Nonito Donaire gets better in time
Nonito Donaire admits he doesn’t know much about challenger Reymart Gaballo, who “The Filipino Flash” will face Saturday night in his first defense of the WBC bantamweight title from the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, on Showtime (10pm ET/PT).
The 39-year-old Donaire (41-6, 27 knockouts) regained the 118-pound title with a fourth-round KO of Nordine Oubaali in May, becoming the oldest fighter to retain a bantamweight title in boxing history—doing so nearly nine years after his last 118-pound bout.
It’s what makes the future Hall of Famer Donaire special.
Donaire seems to be getting better in time. Gaballo (24-0, 20 KOs) is 25 years old and he’s also from the Philippines. He grew up watching Donaire as a kid—and he’s meeting the current face of Filipino boxing, Donaire, with the legendary Manny Pacquaio retiring earlier this year.
“I went into the (Nordine) Oubaali fight is I took away his strength, and it’s what I’ll do against Gaballo,” Donaire said. “I look at him as a little kid, because he was a little kid when he watched me on TV. I always felt I carried myself respectful to the Filipino people, and that’s always been special for me.
“To be honest, I never really thought of it as me fighting for my country. I always taken away what I have to represent myself the best way that I can. I don’t sense my status changing. Nothing has changed for me.
“All I can say is I can’t wait to get into the ring.”
Donaire is a living, breathing boxing Benjamin Button, the movie character who ages in reverse, growing younger instead of older.
“That’s me, that’s what my good friend Carl Frampton calls me, Benjamin Button,” Donaire said, laughing. “My stamina, my head, my mentality, that’s all better than I was when I was 22. Carl calls me ‘Benjamin Button,’ I’m reversing my age. I’ve learned and grown.
“I understand boxing far better than I used to. I like to say I have my black belt in boxing, because I use my experience and I see things that I didn’t see before in the ring.”
Donaire says his diet is far better, which in turn, has made him better. His wife, Rachel, had a role in that. He can see himself fighting in his early-40s and what’s driving him is to be the undisputed bantamweight champion.
“It’s the weirdest thing, as you get older, your stamina is not as great, but for me, my stamina is better than it was when I was 22,” Donaire said. “If I went back into time and faced the 22-year-old version of myself, I would win. This version, the 39-year-old version, would beat the 22-year-old.”
Donaire sparred with Angelo Leo in preparation for this fight.
“I know Reymart is a young kid who works hard, and I see him training all of the time,” Donaire said. “He’s a nice kid. I don’t really know too much about him, but what I do see, I see a lot of flaws that I can take advantage of. If I had a chance to talk to the younger version of me, I would tell myself that I have to realize how to use my experience.
“The fighter I am now is able to use that experience. Now, I’m calm and able to use everything I know in fights. I’m 39—and I’m only getting better. It’s tough to believe—but it’s true.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been working for Ring Magazine/RingTV.com since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on twitter @JSantoliquito.