LAS VEGAS – The contradictions in Nonito Donaire's life are stark.
He's one of the finest professional boxers in the world, yet he freely admits to nerves each time he's about to fight. He moves so freely and effortlessly in the ring, but was so fearful the first time he was to climb between the ropes for a fight that he urinated on his leg in his dressing room.
He's beloved by his country, where he's a national icon in the boxing-mad Philippines, yet he's shunned by a family he loves desperately because of a disagreement with his father, Nonito Sr., which he declines to discuss
He's a charismatic, well-spoken young man who is a favorite interview subject of boxing journalists, but he was chastised mercilessly as a child for his big ears, big teeth and diminutive frame.
He's now starting to realize significant purses and is able to help his family financially, though he grew up in abject poverty with tree branches serving as the roof of his home.
"Aside from me being picked in school and everything, I was a miserable kid," Donaire said Thursday at a news conference to promote his fight against Rafael Concepcion for the interim World Boxing Association super flyweight title at the Hard Rock Hotel. "I never believed there was a tomorrow for me. I never believed I was going to be here. I never believed I was going to be something.
"Everyone made fun of me, and my feeling was just to go with the flow wherever life takes me. I didn't believe in anything. I didn't believe in the future. I didn't believe in success or achieving anything."
Donaire, though, has become the most successful member of his family – and far more successful than the vast majority of those who used to torment him when he was a child. The taunting continued even after his family left the Philippines and moved to Northern California. There, children taunted him for the same reasons, calling him "Dumbo" and "Bucktooth Beaver."
He wanted to do something to shut them up but was terrified to even give them a dirty look. Fighting was simply not a part of his nature.
"I hated fighting," he says. "I hated fighting. I was so afraid of everyone and everything. I never saw myself as a fighter. Never, ever, ever did I see myself as a fighter."
His brother, Glenn, began to box and was getting plenty of attention from his family for his success. So Nonito Jr. decided he ought to give it a shot as well.
The need for parental and familial approval was strong – strong enough to overcome his many fears and doubts.
"I wanted my parents to be proud of me, so I started training," Donaire said.
Less than two months later, his father – who would go on to become his trainer until their split – told him he felt he was ready for a fight.
Most fighters have nerves before a bout, but few were as nervous as Donaire recalled being. He was unable to contain his bladder as he was having his hand wraps and gloves put on.
"I was like, 'I got to go to the bathroom' and, boom, I just [urinated] in my pants," Donaire said. "I was that scared."
He was fearful until he got hit for the first time. When he was whacked in the face, he was a different person. He had nowhere to go. He either had to surrender – and get abused by his opponent until the fight was stopped – or fight back.
He opted to fight back. That was the start of a career that led him to the International Boxing Federation flyweight title and a place among professional boxing's elite.
"When I got into the ring, it was home for me," Donaire said. "After I got hit, that was it. I didn't want to back down, because I couldn't get out of the ring. The one thing I didn't want to do was to discourage my father. I had no options, so I went on."
He said he still isn't at ease before fights, despite a 21-1 record with 14 knockouts and a 4-0 mark with four knockouts in world title fights. The stomach still churns. The palms still sweat.
He sees himself as more of a challenger than the champion.
He's able to channel his nerves and has gotten so good that many consider him one of the top 10 pound-for-pound fighters in the world. If he wins on Saturday, which he should, he's in line for several big fights against the likes of Fernando Montiel or Jorge Arce.
But as good as life has become, he lives with the burden of a strained relationship with his father as well as his brother and two sisters. His siblings don't speak to him, he says, because they take their father's side in their dispute.
In addition, he said, his siblings think he should financially support them more than he does.
"There is a lot of misunderstanding going on about all this," Donaire said. "But when I do try to talk to them, they don't want to confront it. All they want to do is point fingers.
"That's the difficulty I have going into this fight. The closest person to me all my life is not supporting me."
He expects to win, and he expects to reconcile with his family. That, he says, would be more significant than any championship.
"I want to put it out there that I love my family and I want to be with them and I want them to be with me," he says. "I know that one day, we'll get back together and be the family we once were, but it's hard. Emotionally, there's a toll. "I have to separate myself from that, though," Donaire added. "Until I can solve that problem, I can't let it affect the business side of my life. Eventually, we'll get this taken care of and we'll be a family again. I don't know when, but I do know we will."
- Nonito Donaire