It was November 2016 and Nonito Donaire had just lost an action fight to Jessie Magdaleno. With the loss, Donaire lost the WBO world junior featherweight title.
After walking out of the ring, few would think Donaire would ever fight, let alone win a world title belt. And doing so moving down a weight class.
No one gave Donaire much of a chance when he entered the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) bantamweight tournament in late 2018. He was a huge underdog going into the quarterfinal match against unbeaten Ryan Burnett of Northern Ireland. Donaire would win by knockout after Burnett suffered a back injury, requiring him to leave the ring on a stretcher.
Donaire was to then face Zolani Tete in the semi-final clash, but ended up facing Stephon Young after Tete had to withdraw from the fight after suffering an injury during training camp. Donaire dominated Young before ending matters in round 6.
A clash against WBA titleholder Naoya Inoue awaited Donaire in the WBSS. After the ‘Monster’ had decimated opposition in previous fights, it was expected Inoue was going to annihilate Donaire. Instead, Doniare fought one of the best fights of his career, overcoming a knockdown late and badly hurting Inoue in the earlier rounds.
That is Donaire for you. How can you not root for a fighter who leaves it all out in the ring? Name another fighter, up to now, who has given Inoue any trouble the way Donaire did.
But Donaire is more than just a fighter who gave Inoue his toughest fight to date. He has won world title belts in four different weight classes (112, 118, 122, and 126 pounds) and he does not look like he is slowing down.
Donaire may be 39, but he is fighting like someone who is 29 in the prime of his career.
One of the first fight cards I ever covered as a boxing scribe was a club show at the Hollywood Park Casino in Inglewood, California in June 2001. Donaire fought in a four-round bout, defeating Saul Santoyo by unanimous decision. It was his third fight as a pro.
Brother Glenn Donaire also fought on the card, scoring a knockout win over Manuel Noyola.
Over the next couple of years, the Donaire brothers would fight on cards in the Philippines, Nevada, and Southern California. He would sign with then-promoter Gary Shaw, before then signing with Top Rank. He is now promoted by Probellum, which is run by former Golden Boy CEO, Richard Schaefer.
What struck me anytime I watched Donaire was how naturally gifted he was, not just the dynamite left hook he would drop or end fights with. As the years past, Donaire looked more methodical in the ring, partly from moving up in weight.
In recent years, Donaire has done an excellent job with a training regimen that has gotten the best out of him. He looks stronger and has more energy.
Donaire looked excellent in defeating Nordine Oubaali by knockout on May 29, dropping him three times before ending matters in round 4.
In his last bout on December 11, which also took place at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, Donaire scored another knockout win in round 4, this time against Reymart Gaballo, who entered the bout unbeaten. Rather than use his check hook, Donaire had to work for the knockout, throwing lead right hands until a well-placed left hook to the body dropped Gaballo.
Not only is Donaire an excellent fighter, but he is a great ambassador for the sport. During the pre-fight press conference, Donaire was able to translate for Gaballo to the assembled media. After the fight, Donaire made it a point to help Gaballo out, if he needed it.
There is talk of a rematch between Donaire and Inoue for April, as first reported by BoxingScene’s Manouk Apokyan. If there is a fighter who is deserving of a rematch, Donaire is it. He is willing to risk his WBC world title in hopes of winning Inoue’s WBA and IBF titles.
Who knows when Donaire will finally retire, but he has done right in the boxing world, from pushing fighters to enroll full-time in VADA or attending fight cards and mingling with fans.
One thing for certain is never count Donaire out. There is still a lot Donaire can accomplish and a win over Inoue is certainly in the cards.
Francisco A. Salazar has written for BoxingScene since September 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (California) Star newspaper. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing