LAS VEGAS – Nonito Donaire briefly believed that his career was over in the immediate aftermath of his second-round knockout loss to Naoya Inoue 13 months ago.
Inoue destroyed Donaire in a rematch of their action-packed, competitive bantamweight championship bout at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. The four-weight world champion dropped Donaire once apiece in the first and second rounds and recorded a stunningly swift win in their second encounter.
At 39, Donaire didn’t think he would box again. “The Filipino Flash” has won world titles in five divisions and had already competed at the sport’s top level a lot longer than he expected early in his career.
The deflating feeling Donaire experienced after his second loss to Inoue went away pretty quickly, though. The resilient Donaire decided soon thereafter to try to rejuvenate his career yet again.
“I actually had a meeting right after [the loss] with my team,” Donaire told BoxingScene.com. “And I said, ‘I’m done. I think this is it for me, guys.’ You know, then after a couple hours I realized that I think I can do better. You know? This fight proves whether this is my selfish desire to keep going or whether I still do have it. And this is the fight that will tell whether I keep going with this sport.”
The fight to which Donaire referred is scheduled for Saturday night on the Errol Spence Jr.-Terence Crawford undercard at T-Mobile Arena. The General Santos City native will meet Mexico’s Alexandro Santiago in a 12-round, 118-pound fight for the unclaimed WBC bantamweight title that Inoue (25-0, 22 KOs) relinquished to move up to the 122-pound division.
The 40-year-old Donaire (42-7, 28 KOs) is listed by most sportsbooks as less than a 2-1 favorite to beat Santiago (27-3-5, 14 KOs), whose lone loss in the past nine years was a debatable 10-round, majority-decision defeat to then-unbeaten Gary Antonio Russell (19-1, 12 KOs) in November 2021.
Donaire admitted that this challenging fight against a capable, durable, 27-year-old opponent will determine if he continues a Hall-of-Fame career that began in February 2001. His wife, Rachel, who trains Donaire and manages him, will give her husband an honest assessment afterward.
“My wife told me – we had a heart-to-heart conversation,” Donaire said. “She said, ‘I’m not disappointed. I’m not mad that you lost. But I don’t want to see that ever again. I don’t want to see you getting hurt or falling like that.’ And so, you know, in this fight, going into the training camp, I had asked her to give me another chance and said that, ‘If I don’t show up, you know, you have all the right to pull the plug on this career.’
“So, right now, my wife holds the key to me continuing or not, because I gave her my word that whether I show up or not, she has the right to pull it, if she thinks that I don’t got what it takes.”
Donaire-Santiago, which was pushed back two weeks to account for injuries sustained by Spence-Crawford undercard fighters, will be the second of three bouts broadcast by Showtime Pay-Per-View before Spence and Crawford fight for their four welterweight titles in the main event. The four-fight telecast costs $84.99 and is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. EDT (5 p.m. EDT).
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.