Tuesday, March 21, 2023  |



Resurgent Nonito Donaire is finally embraced in the Philippines



CEBU, Philippines – There had never been any dispute regarding Nonito Donaire’s place among the best fighters below lightweight over the past decade, but his relationship with Filipino boxing fans had always been a complicated one.

Perceived as being more Americanized than the Philippines’ favorite son Manny Pacquiao (despite being born and raised in the province of Bohol and speaking the Visayan dialect fluently), Donaire had blazed his own path.

Two weeks after Pacquiao brought down the curtain on his 21-year career, Donaire stared out into the grandstand of the Cebu City Sports Center and the more than 20,000 screaming fans occupying it for his match against Zsolt Bedak.

The crowd roared in anticipation of his fight. He was their guy now.

“It was an emotional thing. I felt their energy and their love and I wanted to cry. That feeling of just emotion running through me,” said Donaire (37-3, 24 knockouts).

None of the vulnerability he had shown in his previous fight, a WBO junior featherweight title win against Cesar Juarez last December, was evident against Bedak. Donaire appeared lightning quick, landing counterpunches with both hands whenever Bedak opened up.

The 32-year-old Hungarian was bruised and bleeding from the mouth by Round 2, tasting not only his blood but the canvas – twice – in that round courtesy of left hook counters. The fight was essentially over by then, with an overhand right in Round 3 producing the final knockdown.

“Bedak is a tough guy, they had a good game plan going on but they mistook my power,” said Donaire, a four-division champion and the 2012 BWAA Fighter of the Year. “They think they could’ve taken it but no, my power proved otherwise that I was a lot stronger and he couldn’t take it.”

Despite the win, Donaire still feels he has room for improvement. He admitted afterwards that he took more punches against Bedak in three rounds than he would have wanted to, and says he was rocked momentarily by a right hand. Still, it’s a start he says. He feels he’s found his old versatile boxer-puncher style after relying on his trademark left hook and athleticism in recent years.

He’s even confident that a rematch with Guillermo Rigondeaux – who outboxed him to a momentum-killing decision in 2013 – would be different now.

“It’s definitely different. You saw the speed, you saw the footwork, you saw the jab. I didn’t have those when we fought,” said Donaire. “I didn’t have strength when I fought him, all I had was a left hook, I didn’t even have an uppercut.”

Donaire wasn’t specific about whom he’d like to face next, knowing that promotional politics play a role in this division as it does in virtually every division. Donaire names Rigondeaux, IBF titleholder Carl Frampton, WBC titleholder Hugo Ruiz, and Top Rank stablemate Jessie Magdaleno, but admits it isn’t entirely his call.

“I’m always willing to fight anybody. Frampton, Rigondeaux, Ruiz and Magdaleno as well. That’s Top Rank’s job to make it happen,” said Donaire.

“We’re not sitting on this throne for a long time by fighting a B and C guys, we’re fighting the elite guys.”

And about carrying the flag as one of two current reigning Filipino boxing champions in the post-Pacquiao era? No pressure at all.

“I would love to fight in the Philippines. There’s no pressure in terms of holding on the flag. All I gotta do is train hard, win and that’s pretty much my agenda.”


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.