Boxing star Nonito Donaire Jr.'s latest obsession is to be a pound-for-pound best father

Kevin Iole

It is a vastly different Nonito Donaire Jr. who will, for the second time in his career, attempt to unify the world title belts in his weight division.

In 2011, he was consumed by a desire to not only defeat Fernando Montiel, but to dominate him in their WBC/WBO bantamweight title unification bout.

Montiel had sat atop the bantamweight division for years and he was a convenient target for Donaire, who desperately wanted to use the fight to establish himself as one of boxing's elite.

A little more than two years after knocking out Montiel to vault into boxing superstardom, he's in a similar position heading into Saturday's super bantamweight unification bout on HBO with Guillermo Rigondeaux at New York's Radio City Music Hall.

Rigondeaux is a two-time Olympic gold medalist who, after defecting from Cuba in 2009, needed only seven fights over 18 months to win a world title.

The same passion, and desire to dominate, isn't there for Donaire, though. Since that life-altering victory over Montiel on Feb. 19, 2011, priorities have changed for Donaire and his wife, Rachel.

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Rachel Donaire is pregnant with the couple's first son, Jarel. Preparing for Jarel's birth has, more than any fight, become priority No. 1 for Donaire.

So, while he's worked exceptionally hard and remains very confident, the be-all and end-all in his life is no longer, as it once was, boxing.

"I'm going through adversity and through some changes right now," the 30-year-old said. "[In the past], when I woke up in the morning, I focused on pretty much one thing, which was boxing. Now, with the baby coming, it's different. I'm thinking about all this other stuff, which I didn't think about before. It's definitely changed my perspective in the boxing world and as a fighter."

The impending birth of his son has consumed his life. He gets that the life he wants to give his son requires him to be successful in his chosen profession, but his outlook on boxing's significance in his life is different nonetheless.

He's posted a number of ultrasound photos of his son, including one in which the child's hands are raised in a boxing stance.

Donaire (31-1, 20 KOs) faces a tough balancing act as he tries to prepare for what could be his career-defining match while trying to handle the responsibilities of impending fatherhood. He's become one of his sport's leading figures – he'll accept the 2012 Fighter of the Year award from the Boxing Writers Association of America on Thursday at its annual dinner – but values the title of Dad as much as he does Champ.

"Don't get me wrong, boxing is still extremely important to me," Donaire said. "Without boxing, who knows what I'd be or where I'd be. Boxing made me who I am, without a doubt. Everything I have is because of boxing."

It's easy to be consumed by the lifestyle required of a world-class athlete. The average person doesn't understand the commitment of time, energy and resources that are required to compete at the level Donaire does.

Yet, a victory in the ring, which once was so critical to him, means less these days.

It doesn't mean that he's taking short cuts; it's just that he understands that fights come and go, but that a child is forever.

"For me right now, I don't put the importance in winning or victories or anything like that," he said. "I just want to be there for my kid. All I'm really thinking of is seeing this kid, seeing this baby. I'm feeling it daily in my wife's belly, feeling it kicking and all, and that's the greatest pleasure I have right now.

"That overpowers everything and it gives perspective. Usually, the week of the fight, I'm kind of quiet, but my mentality is different now. I really haven't thought about the fight, to be honest. Usually, this close to a fight, I'm thinking of moments for how to take down the opponent. Now, I'm waiting to feel the baby kick."

Donaire, though, didn't get to be one of the greatest fighters in boxing, though, by slacking on his preparation and looking past anyone, let alone someone as gifted as Rigondeaux.

He respects Rigondeaux's extraordinary success, particularly as an amateur, but points out there are vast differences in the amateurs and the pro game.

Rigondeaux, 32, is 11-0 with eight knockouts as a pro after scoring literally hundreds of wins as an amateur. Not all wins, Donaire said, are created equal.

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"He's fighting the right style of opponents," Donaire said of Rigondeaux. "Some guys could go 50-0 if you give them the right guy. I feel he hasn't fought a Montiel, a [Vic] Darchinyan. He hasn't fought those kinds of guys, [like I have]. If he's having trouble with [Roberto] Marroquin, he'd definitely have trouble with those guys I fought. ... I believe he has improved, and he's more offensive, and I want him to be offensive. If he's offensive with me, we'll see how things work out."

Under different circumstances, Saturday might be the biggest night of his life. But now, Donaire believes he'll have to wait for July 22 for that time.

That is Jarel's expected birth date and will be, Donaire says, a night that changes him forever.

The name Jarel is a nod to Superman, whose father's name was Jor-El. But also, it's an acronym for the love he and his wife have for each other and their upcoming child. Donaire's family calls him Junior, so Jarel is an acronym for Junior And Rachel's Everlasting Love.

And that love has made him a vastly different man than he once was.

"Boxing has done so much for me and has been so important in my life," Donaire said. "But with my baby coming, everything in my life has a different importance now than it used to have."

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