By Jake Donovan
From his third pro fight to present day, the scouting report has read that Nonito Donaire has passed every test put in front of him.
These days, passing tests inside the ring is no longer enough for the current 122 lb. titlist. The goal is no longer to prove that he’s pound-for-pound the best fighter in the sport, but sample-for-sample its cleanest as well.
The Fil-Am star made major headlines earlier this month by agreeing to subject himself to random drug testing every day for the rest of his boxing career.
The visits won’t come just during training camp, or directly before and after a prize fight. For as long as he chooses to box professionally, Donaire is on standby to provide blood and urine samples whenever the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA) requires.
“VADA will be doing a 24/7/365 random test,” Donaire states of the testing he’s willing to undergo, the only stateside-based fighter in the sport to subject himself to such stringent demands. “Basically it can be any moment at any time they can be knocking at my door. I have to let them know where I will be and they will be knocking on my door.”
Meanwhile, Donaire’s goal remains lofty yet attainable – to knock on the door of boxing immortality.
A major titlist in three divisions (along with an interim title reign at 115 lb.), Donaire has skyrocketed towards the top of the pound-for-pound rankings. Most experts have him somewhere among the Top 5 in the sport today, with some rating only Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao ahead of the current 122 lb. beltholder.
Those closest to him have a slightly more biased viewpoint on that subject.
“He’s just a great fighter and possibly pound-for-pound the best fighter in the world. In my opinion he is,” insists Cameron Dunkin, manager extraordinaire who has been with Donaire’s career from the beginning. “As he grows in weight, he just gets better and better.
“Like Nonito and (his wife) Rachel told me, they hadn’t even started working on his body when he went to 122. He just went in there and he keeps winning. Now that he has taken time to work on his body and grow into the stronger weights, it’s going to be terrific – five, six, seven (division) titles when it all comes to an end.”
Three are in the books so far, with expectations going to at least 130 lb. as he continues to grow in weight. For now, Donaire and his team have set his sights on a 122 lb. division that has become overloaded with talent in recent times.
Several of the past few Fight of the Year recipients has taken place in this weight class. Included among the lot in more recent times are two of the four fights between Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez, the last two fighters to lay claim as the division’s lineal champion.
Donaire’s vacant title win over Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. earlier this year was the first step in Top Rank’s plans to renew that lineage. The horses are being lined up one by one, with the next stop being a unification bout. Donaire next appears in the ring on July 7, facing Jeffrey Mathebula of South Africa.
Both fighters are attempting the first defense of titles won earlier this year. Mathebula – who fights in the United States for the first time in his career – entered the title fray at age 33 after scoring a unanimous decision in his rematch with countryman Takalani Ndlovu this past March.
There were easier ways for each fighter to attempt to extend their respective reigns. Instead, they go after each other in believing the risk is well worth getting out of bed in the morning.
“It’s motivation and determination to working towards my goal,” Donaire says of what will be his first unification match.
The closest he’s come was knocking out Fernando Montiel, who was already a unified titlist at the time of their Feb. ’11 bout. The win was Donaire’s biggest since shocking the world five years ago in knocking out then-unbeaten Vic Darchinyan to begin his flyweight reign.
The win over Darchinyan will come five years to the day by the time he steps into the ring with Mathebula. Donaire is a long way from still qualifying as a breakthrough performer, but at least hopes to break new ground by the end of their double-title fight.
“To be a unified champion and then challenge anyone out there to make me undisputed is a dream that I have in place and looking forward to making that happen,” Donaire insists. “Like Bob said, there are incredible fighters in this weight class. We’re ready to take them. We have to be patient and hold on to the belts. First we have the IBF champion (Mathebula) and can’t look past him.”
Some of the closest members of his own team didn’t even want Donaire looking at Mathebula as a next opponent. From the moment he arrived in the division, the names Top Rank kept throwing around were all fighters under its promotional umbrella (Vazquez Jr., Jorge Arce) as well as those with whom the company enjoys a working relationship (Toshiaki Nishioka).
It’s not so much the risk that Mathebula (26-3-2, 14KO) poses as is the fact that there is greater reward to be gained by fighting some of the other names.
“I didn’t want to make this fight at first, I had someone else in mind,” Dunkin admits. “But I want to give him everything he wants and Bob (Arum) does too. Nonito wants to be great – he already is and wants to be greater. I want to do everything I can to make that possible.”
Even if that means for a multi-winning Manager of the Year to clutch his heart and reluctantly throw his kid in tougher than necessary.
“Mathebula is a very good fighter, we can’t look past him. Mathebula is a taller fighter and capable. Cameron is nervous right now,” Donaire states, revealing that the fight was on his insistence more so than his handlers. “He’s always looking out for his fighters. I wanted this fight. It creates that desire in me in train really hard. This is the first time I don’t know what to expect out there.”
A win by Donaire will keep the ball rolling for the plans Top Rank has in store. More importantly, the testing that will officially begin on July 8 – the day after the fight – will go a long way towards allowing boxing fans to breathe a sigh of relief that his past achievements won’t have to come with an asterisk.
With a recent rash of big name fighters in the sport testing positive for banned substances, Donaire recognizes the need for a hero to emerge.
“I’ve always decided to do something that everything I’ve done and that I’ve accomplished has come from working hard. I wanted to show honesty to my fans. I want to show that everything I have, I’ve got it on my own after starting with nothing. Hopefully everybody feels to show that they’re legit. But I’m doing it for myself and my fans.”
Whether or not his opponents choose to follow suit will be their own decision. What Donaire promises is that not only will he prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is clean, but that he will never leave a fight on the table over a disagreement on testing protocol.
“I don’t force anybody to do it. If they don’t that’s up to them. I invite them to do it, but it’s not necessary for them (to contractually do it), I’m always willing to fight even if they’re positive.
“I’m here to prove that I’m better than you.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox