By Jake Donovan
Make no mistake, Nonito Donaire was already a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame even before he agreed to enter the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament.
The fact that he joined the eight-man field and is now in the finals only adds to his incredible career.
Donaire’s tournament run has been bizarre, but the Fil-Am star has simply chosen to make lemonades out of the lemons fate continues to hand him. A freak back injury forced previously unbeaten and exiting titlist Ryan Burnett to bow out in the 4th round of their quarterfinals clash last November in Glasgow, Scotland.
The bout was Donaire’s first at bantamweight since 2011, when he violently knocked out Fernando Montiel to win the crown and then settled for an awkward 12-round decision over a disinterested Omar Narvaez.
His second fight back at the weight proved far more emphatic, scoring a highlight reel 6th round knockout of Stephon Young. The pairing came about when Young agreed to step in for an injured Zolani Tete, who withdrew earlier in the week due to tendinitis suffered in his left shoulder.
Young was already due to fight on the undercard and was more than willing to accept what was supposed to be a career-changing opportunity. What he was instead left with was a career-altering knockout defeat, with Donaire (40-5, 26KOs) connecting on a sweeping left hook to put the southpaw down and out for the night.
With the win, the four-division and two-time bantamweight titlist now looks to May 18 for his next opponent in the WBSS finals. Joining him will be the winner of the upcoming semifinals clash between undefeated bantamweight titlist Emmanuel Rodriguez and unbeaten pound-for-pound king Naoya Inoue.
Forever a badass, Donaire doesn’t even bother to hide his desire to sprint towards the toughest challenge the bantamweight division has to offer.
“I have all the respect in the world for Naoya Inoue, for both guys really,” admits Donaire. “I know both guys are amazing. There was an unspoken respect between me and Inoue that we’re going to the finals. It was always important for me to get to the finals.”
Inoue (17-0, 15KOs) can relate to Donaire’s fighting heart. He claimed the junior flyweight title with a 6th round knockout of then-titlist and divisional top-ranked Adrian Hernandez in just his 6th pro contest. Two fights and less than nine months later came his second major title, annihilating long-reigning top 115-pound boxer Omar Narvaez.
His arrival onto the bantamweight scene began with a 1st round knockout over former 118-pound titlist Jamie McDonnell last May, a fight which already came with his intentions to enter the WBSS bantamweight tourney. He arrived in style, knocking out former champ Juan Carlos Payano in just over a minute to launch season two.
Given his career achievements and overall skillset, it makes perfect sense that Inoue is the odds-on favorite to run the tables in the bantamweight bracket.
It also makes perfect sense for Donaire to openly embrace such a challenge.
“I’ll be supporting (Inoue) to get to the finals so that we can face off. I’ll be there.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox