When Nonito Donaire is quizzed where he was on July 7, 2007, a night he was a heavy underdog in his first world title fight, he immediately remembers.
“That’s the day I knocked out Vic Darchinyan,” Donaire says without thinking twice.
Over the last dozen years, Donaire has faced and beaten some of boxing’s best that were thrown his way, including the much-feared Darchinyan that summer night, a knockout of the year winner and the first big win of his career that officially put him on the map.
Donaire will find himself in the same position Thursday as he did twelve years ago, already having secured what should be a Hall of Fame resume in between.
Much like Darchinyan was the dodged knockout master he ended up conquering, the Filipino fighter will step into the ring against Naoya Inoue, another heavy-handed man who’s earned the moniker of the “Monster” for his highlight-reel exploits.
The underdog Donaire is confident he will re-introduce himself on the big stage and continue resurrecting his career at the age of 37.
“I’m at the level and mindset where I feel strong, youthful and very confident. I not only have the hunger but the experience now too,” Donaire told BoxingScene.com in an interview. “I’ve never left. I am as dangerous as I was 10 years ago. I’m as as scary as I was 10 years ago, and that’s something that I will showcase against the Monster. He doesn’t fear me. With my ability and work ethic, and now experience, I can go even further.”
Donaire (40-5, 26 KOs), the WBA bantamweight champion, and Inoue (18-0, 16 KOs), the IBF crownholder, will also be fighting for the Ali Trophy as part of the final of the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan on Nov. 7. The bout will stream on DAZN beginning at 5 a.m. ET.
Four years after defeating Darchinyan, Donaire scored another knockout of the year winner when he decapitated Fernando Montiel with one punch, winning the WBO and WBC bantamweight titles. After forays all the way up to featherweight, Donaire dropped back down to 118 before the beginning of the tournament (soon after he dropped a decision to Carl Frampton) because he feels he carries his power better as a bantamweight.
In five fights in the division, Donaire is undefeated with 3 KOs.
Donaire said that he hasn’t felt the rigors or strain of sizing down while training under the guidance of Kenny Adams at City Boxing in Las Vegas over the last two years.
“He’s allowed me to fight my way, and offered advice here and there of what’s important. He lets me be me,” said Donaire, who is also co-trained by his father, Nonito Sr. “You go with your experience and understand your body. Physically, I’m very strong. It’s never a physical thing when you burn out. It’s more of a mental thing. Whenever I get into zombie mode, it’s because I’m over training, so I take a step back and stop sparring or training for a couple of days. I know what to do at this point to get myself in peak form.”
Since resuming his career as a bantamweight as part of the WBSS, Donaire has found the fountain of youth, stopping Ryan Burnett in 2018 for the WBA title he currently owns, and viciously knocking out Stephon Young with his customary left hook earlier this year.
“I’m always adapting to situations, but 118 is the weight class I’m most comfortable and dangerous in,” said Donaire.
If Donaire dismantles Inoue, he will bookend his career with two improbable upsets and officially complete one of the more fascinating resurrections any fighter has enjoyed of recent memory.
Manouk Akopyan is a sports journalist and member of the Boxing Writers Assn. of America since 2011. He has written for the likes of the Guardian, USA Today, Philadelphia Inquirer, Men’s Health and NFL.com and currently does TV commentary for combat sports programming that airs on Fox Sports. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.