Friday, August 7, 2009

Nonito Donaire Has a Vision of the Future

Training for next weekend's pay-per-view fight in Las Vegas, Nonito Donaire is only looking forward.

The first time I saw Nonito Donaire in person was on a cold December night back in 2007 at the Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut.

Donaire weighed all of 111-pounds on that night. He told me that in order to boil his body down to the flyweight limit he had lost 29-pounds in the weeks leading up to his first title defense against the always tough Luis Maldonado. He would stop Maldonado in eight one-sided rounds after Charlie Dwyer, who I figured must be a sadist in referee's clothing, finally decided to step in and call a halt to a fight that Donaire had dominated.

Since then, little Nonito Donaire has grown – and not just in the literal sense. No longer able to squeeze his body into a flyweight sized suit, the 26-year-old is moving three pounds north to the super-flyweight division as he is currently readying himself to take a shot at Panama's Rafael Concepcion for the interim WBA title. The fight will take place next weekend at the Hardrock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and will be televised on pay-per view as “Pinoy Power 2” by Top Rank.

On Thursday afternoon, Donaire spoke with several boxing writers on a conference call and one got the sense right away that “The Filipino Flash” sees himself, and his boxing future, in more grandiose terms than he did just a couple of years ago. The 112-pound division is forever in his rear view mirror as he claimed it would be very difficult for him to ever make the flyweight limit again because “the weight now is very difficult to shed.”

On the day this picture was taken, Donaire and his opponent, Luis Maldonado, each weighed-in at 111-pounds on the button.

But aside from his weight, and perhaps more importantly, Nonito Donaire now seems to have a larger vision for himself and for his future. He wants to be part of the big picture in the world of boxing and he seems to have finally gotten to a place in his personal and professional life where he realizes that anything is possible.

Where just a couple years ago stood a sometimes timid, almost boyish wall-flower, now stands a confident young man who has blossomed into a colorful force in the lighter weight divisions.

The last year or so has brought a host of changes for Donaire and they have all been at his direction. Gone is former promoter Gary Shaw, replaced by Bob Arum's Top Rank. Also absent from his camp is his father who had trained him since the very beginning. His father's duties have been assumed by fellow countrymen and boxing brothers Dodie “Boy” and Gerry Penalosa. The close relationship he once had with his father is, at least for now, not much of a relationship at all. An important addition to his life has been his wife Rachel, a stunning beauty and tae kwan do aficionado who has his back at every turn.

With all of his ducks finally in a row, Donaire, who is riding an eight-year unbeaten streak, figures now is his moment to shine. He willingly shares the bright Philippine boxing spotlight with arguably the most famous active fighter on the planet in Manny Pacquiao, and he is happy for the attention that Pacquiao has brought to him and to all Philippine fighters.

“I'm very thankful for his achievements and everything that Pacquiao has done,” said Donaire. “We're so overwhelmed with everything that he has done, he's a great champion.”

Since aligning himself with Top Rank in 2008, Donaire has made two successful title defenses. He scored an impresive 11th round knockout win over South African Moruti Mthlane this past November. But in what was likely his most impressive performance since he splashed onto the scene with a shocking one-punch knockout win over Vic Darchinyan at the Harbour Yard Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. in 2007, he fought in Manila in April and garnered an electric fourth-round stoppage win over the previously undefeated Raul Martinez.

Donaire said the “flow around me” of fighting in front of his Filipino countrymen in the Araneta Coliseum, which is the same arena in which Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier waged “The Thrilla' in Manila” way back in 1975, elevated his game.

“We trained really hard for that fight,” said Donaire. “I was in the best possible shape and I was really motivated by the fifteen thousand or seventeen thousand people that supported me. That really motivated me.”

The capable Cameron Dunkin manages and advises Donaire and it's a relationship that has helped the young fighter navigate the murky waters outside the ring. “I trust him one-hundred percent,” says Donaire. “I know he has my best interests at heart.”

Although Donaire sees big things for himself down the boxing road, he is careful not to allow his visions to blur reality. “I'm not looking past Concepcion,” he cautions. “He is a tough guy with a lot of heart and he can take a punch. I think I'm in for a good fight with Rafael. I'm training the best that I can and preparing for whatever he comes at me with. I didn't have any tapes on him until yesterday and I've only seen a few clips of him on the net, on the web, and he's a tough guy with heavy hands but I'm really focused.”

Prior to his second title defense against Moruti Mthalane, Donaire hit the scales with confidence.

Should he make it past Concepcion next weekend, and he is an overwhelming favorite to do so, Donaire sees future fights and future titles in several weight divisions. “I'm more looking ahead to fighting Arce and Montiel,” he says. “I've gone up to as high as 142 pounds and I wasn't chubby or anything, that's pretty much my normal weight. I can probably go up and fight at 130 or 135 pounds with adding muscle and with the proper training. But I have to get past this guy and all the other guys that come in front of me in the ring.”

For Donaire, winning titles in several weight divisions is a definite possibility. With his youth, work ethic and desire, coupled with the promotional power of Top Rank, the opportunities will be there as long as he can continue to win.

When he speaks now, he speaks in terms of controlling his own destiny, making his own choices and being responsible for his own direction. He has made many of the recent decisions to get him to the point that he is at now. It's all part of the plan to where he sees himself going and realizing that he can achieve it - as long as he can believe it.

But let's go back to that cold December night two years ago, at Foxwoods, where I first saw Nonito Donaire. I've seen a lot of fights and a lot fighters, but there was a definite realization by many on that night that we were all seeing a special young fighter with all of the tools to become “the first Nonito Donaire” and not “the next Manny Pacquiao.”

Even Gary Shaw, Donaire's former promoter, who has lost all the love he once had for “The Filipino Flash” and now calls him “disloyal” seemed to realize as much. At the post-fight press conference on that night Shaw put forth his vision of what would be Donaire's future.

“He is real, he’s as real as they come,” said Shaw. “He fights at 112 pounds; he’s a big 112. We would like to unify the titles if we can. Nonito is a fighter that I believe, and you can write down today’s date, that will be a champion at 112 pounds, he’ll be a world champion at 115 pounds and he’ll be a world champion at 118 pounds – for sure. He’s young, he’s fresh and he can really fight.”

And then Nonito stepped up to the microphone.

“I’m no one-hit wonder,” he proclaimed. “I’m here. I’m no flash in the pan.”

And that's what you call vision.

August 2009

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