“The Filipino Flash” Nonito Donaire continued to defy father time Saturday night by beating a fellow countryman 14 years his junior who grew up idolizing him.
The 39-year-old Donaire defended his WBC bantamweight title for the first time by knocking out Reymart Gaballo at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif. The fight was televised as the main event on Showtime Championship Boxing.
Donaire, wearing leggings, got off to a slow start on a chilly 50-degree night, but picked up prolifically by landing a perfect and paralyzing left hook to the body of Gaballo.
Gaballo got up before the count of ten but again took a knee once he stood up and referee Roay Corona waved off the fight with one second left in the fourth round.
Donaire (42-6, 28 KOs) outlanded Gaballo (24-1, 20 KOs) in punches 38 to 35. Thirteen of the punches were to the body, and none more important than the final blow to the liver.
“I've been in this game for such a long time and I've had so many fights, I didn't think I was going to have to feel him out. But he came out differently than I thought he would. He tried to nullify my left hook, but I just had to have no mercy,” said Donaire.
"My wife and my dad were telling me to go to the body. I had to set it up by bouncing up and down to open up that shot. I was throwing the right hand in the earlier rounds and then he didn't expect the left hook to the body.”
Gaballo possessed tremendous power but Donaire walked right through his countryman’s offense from the beginning, including a right uppercut in the first round. Seconds later Donaire countered with a crisp right hand.
A timid second round featured two meaningful right hands by Donaire, and a late combination by Gaballo to close the round.
Gaballo landed a big right hand that forced Donaire to find his footing for a moment in the opening minute of the third round but didn’t follow up on it. In the closing seconds, Donaire fired off a flurry of punches. As Gaballo returned to the corner, a small cut had developed near his right eye.
Donaire’s signature punch has been a lethal left hook throughout his entire career, but he kept firing off and landing the right again to start the fourth. Shortly thereafter Donaire reeled off a right hand, only this time to the body.
Then he unearthed his vicious left hook, and the one-punch blow marked the end of the fight.
"I thought he was going to get up because I know he has a lot of heart, but that was a tremendous punch that landed. I just told him after the fight not to be down. Because he's a great fighter. I had trouble figuring him out and I'm here to help him with anything he needs the rest of his career,” said Donaire.
Gaballo didn’t let the moment of fighting his hero get too big for him in a losing effort. He was the busier boxer by throwing 170 punches compared to 136 by Donaire.
Heading into the fight, the ageless wonder Donaire had boxed 293 rounds and fought 18 world champions compared to 73 rounds and one titleholder by Gaballo.
Donaire has resurrected his career at 118 pounds after fighting at 126 till 2018. Donaire is a four-division champion at 115, 118, 122 and 126 pounds and surely will be a Hall of Fame fighter once he retires.
The oldest bantamweight champion in boxing history improved to 13-1 in the weight class.
"I'm able to keep fighting at this age because I just have faith in myself and have a lifestyle that's good for me. There is no such thing as a cheat day. It's a choice day, and it's my choice to train and to be me,” said Donaire.
Donaire was facing his third straight undefeated fighter. In his last fight, which took place at the same venue in May, Donaire destroyed Frenchman Nordine Oubaali via fourth-round knockout.
In the fight before that, Donaire lost a competitive and spirited unanimous decision to Naoya Inoue in the 2019 fight of the year. The current WBA and IBF bantamweight champion Inoue (21-0, 18 KOs) is one of the sport's top pound-for-pound fighters, much like the 2012 fighter of the year Donaire was in his prime.
Donaire is seeking another date with Inoue in 2022 with hopes of unifying the division. Inoue will fight the unheralded Aran Dipaen on Tuesday.
"It's my team's job to work on the rematch with Nayao Inoue. I believe my team is going to make it happen,” said Donaire.
Donaire is tied to upstart boxing promotion Probellum, which is headed by Richard Schaefer. Inoue is signed with Top Rank, Donaire’s former promoter. When Donaire and Inoue met in 2019, neither fighter was tied to their current promotional company, and the two fighters met in the finals of the World Boxing Super Series tournament.
Another potential dance partner for Donaire could be yet another fellow Filipino in WBO titlist John Riel Casimero (31-4, 21 KOs). Casimero was forced out of his title defense Saturday against Paul Butler prior to the weigh-in citing a battle with gastritis. Casimero has ten days to show medical proof of his inability to fight or he may be stripped of his title.
Casimero and Donaire were on a collision course to fight earlier this summer but their announced fight was scrapped after Donaire was dissatisfied with Casimero’s enrollment in VADA.
Manouk Akopyan is a sports journalist, writer and broadcast reporter. He’s also a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and MMA Journalists Association. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan, via email at manouk[dot]akopyan[at]gmail.com or on www.ManoukAkopyan.com