Nonito Donaire closing in on Fighter of the Year with no-nonsense, clean approach to boxing

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

Nonito Donaire is setting the standard for what a professional fighter should be. He enters Saturday's super bantamweight title defense against Jorge Arce sixth in the Yahoo! Sports boxing rankings and sure to climb even further with a win.

The Filipino is always in magnificent condition, he's as technically sound as any fighter in the world, he seeks out elite competition and he remains active.

He's the leading candidate to be named Fighter of the Year, an almost slam-dunk winner should he not stumble against Arce in their HBO-televised bout at the Toyota Center in Houston. Donaire has decisively beaten three Top 10-ranked contenders this year, each in more dominating fashion than the last.

The five fighters above Donaire in the November Yahoo! Sports boxing rankings have fought a combined eight times this year. No. 1 Floyd Mayweather Jr. and No. 2 Andre Ward each have fought just once. No. 3 Manny Pacquiao, No. 4 Sergio Martinez and No. 5 Juan Manuel Marquez each fought twice.

Imagine how much better of a sport boxing would be if the best fighters fought more often. That used to happen regularly. As lightweight champion, Roberto Duran fought eight times in 1975.

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Nowadays, boxers demand so much money for one fight – Pacquiao, for instance, made a minimum of $25 million last week while getting knocked out by Marquez – that promoters can't afford for them to work more often.

Donaire may yet fall into that trap, but he's a fighter at heart and isn't eager to sit on the sidelines and watch others.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his best-selling book "The Outliers" that a person becomes an expert at a given task by practicing it 10,000 hours. Donaire seems determined to get all 10,000 hours in one year.

"I'm a professional and I take that word very seriously," Donaire said. "That means doing your work even when maybe you don't want to. I put the time in in the gym because I know how important that is for me."

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Arce is on the home stretch of his career and isn't the same elite fighter he was a few years ago, but he's still dangerous and is the type of fighter who won't quit forcing the issue.

An interesting subplot to Saturday's bout is the battle of the conditioning coaches. Arce's strength and conditioning coach is Angel Guillermo "Memo" Heredia, an admitted steroids distributor who prepared Marquez to face Pacquiao.

Donaire uses Victor Conte, the founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, who spent four months in prison for his role in that scandal.

Conte insists he's reformed and is advocating cleaning up sport. Donaire enrolled in the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association and has submitted to 24/7/365.

Conte and Heredia are bitter enemies and have attacked each other repeatedly in public forums.

"Isn't that classic, that you have this guy [Heredia] with Arce and you have Conte with Donaire?" Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said.

Donaire said he asked Arce when the fight was made if he would agree to accept the Olympic-style testing that Donaire has been doing. Arce declined, though Heredia said prior to the Pacquiao-Marquez fight that all fighters he works with going forward will undergo such testing.

Donaire said he was disappointed, but it didn't dissuade him from accepting the fight.

"I'm ready for anything," Donaire said. "With my plan and my ability to see things in that ring, it doesn't matter if people are enhanced or what they do. With Arce, what can I do? It's more of, everyone I've asked [to submit to the drug testing] has said no, that they wouldn't do it. They didn't care much for it. So I do it because I'm a clean athlete. What else can I do?"

Nobody has alleged that any Arce or any of Donaire's previous opponents have used performance-enhancing drugs. But the fact they're unwilling to submit to testing and prove they're clear while Donaire is willing to do the same speaks volumes.

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It would also be extraordinary if he were to go 4-0 in 2012 and win Fighter of the Year honors when he went through such extensive testing and proved without a doubt he's clean.

"Knowing people are saying I have a chance, it gives me a lot of motivation and more determination to finish the job and win the fight," Donaire said. "That's a great honor to even be considered for, let alone win. As much as it would mean to me to win that, though, my focus is 100 percent though on just beating Arce."

It will be a joke if Donaire defeats Arce and doesn't win Fighter of the Year. He's done everything the way it should be done: He's fought top competition, he's stayed busy, he's gotten better fight after fight and he's proven that he's doing it naturally."

That's the kind of guy who should be winning all sorts of honors.

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