if he fights at a higher weight. If he stays at 115, it’s going to be hard.”

Donaire is making a decent living. He faces another relative unknown, Gerson Guerrero, as part of the Pinoy Power card Saturday in Las Vegas, his second appearance on the Top Rank pay-per-view series geared toward Filipino fans (and his fourth consecutive small pay-per-view show produced by his promotional company).

That’s just not what he and Dunkin imagined when Darchinyan fell 2¾ years ago. So what prevented him from soaring? A number of things.

One is the dearth of big-name fighters at and near Donaire’s weight and the big networks traditional reluctance to televise little fighters. Aside from Darchinian and maybe Jorge Arce, what 115-pounder is going to pique the interest of television executives?

Donaire also has become a miniature version of Paul Williams, an oversized and talented terror who will be extremely difficult for anyone to beat. He wanted to fight Arce early last year but the exciting Mexican chose to face Darchinyan instead and was stopped in 11 rounds.

“That would’ve really helped Nonito,” Dunkin said. “He would’ve beaten the heck out of him and then we could’ve gone after (bantamweight Fernando) Montiel. And from there we could’ve moved up to bigger weights and faced guys like Abner Mares.”

Duncan also said the fact Donaire hasn’t fought on the undercard of any Pacquiao fight, which is Top Rank’s call, has been frustrating.

Donaire would get invaluable television exposure in front of an enormous audience in the Philippines and among Filipino-Americans, perhaps setting him up to become Pacquiao’s successor as the leading Filipino fighter. Instead, Dunkin said, Donaire is known mostly by serious boxing fans.

“We brought him over to talk to Golden Boy (Promotions) and Top Rank when we were looking for a promoter,” Dunkin said. “Golden Boy had no interest but Bob (Arum of Top Rank) was elated about him. He was excited. He said when Pacquiao leaves, this’ll be the guy. He won’t be Pacquiao but he’ll be bigger than s—. He has everything — a great kid, a great smile, he speaks well, he can box, he can punch. And he’ll grow in size and win several belts. They were so excited. The excitement isn’t there anymore.

“ÔǪ I think it’s a no brainer to put him (on Pacquiao’s cards). You have that whole nation’s attention for three hours. What would be wrong having him fight just before Manny? Let all the Filipinos see him. They’ll fall in love with him.”

Donaire will remain at 115 for now in hopes of making a lucrative rematch with Darchinyan, who apparently wants a chance to avenge his first setback.

Dunkin said that fight probably wouldn’t take place until August for lack of earlier television dates and the fact Darchinyan fights next month. That would mean Donaire, assuming he beats Guerrero, would have to wait six months to fight again even though he’d rather be more active and move up in weight.

However, the exposure he’d get for that fight is a powerful incentive to stay at junior bantamweight a while longer. And there’s another reason.

“He’s been mouthing off the last few years,” Donaire said. “It would be sweet to beat him again.”

And then he would probably move up in weight.

Donaire said he could see himself going as high as 130 pounds, which isn’t farfetched because he walks around at about 135. That would open the door to many possibilities for Donaire. Among those mentioned: Montiel (with whom Donaire has had talks), Mares, Israel Vazquez and even Juan Manuel Lopez.

And, it seems, he’ll be ready for whatever happens. His father, Nonito Donaire Sr., with whom he butted heads in recent years, no longer works his corner. He is trained by Jonathan Penalosa and also has prepared for this fight with Robert Garcia, the fast-rising trainer from Oxnard, Calif.

Donaire seems to be at peace with himself and his career. He thinks this could be his year.

“I want the people to see the best of Nonito Donaire,” he said. “That’s why I’ve brought in the best trainers. I’m learning a lot, everything I can. That’s what Robert has said about me — I always want to learn. I want to be the best I can be. I think people will see that this year.”

Dunkin has his fingers crossed.

“If he keeps winning, eventually he’ll get his chance,” he said. “All he needs is a chance.”

Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]