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Nonito Donaire: Chasing Greatness, Trailing Legends

If “The Filipino Flash” Nonito Donaire had come up in any other era, he’d have already established himself as an undeniable legend of Filipino boxing. Unfortunately for him, the native of Talibon, Bohol, Philippines rose to prominence in the Manny Pacquiao era.

But the 38-year-old Donaire doesn’t carry himself as someone forlorn to be in the shadow of a once in a lifetime figure such as Pacquiao. Even if there were pangs of envy or frustration, Nonito has kept them hidden behind a push to establish his own legacy in the sport.

With world titles at flyweight, bantamweight, super bantamweight and featherweight and an interim super flyweight title under his belt, the man’s Hall of Fame credentials are rock solid. The man’s body of work speaks for itself and his list of vanquished foes is prodigious, topped by names such as Vic Darchinyan, Hernan “Tyson” Marquez, Omar Narvaez, Toshiaki Nishioka, and Jorge Arce. In his last fight, a decision loss to pound-for-pound great Naoya Inoue, he won big-time boxing street cred by delivering a hellacious battle to the Japanese “Monster” in their 2019 Fight of the Year clash. 

Now, Donaire stands on the precipice of another history-making moment this Saturday as he challenges for the WBC bantamweight title against defending champ, the Frenchman of Moroccan descent, Nordine Oubaali. If victorious, he would eclipse the record of Filipino countryman Gerry Penalosa to become the oldest man to win the 118 lb. world title.

“Gerry is a good friend of mine. It would be so significant to me,” Donaire recently said. “I am still competing; I am still performing at a very high level and it proves that age is not a factor when you are healthy. When you keep yourself motivated and healthy, it all counts. I am really proud of where I’m at and what I can still achieve.”

Donaire’s ambitions don’t stop at Ouballi and the WBC title, though. 

Claiming to be rejuvenated by his 19-month layoff– which was mostly caused by the Covid-19 pandemic– a refreshed Donaire plans on adding to his growing legacy and says he may fight on for at least five to ten more years. As a matter of fact, he’s already mapped out his immediate future.

“I have a dream which is to be the undisputed bantamweight champion, and at 38-years-old I think I am capable of doing it,” he told Boxingscene. “The first step is on May 29 against Nordine Oubaali, a good fighter, but he’s never faced an opponent like me, and then we are definitely going to pursue a rematch with Inoue and gather the rest of the belts.”

As for the secret to his longevity, the 20-year veteran is set on following just basic common sense strategies.

“I feel good, at 38-years-old I have had to change some things, take good care of my diet, train much better, but if I continue to feel this way, I will be able to fight for 5 or 10 more years. I want to achieve many things.”

Win, lose, or draw against Oubaali this Saturday, Donaire has already earned recognition as one of the top fighters of this era. The rebirth of sorts that came with his move back to 118, well into his thirties, just adds extra heft to his resume. 

But, still…he’s no Manny Pacquiao and will have to settle for a spot in the hearts and minds of Filipino fight fans somewhere behind the undeniable icon.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing and it sure as heck doesn’t take one crumb away from Donaire’s body of work. And if he keeps motoring forward, adding belts and conquests to his ledger, he may finish his career closer to Pacquiao-level than most would’ve ever imagined.

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