Nonito Donaire Jr. balances love of brawling with necessity to box
MANILA, Philippines – At 32 years old, Nonito Donaire Jr. is in a position he has scarcely found himself in. A four-division world champion, Donaire now finds himself as a contender once again, fighting to prove he still belongs among the elite.
“That’s life, that’s boxing. You win some, you lose some, unless you’re [Floyd] Mayweather,” Donaire Jr. says with a laugh as he cooled down after training at the ALA Gym in Cebu City, Philippines last week.
Donaire (34-3, 22 knockouts) is seeking his second straight win following a knockout loss to Nicholas Walters, which convinced him that 126 pounds wasn’t his best weight. Now campaigning at junior featherweight, Donaire meets Anthony Settoul (20-3, 8 KOs) on Saturday at the Venetian Resort in Macau, China.
Settoul, 28, of Clermont-Ferrand, France, is at or near the level of Donaire’s last opponent William Prado, whom the Filipino-American stopped in two one-sided rounds this past March. This will be Settoul’s first fight outside of Europe.
But the 10-round non-title fight will answer some questions, Donaire contends, both from himself and others.
“I’m still kind of gauging where I’m at. I’m still trying to reevaluate my skills, what I want to do,” admitted Donaire. “I think that my talent is at par with world champions. Not only the speed and power – I’m always going to be a dangerous fighter inside that ring – but I want to be able to know that I’m better than them. I don’t want to go inside that ring and say ‘This guy’s a tough guy, he might get me.’
“I wanna go inside the ring and say ‘You know what? I’m going to beat this guy, and I’m gonna win this fight.'”
The first time Donaire campaigned at 122 pounds, he ruled the division for a year, winning four title fights, capturing THE RING championship and the BWAA Fighter of the Year award for 2012 before losing to Guillermo Rigondeaux the following year.
Rigondeaux is still there holding THE RING, WBA and WBO titles, while Leo Santa Cruz holds the WBC variety and Carl Frampton the IBF claimant. Just below them – and rated by RING just above Donaire at No. 3 in the junior featherweight rankings – is Scott Quigg, whom Donaire seems to be heading towards a showdown with.
“It’s all roads leading to Donaire. That’s a huge fight and a name that Quigg is crying out for,” Joe Gallagher, who trains the Quigg (30-0-2, 22 KOs), told Sky Sports. Quigg, 26, of Bury, England, also fights on Saturday against former titleholder Kiko Martinez in Manchester.
Donaire’s been openly linked to a fight with Quigg since the Prado fight, but his goals are focused less on individual fights and more on restoring his image as a top fighter.
“I’m just thinking about being beyond those guys, whoever it may be, whether it be Rigondeaux, whether it be Frampton, it can be Santa Cruz, it can be Quigg. But I want to be able to say to myself that I’m better than those guys,” said Donaire.
To do so, Donaire has realized that he can’t stand in close and bang with fighters the way he did against smaller fighters in the flyweight and junior bantamweight divisions. He has to find a way to blend the mobile boxing that made him a top amateur fighter as a teenager and the punching power that earned two “Knockout of the Year” laurels from THE RING.
“All my life I fought like Mayweather or Sugar Ray Leonard, that’s my style amateur wise. Never get hit. It was just recently that I discovered that I have a great left hook,” said Donaire.
“That Arturo Gatti-type of fighting, I think that only lasts for a short time. We want to be in this game for a long time. I think I’m gifted with the eyes that I can see my opponent, and that’s one thing I gotta do.
“Part of it is you lose yourself or get distracted, you can make it happen at any moment in time. You face someone who’s smarter, slicker or stronger and it derails you. As long as your spirit itself doesn’t bury itself, then you can come back and be stronger.”
Donaire has been a champion; now he’s being reminded of what it’s like to start from square one. He hears the doubters and the jibes and knows he’ll have to prove that the desire to be a top fighter is still in him. The next step begins in Macau.
“When people say ‘Is Nonito Donaire still there?’ Do I still have it? That’s something they’ll find out,” said Donaire. “But at the same time I’m gonna just go out there and keep winning. And if they decide that I’m still elite, then I’m part of it. If they don’t then I’m gonna just keep winning.
Yang aims to become second Chinese champion
The main event of Saturday’s card in Macau will feature Ik Yang (19-0, 14 KOs), of Da Lian, China, meeting light-punching Argentine Cesar Rene Cuenca (47-0, 2 KOs) for the vacant IBF junior welterweight title.
The title was previously stripped from Lamont Peterson after he lost a non-title fight to Danny Garcia in April.
Yang, 30, has been training with Freddie Roach for several fights and is aiming to become the second Chinese fighter to win a pro boxing title after Xiong Zhao Zhong won the WBC strawweight title in 2012.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Zou Shiming fell short in his bid to accomplish that feat in March when he lost to IBF flyweight titleholder Amnat Ruenroeng.
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 [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.