By Ryan Maquiñana
Blood is thicker than water. In Nonito Donaire Jr.’s case, it was voluminous enough to permeate his subconscious.
In September, the reigning BWAA Fighter of the Year tossed and turned restlessly in his Las Vegas bed, and it was not because the first-time father was awoken by the cries of his newborn son Jarel.
Rather, Donaire dreamt of his own dad, who lived 542 miles away in the East Bay city of San Leandro, Calif. While Jarel was only a couple of heartbeats away from the warm embrace of his father, distance -- and a strained relationship -- separated Nonito from his.
“I had a dream, and my father was in it,” Nonito Jr. told BoxingScene.com/CSNBayArea.com before Saturday night's rematch with Vic Darchinyan in Corpus Christi, Tex. “It was weird, especially because of whether things were between us at the time, but also since I was a new father myself.”
The conflict between Nonito Sr. and his namesake son has been well-documented in the Philippines, where the Donaires lived until “Jun” (short for Nonito Jr.) and his older brother Glenn approached their teenage years. As they grew into their own physically, Nonito Sr.’s two boys showed promise in the squared circle; Glenn was dubbed “The Filipino Bomber,” and Jun “The Filipino Flash.”
The siblings were talented enough to advance to the U.S. Olympic Trials as amateurs, and as pros, both made it to world-title level. Glenn gave valiant efforts in two unsuccessful attempts at a belt (with one such challenge against Darchinyan), while Nonito Jr. attained revenge by flattening Darchinyan in 2007 for a piece of the flyweight championship.
However, Nonito Jr. began to chafe at his dad’s disciplinarian methods, and the divergence was further exacerbated when Nonito Sr. did not immediately warm to Rachel Marcial, whom Jun began to date and would later marry.
When Nonito Jr. announced in late 2009 that he had hired Robert Garcia as his new cornerman, the schism was just about complete between father and son. Soon, the Filipino media began to pick sides, and it appeared that the Fighting Donaires were more focused on combat outside the ring than in it.
“It was just a tough time,” Nonito Jr. said. “We just weren’t getting along anymore. Our differences were too much at the time, and we were bad-mouthing each other.”
But this story has a happy ending, and it required the participation of all the aggrieved parties. When Jun informed Rachel about his dream, the couple conversed about its meaning and concluded that it was a sign to finally mend the family fences.
The addition of baby Jarel also lent his parents some time for reflection. With Jun so enveloped in being a model father, he began to have empathy for the void felt by Nonito Sr. Ironically, the elder Donaire was missing a son who was enjoying the early stages of fatherhood himself.
“I was telling everybody that I put my hands out like mitts sometimes to the baby,” Nonito Jr. said, “and the baby’s already got some powerful hands. I was thinking maybe that’s because of all the pride that comes with being a fighter in our family, whether it was from my dad or my brother or me. Seeing Jarel made me think of me and my dad.”
As a result, Rachel – who has also tasted success in combat sports as an accomplished taekwondo champion -- took the initiative, starting with an impromptu flight that took Nonito Sr. from the East Bay to Las Vegas.
“It was really Rachel,” Nonito Jr. said. “She took it upon herself to call my dad and brought up flying him out here the week of the (Floyd) Mayweather fight (against Canelo Alvarez), but she didn’t tell me about it until the day before it happened. All of a sudden, she was like, ‘Your dad is coming tomorrow.’ I was surprised, but I was OK with it.”
Once face-to-face, they hashed out their differences and, at long last, turned the page on a book that appeared doomed to end with enough animosity to rival the Ewings of “Dallas” fame.
"I asked (Jun and Rachel) to forgive and forget what happened in the past,” Nonito Sr. told Solar Sports’ Dennis Principe in an interview translated from Tagalog. “They also said they were sorry, but this time, our whole family was really happy that everything was sincerely repaired between us now.”
The reunion did not mark the first occasion the Donaires attempted to assuage the pain. In March 2011, father and son hoped to resolve their issues, but the meeting was more akin to a ceasefire than a rekindling of familial bonds. But in September, both sides truly began to lay down the foundation for something more genuine.
“The last time when we tried to reconcile, everybody was pointing a finger at everybody,” Nonito Jr. said. “You did this, I did that … but this time, we just were like, ‘You know what? Let’s not talk about the past. Let’s just move on and be a better family, and be a better father and son.”
Now Nonito Sr. not only can carry his infant grandson with pride, but he has also returned to be a part of his son’s corner—just in time for Jun’s rematch Saturday night with Darchinyan (39-5-1, 28 KOs).
“When we met, that’s when he told me he wanted me back in boxing with him,” Nonito Sr. said. “I really got goosebumps when I heard that from him.”
The younger Donaire (31-2, 20 KOs) has welcomed his father’s return in camp, which took place for the first time in Garcia’s stronghold in Oxnard, Calif.
“He’s been helping with working the mitts, and it’s like we picked up where we left off,” Nonito Jr. said of his father. “There are a few muscles that I kind of forgotten to use with my speed, but it’s all coming back now, especially how I use my distance in the ring and with the timing we used to have together.”
Perhaps Jun can impart that knowledge to Jarel one day.
“Boxing might be in his genes,” Donaire said of his infant son. “When I train, he just gets quiet and stares at me, like he’s observing how I train. I don’t know if I want him to be a boxer -- probably not -- but if he wants to do it, I guess I’m going to have to train him well.”
Like father, like son.
Ryan Maquiñana was the boxing producer for NBCOlympics.com during London 2012 and writes a column for CSNBayArea.com. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Ratings Panel for Ring Magazine. Email him at [email protected], check out his blog at Norcalboxing.net, or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.