Nonito Donaire: Lightning In A Bottle
Ranked no. 5 pound-for-pound by The Ring Magazine, Nonito Donaire (25-1; 17 KO’s) challenges no. 7 on the list, WBO and WBC bantamweight champion Fernando Montiel (44-2-2; 34 KO’s) this Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nev. The Filipino enters Top Rank’s HBO 118-pound title showdown three months removed from his fourth-round KO of Wladimir Sidorenko and expects another knockout in his second bantamweight bout—the biggest of the San Leandro, Calif. resident’s promising career. The Well Versed slowed down “The Filipino Flash” long enough to get his thoughts on confidence, inspiration and why Montiel isn’t the most dangerous opponent he’s faced in the ring.
The Well Versed: As the big day approaches, how are you checking into fight mode?
Nonito Donaire: Right now I’m just pretty focused on cutting the weight. Yeah, right now I’m pretty focused 24/7 on boxing and knocking out Montiel in my head. That’s pretty much what I think about everyday, every time, psyching up myself mentally and physically.
You just gotta be 100%—the confidence level of “Filipino Flash” that you’ve seen in the past. I’m trying to maintain the same level that I had from the last fight to this fight. I’m very excited for this fight.
TWV: Are you coming in off the biggest win of your career?
ND: When the fight is over, I don’t even look back and think about it. I just pretty much focus on my next guy and right now I’m focused on Montiel and beating Montiel. Regardless of how I fought the last fight or how I did, I pretty much just focus on this guy and focus on the guy in front of me as the biggest fight.
TWV: You’ve talked about how nerves before your fights have turned into confidence over the years. Is confidence what has taken you from a good or great fighter to a world-class fighter?
ND: I think so. The level now, the motivation now that I have and the confidence level that I have is why I fight well. I have a great team behind me. The keys to who I am now and gaining this confidence because the people around me, the people that I’m working with, are confident in my ability and increase my performance level. With that ability and that confidence, its’ taken me to a pound-for-pound fighter.
TWV: How has your friendship with fellow Bay Area resident and champion Andre Ward inspired your own career?
ND: It’s a motivation for me. When I became a world champion, it pushed him to do his best. When I see him fight, he pushes me to do my best and get better performance. I’m just happy for me that we’re doing it at the same time. It just helps us out. Each time we in that ring, we go in there like a monster, all that confidence in ourselves. It’s great.
We represent where we grew up, where we live. I’m glad we’re being noticed in the Bay Area. There’s a lot of people giving their support. We’re just gonna keep fighting as much as I fight for my country. I also fight for who I am, which is Bay Area. I represent that to the fullest, as prideful as being Filipino.
TWV: What does it mean to you to help put a young gym like Undisputed on the map?
ND: Undisputed has been there, they’re like family to me. They support me throughout and I’m glad. I’m blessed to have been working with Undisputed and working with Brian Schwartz. If it brings more name to them, they deserve it because they’ve helped me throughout and been great people. To me, that’s my hope.
TWV: Amidst talk that boxing is a struggling or dying sport, how do you stay motivated to avoid pitfalls that have created that sentiment?
ND: I enjoy the sport. That’s one thing I’m truly proud of. Boxing is a tremendous sport. I enjoy it truly with all my heart. It gives me that desire to be more. I want to reach the pinnacle of my talent. I want to reach the very, very top, see how far I can be, four-time divisional, five-time divisional, undisputed or whatever it may be. That’s what I look for. That’s what gets me to keep moving in boxing, to be able to inspire the many kids or people, those are the two goals of why I work hard to reach the very top of my talent is to be able to inspire others as much as I was inspired by previous champions.
I’m just gonna do my best, bring more excitement if I can, mainly just do my best. When it’s time, hopefully that everybody will enjoy it, enjoy boxing as much as I do. Hopefully everybody will be there and enjoy it.
TWV: The lead-up to your fight with Montiel has been mutually respectful. Does that mean we’re more likely to see a war, because you respect each other’s skills, are focused on the task at hand and not getting caught up in manufactured hype?
ND: I always look at boxing as a sweet science, a gentleman’s sport. I believe that as a fighter, I go through hardship, preparing for the fight. That’s just a respect level I have for each fight regardless of whether or not you become a champion. As long as you know how hard it is, how physical boxing is, I give you the respect for knowing. For everybody that goes in there and fights, that’s why I look at boxing the way I do. I come in there with everybody and respect them because boxing is a difficult sport and you give your heart and your life to this sport.
TWV: You’ve said in interviews Montiel isn’t the toughest guy you’ve faced. Who is? Is he the most well-rounded?
ND: I haven’t really faced a guy where I felt like my life was on the line. I’m not being cocky or anything, I’m saying it honestly. I’ve never really faced guys that really made me feel like my life was in danger. I don’t think Montiel has that capability to make me feel that way. He has a punch, but I think this is more a strategic and the biggest fight of my career, but I don’t think it’s the toughest fight of my career.
He’s definitely that person. He’s a very versatile guy who will do anything to win the fight. That’s why its gonna be one of the biggest fights, because of his name, but I believe the way he moves, I can predict where he’s gonna be.
TWV: You were known as a counter puncher, but you’ve finished a lot of opponents recently. Do you feel that’s been your evolution as a fighter that you have both tools at your disposal, to be able to counterpunch but also finish strong?
ND: Definitely. At this weight, I’m very strong. I’m very fast. I don’t really have to cut much weight. I go in there 100%, that’s a scary thing for a lot of fighters. When I’m 100%, I’m a dangerous opponent. Don’t get me wrong, Montiel is a dangerous guy as well.
TWV: You are known as an entertaining fighter. Do you feel it’s more important to have a performance you can respect than a win necessarily?
ND: I believe so. Sometimes I look at boxing as an entertainment sport, but this time I think I got to look at it as a fighter of two essences, which is a counter puncher and a smart fighter, and win it that way. But if I get a chance and confidence to perform as an entertainer, then I will do it, whatever I need to do, I will.
TWV: Do you feel that’s a mindset that’s raising the bar in boxing? This fight is in February and many feel it can be fight of the year. Do you want to set the bar for the rest of the year for boxing?
ND: We want to. To put two guys in the pound-for-pound top-10 is already enough for that. For people to look at, it’s good for boxing. You can always get a brawler with a brawl. Boxing is different styles, different personalities, but we’re gonna do our best to be exciting for the people.
TWV: How did your career change after the win over Vic Darchinyan and how do you expect it to change after this fight?
ND: My name was placed in people’s eyes. I think this time it’s more accepted that I’m an elite fighter—that I belong in the elite division.
TWV: So this is more of a star-making fight than a fight for credibility or respect?
ND: I believe so. I think that it’s a fight that can make it big. It’s the biggest fight of my career. You got guys like Montiel with big stature in the boxing world. It’s gonna be an amazing victory. It’ll place me beyond where I’m at now.
TWV: You’re the favorite in this fight. Do you feel you are supposed to be or do you like to think of yourself as the underdog?
ND: I just really don’t pay attention to the odds or where my opponent is or how good my opponent is or anything like that. I just go out there and have them play my game.
TWV: There are comparisons being put out between you and Manny Pacquiao. What separates you from him?
ND: I’m just blessed that people have recognized me as that. I’m truly honored. I pretty much just go in there and take a good example from everyone, like Pacquiao who inspires me to do my best, to reach the pinnacle of my career and talents, to reach more than four or five divisions if I can. It’s gonna set it up to a point where I just go in there and have fun and not worry about anything. I have great people around me. My wife has been an absolute big part of myself, my life, and regardless of what happens, I know the people around me are there, ups and downs, they’re gonna be there for me.
TWV: Is this going to be a fun fight?
ND: This is gonna be a fun fight. I think Montiel being a good fighter that he is, this is gonna be a really, really fun fight for me. I put on a gameplan, I put everything together, it’s gonna be fun to accomplish the things I put together.
I think Montiel is the best fighter in the division so I can prove to everyone that I’m better than him. He’s got two belts. My goal is to be undisputed as well.
TWV: He’s been in 21 title fights. How important is it for you not to fight his fight?
ND: It doesn’t make sense to me to fight his fight. It’s desperation. He needs to fight my fight. I have a good gameplan. I don’t care how many fights he’s fought. He could have fought 100 times and defended 100 times, but I’m here, I’m the new guy, and I’m gonna do what I need to do to get him.
TWV: Do you feel he’s trying to bait you into fighting his fight with his talk?
ND: Definitely. He’s talking about how he’s gonna drop me, I’m gonna drop me, he’s gonna cut me, I’m gonna cut him….Actually, I’m gonna drop him. I’m gonna cut him. I’m gonna keep myself clean. That’s all I think about. I don’t play with anything else but my game.
TWV: Is your advantage in this fight that you can play his punching game better than he can play your counterpunching game?
ND: That’s definitely an advantage for me. I always like to let people play my game because if I do play people’s games, it’s admitting that I’m not better than that person. They play my game. It’s gonna be fun.
TWV: What has moving up in weight done for you?
ND: I feel good at this weight. I feel stronger. I think the more I go up, the more that I become stronger and more confident. I feel a lot of power and speed and my punches now. It’s incredible. I constantly challenge myself. I look to be better, [with every fight].
TWV: This is the first major bantamweight bout on HBO since 2006. What does it mean to you to represent not only yourself, but your weight class and the lighter weights?
ND: I don’t really think much about anything like that. It’s a good thing that HBO and all the others are noticing the little guys and what the little guys have to offer.
Nonito Donaire Vs. Fernando Montiel takes place Sat., Feb 19 on HBO Boxing After Dark at 9:45 p.m. ET/PT.
Danny Acosta is the lead writer at FIGHT! Magazine. Contact him on twitter.com/acostaislegend