While Nonito Donaire will turn 38 on Nov. 16, “The Filipino Flash” still harbors boxing goals even though he is already a tremendously accomplished fighter with a Hall of Fame resume in his 19th year as a professional.
Donaire has won world titles in four weight classes – flyweight, bantamweight, junior featherweight and featherweight – and held major unified titles at bantamweight and junior featherweight.
He authored a knockout of the year against Fernando Montiel in their bantamweight title fight in 2011. He was the widely picked as the 2012 fighter of the year after going 4-0 and unifying titles at junior featherweight.
During the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament he not only won another bantamweight title by stopping the injured Ryan Burnett but also engaged in the consensus 2019 fight of the year in the final, although he lost a highly competitive decision to a prime Naoya Inoue last November. Donaire got knocked down in the 11th round with a body shot but broke the heavily favored Inoue’s nose and orbit bone early in the bout and gave him easily the most difficult fight of his decorated career.
But rather that walking away from boxing on the high not of that loss with nothing else to prove, Donaire will return to challenge Nordine Oubaali, with whom he sparred in January 2019, for the WBC bantamweight world title on Dec. 12 in the main event of a Showtime-televised Premier Boxing Champions card at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut.
Winning yet another bantamweight world title, however, is not the end game for Donaire. He would love a rematch with Inoue as well as a chance to become the undisputed 118-pound champion.
But he also has designs on filling what he views as a gap in his deep resume. He wants to pursue a world title at junior bantamweight and said after the fight with Oubaali (17-0, 12 KOs), a 34-year-old French southpaw making his third title defense, he would like to drop down in weight and go for it.
Donaire (40-6, 26 KOs), of Las Vegas, was a dominating flyweight champion before vacating his title and moving up to junior bantamweight in 2009. In his first bout in the 115-pound division Donaire won a unanimous decision against Rafael Concepcion to claim an interim title. But Donaire could not get the opportunity to fight for a fill world title in the division and elected to move up to bantamweight in 2010.
While Donaire said he could also move back up to junior featherweight and featherweight, and even perhaps even go as high as junior lightweight, he has not forgotten how he did not have an opportunity to win a full junior bantamweight world title.
“I still want to go back down to 115 and get a title there and then go up to 130. I can do that,” Donaire told BoxingScene.com. “When I was weighing in at the last fight with Inoue I was 117.5 but I had to drink a little bit of water because I was 116. So I don’t have a problem making that (115-pound) weight. I would want to stamp that fifth division. The only reason I couldn’t get that before was because everybody was running away from me at 115 and I couldn’t get the title.
“It’s something I can do and something I want to do. After that I can say I am a five-division champion and then go up to 130 afterwards. My wife (and manager Rachel Donaire) is looking at me crazy right now. I’m getting that look right now. She’s telling me no 130.”
A move next year to junior bantamweight is far more likely he said. The division is stocked with talent, including world titleholders Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada, Kazuto Ioka and fellow Filipino Jerwin Ancajas, as well as former world champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai.
But if Donaire could pick just one of them to fight, however, he said it is an easy call. He would go for fellow smaller-weight all-time great Gonzalez, a four-division world champion and also a surefire International Boxing Hall of Famer.
“I think that would be a great fight with Roman,” Donaire said. “And you have a lot of guys there that are incredible. I’ve seen them fight. I do look at those fights and I enjoy those fights. The little guys are incredible fighters. We just go in there and tee off with each other. All of that can happen, but right now the main focus is Oubaali."
Richard Schaefer of Ringstar Sports, who promotes Donaire, said he was very pleased to be able to line up Donaire’s title shot against Oubaali, whom he used to promote, but believes there are more notable fights for him to come.
“What Nonito Donaire deserves at this stage of his career is to get the fights where he can make the most money and we are not afraid to fight anyone at 118, 122 and 126. And if the right opportunity comes up, Nonito told me even at 130 pounds,” Schaefer said. “For example, a Leo Santa Cruz at fight at 130 isn’t something Nonito would shy away from. So there are a lot of big names between 118 and 130 and we are going to see what are the fights that make him the most money, and what are the fights that are most attractive to the fans, which are usually the ones that make the most money.
“Many of those big names (between 118 and 130) are under the PBC umbrella so these fights would be relatively easy to make. I have talked to (PBC boss) Al (Haymon) about it and Nonito is a legend. Who from these guys wouldn’t want to fight a legend?”
Dan Rafael was ESPN.com's senior boxing writer for fifteen years, and covered the sport for five years at USA Today. He was the 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism.