Three-division world titlist Nonito Donaire enters the featherweight division for the first time this Saturday night in Corpus Christi, Texas in a bout to be aired live on HBO. In an exclusive interview, Donaire told Bleacher Report he believes fight fans will see the very best version of him to date.
Where does Nonito Donaire rank among the pound-for-pound elite?
“For all the previous fights, really, it was all about losing weight—training to lose weight, not training for a game plan,” said Donaire. “That’s why my strategy, the way I fought, suffered a lot over the past few years.”
Donaire must have absurdly high expectations of himself. The hard-punching California resident has been outstanding throughout his entire professional career. In 2012, Donaire fought four times against top-notch opponents. He became the lineal junior featherweight champion after his Round 9 knockout of Toshiaki Nishioka.
For his efforts, Donaire earned BWAA Fighter of the Year honors, and the popular knockout artist started 2013 ranked among the top five in the world according to most notable boxing ranking bodies.
Still, Donaire says something was missing in his approach to boxing at the time—something that helped contribute to his April 13 loss to undefeated stylist Guillermo Rigondeaux.
“I just kind of relied on the power punch and just training and losing weight,” said Donaire.
Donaire just didn’t look the same that night. While Rigondeaux was fast, efficient and in command of the action for most of the 12 rounds, Donaire appeared lost and out-of-sync.
“I was not at my best that night,” said Donaire. “I’m not going to take anything away from the guy. He prepared well. He prepared for me well. He studied well. He trained hard for it. I just wasn’t there. I just didn’t show up that night, and that was my fault. I wasn’t focused enough. And hopefully I get an opportunity to prove I wasn’t my best that night.”
Donaire admitted he probably underestimated Rigondeaux a little bit, too.
“There is a little of bit of underestimation that you just kind of rely on something you have, your own weapons, my left hook—and his chin...his chin is suspect...so there were just a lot of things that went through my mind...and I just didn’t care for anything. To me, there were more things that were much more important at that time.”
What kinds of things were more important at the time?
“Like this little guy crying right now,” Donaire said with a smile as the sound of his infant son let loose some babble in the background.
Just two months after the loss to Rigondeaux, Donaire and wife Rachel welcomed their firstborn to the world, Jarel. Donaire said the experience of becoming a father has changed him for the better.
“I love being a dad,” said Donaire. “It’s amazing... You just kind of grow up a little bit and know what you really want and what direction you want to take in your career, your life and with your family.”
Donaire also believes fatherhood has helped him focus on his career as a fighter, where he believes he will soon rank again among the very best in the sport.
“It’s just...now I have to learn how to not take what’s outside that ring inside the ring. That’s pretty much what it is: separating my career from my family and just going with that. That’s something I’ve learned, and it’s something that’s going to be key for me...to stay focused on my task.”
The task at hand is a rematch with Vic Darchinyan, an aggressive stalker Donaire defeated by knockout in 2007. Hoping to recreate that kind of success, Donaire said he’s ready for Darchinyan’s style.
“Knowing the way he fights, he just doesn’t change...it’s probably going to be the same thing. He may try and box a little bit... But I think it’s going to be a similar type of fight as the first one.”
Donaire said Darchinyan would probably try to stay away from Donaire’s left hook this time, a punch that devastated the brawler in their first encounter.
“A guy like this is very dangerous, so I have to be at my very best.”
Donaire’s best is better than most. He said he and his team, which includes world-class trainer Robert Garcia, were on their way to making his in-the-ring skills better than ever by focusing on strategy and a wider arrange of punches.
“Now, we’re putting together good game plans. We’re doing everything. We’re feinting, throwing body shots—we’re doing all the things that you haven’t seen from me in a long, long time.”
And if that’s the case, you can expect to see Donaire’s name near the top of pound-for-pound lists again real soon.
Kelsey McCarson is a boxing writer for Bleacher Report and TheSweetScience.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.