Why Nonito Donaire deserves to be named Fighter of the Year

The author and the boxer: ‘As a child, Nonito was frequently bullied in school’

By Wendell Gaa

Every year the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA), Ring magazine and ESPN simultaneously bestow the prestigious “Fighter of the Year” award upon an athlete who has shown exemplary feats of boxing competence both within and outside of the ring.

We all know that our very own national champ Manny Pacquiao has been awarded this honor not just once, but thrice, and even became only the BWAA’s second recipient of the “Fighter of the Decade” for the 2000s award. Needless to say, 2012 was not a good year for him due to his two losses. As crushing as his defeats were, his star as a boxing legend surely hasn’t diminished, and neither has the reputation of the Philippines as a prime center for competitive international boxing, for if the Pacman proved without a doubt that our nation does have a powerful presence in worldwide boxing, then another one of our very own has further validated that fact. He is none other than Nonito Donaire, the Filipino Flash, and his four victories last year while promoting the strength of the Philippine boxing program surely warrants him to earn the honorary title of “Fighter of the Year” for 2012.

I had heard much of this young and vigorous fighter, I was of course intrigued by all the talk of him being considered the next Pacquiao due to his solid record of victories at quite an early phase of his career. But I sought to know more about what set this gentleman apart from his other boxing peers. I first observed how different he was as a fighter and person during a courtesy call he paid on our Consul General Mario L. De Leon, Jr. at the New York Philippine Consulate General in October 2011. He was in town back then promoting to the Filipino community his upcoming New York debut match against Argentine boxer Omar Narvaez at the Madison Square Garden. He was a slim and quite well-trimmed person with a rather chic beret and a beautiful wife by the name of Rachel. What struck me was how he came across as being quite down-to-earth. What captivated me all the more was learning about his childhood upbringing.

It was interesting to know that Donaire was born in Talibon, Bohol in 1982, but grew up in General Santos City where he lived until age 6, and actually went to the same school as Pacquiao. When he was 11, he moved to Van Nuys, California before moving to San Leandro and then to San Mateo in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was surprised to learn that as a child, he was frail, asthmatic and shy, and got frequently bullied at school. This all seemed to serve as an incentive for him to vent his frustrations and anger through the art of boxing, and his father was supportive enough to introduce him to a boxing gym to begin his early training. Constant spars with his older brother Glen was certainly good practice, and then in his first amateur bout as a kid, he actually defeated his opponent with mere straight punches, or so I heard. Such early training has obviously helped to season him to become the electrifying professional boxer that he is today.

When my office colleague and I personally watched the Donaire vs. Narvaez match live at Madison Square Garden, I sensed how much vitality Donaire had as a fighter, and even though he won the bout without the knockout victory he was seeking, I sensed a young champion primed for future fantastic victories. Happily enough, those victories came in successive fashion in 2012. Winning four decisive matches in one year, while carrying our country’s flag and honor, deserves not to go unnoticed. In his latest triumphant match against the Mexican Jorge Arce, I observed the speed and finesse which Donaire used to seal his win with a third-round knockout, and this was undoubtedly impressive, all the more so when he gave proper due respect to his opponent at the match’s end, the characteristics of true sportsmanship indeed. Hearing boxing legend George Foreman comment on TV how impressed he was with the Filipino Flash has certainly got to be a good thing too.

Additionally, he is currently the only known boxer today who has signed on with the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association to undergo random blood and urine testing for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year, a true testament to his devotion to honest athletics!

Donaire is no Pacman, pure and simple, yet he is a great champion in his own right whose career we will definitely be watching with much interest. Whether or not he may be a future Boxing Hall of Famer is still too early to tell, but this much is known, he is further exemplifying how the Philippines is a continually rich source of global boxing talent, and his professional and personal triumphs in 2012 are the very reasons why he richly deserves to be named Fighter of the Year.


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