Yeah, I used the “L” word. Legendary. It’s not a word I use lightly. As a matter of fact, I could probably count on one hand– maybe three fingers of that one hand– the number of times I’ve used it when speaking of a modern fighter.
But, win, lose, or draw this June 7 in his recently-confirmed rematch and 3-belt bantamweight world title unification against Naoye Inoue at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, “The Filipino Flash” Nonito Donaire has officially crossed that “legendary” threshold. Some would say that he crossed the threshold years ago– and they’d have a point.
Having won world titles at flyweight, bantamweight, super bantamweight and featherweight and with an interim super flyweight title also under his belt, Donaire’s Hall of Fame worthiness is etched in stone. The man’s body of work speaks for itself and his list of vanquished foes is awe inspiring, topped by names such as Vic Darchinyan, Hernan “Tyson” Marquez, Omar Narvaez, Toshiaki Nishioka, and Jorge Arce. His decision loss to pound-for-pound great Naoya Inoue in 2019 won him big-time boxing street cred with him delivering a hellacious battle to the Japanese “Monster” in the Fight of the Year clash. A 2021 early stoppage of Nordine Oubaali for the WBC bantamweight title earned him the distinction of being the oldest fighter, at 38 years of age, to ever win an 118 lb. world title. In his most recent bout last December, he crushed countryman Reymart Gaballo in four rounds to defend that belt.
Now, he gets another shot at Inoue, who, himself, is on a road to legendary status.
In their first meeting in November of 2019, also at Saitama Super Arena, Donaire brought war to Japan’s Inoue like nobody else had ever done. The WBA/IBF world champ had to dig deep and fight through a cut and a fracture around his right eye’s orbital bone to emerge victorious. It was a classic battle that truly deserved its Fight of the Year honors.
Inoue-Donaire 2 was set to happen not too long after the initial battle, but the COVID-19 pandemic got in the way on a couple of occasions. In the meantime, Inoue scored three KO/TKO title defense victories– over Jason Moloney, Michael Dasmarinas, and Aran Dipaen while Donaire notched his stoppages of Oubaali and Gaballo.
This long-awaited rematch has been on hardcore boxing fans’ wish lists of big fights ever since part one finished. And, thankfully, it looks like everything’s set to revisit this classic rivalry.
But back to Donaire and his now 21-year run as a pro.
The native of Talibon, Bohol, Philippines, who now lives and trains out of Las Vegas, remains grounded and humble, but also very optimistic about his ring future.
“I am still competing,” Donaire said prior to his Oubaali fight. “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.
“I feel good…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.”
On June 7, when he steps into the ring with Inoue, Nonito Donaire will be 39-and-a-half. With a win, he’ll be a 3-belt world champ with a whole new career path ahead of him and zero signs of slowing down. That’s not just legendary, that’s crazy.