Boxing may be the farthest thing from a team sport that exists, but Nonito Donaire concedes he owes much of his extraordinary success in the sport to his home team.
Donaire, the IBF/WBO super bantamweight champion, is one of three elite boxers from California's Bay Area, all of whom push each other to greater heights.
He's won 28 fights in a row and hasn't lost in more than 11 years, when he was just 18 years old and in his second professional fight. At worst, Donaire is one of the 10 best fighters in the world and there are several respected analysts who believe he is the finest.
He has a rare combination of speed, power, accuracy and ring smarts.
For all his accolades, though, Donaire isn't even sure he's the top fighter in his home region. That's because his region includes WBA/WBC super middleweight champion Andre Ward and interim WBC welterweight champion Robert Guerrero.
Combined, the threesome has a record of 87-2-1 with 50 knockouts and an abiding respect for each other. Much of his success, Donaire says, comes from learning and being pushed by Guerrero and Ward.
"They're an inspiration for me," says Donaire, who fights for his sixth consecutive world championship on Saturday when he meets Toshiaki Nishioka in the main event of an HBO-televised doubleheader from the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
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Each of them utters the same words about the others, pointing out that having other elite fighters in the same region pushes them to be better.
When Ward was in training to prepare for his Sept. 8 showdown with Chad Dawson in Oakland, Calif., Guerrero was fighting Selcuk Aydin for the interim WBC welterweight belt.
Ward said watching the way Guerrero handled his business inspired him.
"I saw the way he dealt with the adversity he was facing and the confidence he exuded, and that definitely played a role in helping me," Ward said. "Robert was fighting a big guy and he had some tough moments, but he battled and fought. That inspired me, because I knew I was going to have some tough moments against Dawson."
In what is so far a career-defining performance, Ward dominated Dawson and stopped him in the 10th round. It was a comprehensive and thorough win that didn't escape Donaire's notice.
"Watching Andre, that made me realize that's how I fight and that I needed to go back to the roots of who I am and how I fight," Donaire said. "Robert is a guy who just trains so hard and who so desperately wants to be the best. He looks at boxing as a warrior sport and he's really an inspiration to me.
"I want to ride the different levels like he's doing now. Both of them have a big influence on who I am."
The common thread between them is a refusal to settle for second best. Even when Donaire became widely recognized for being among the elite, he was always looking for ways to take his game to the next level.
Neither Ward nor Guerrero would accept just a win – both strive for something far more than victory. No analyst is harsher on them than they are on themselves. That leads to a lot of good performances, Donaire said, because it does away with complacency.
A baseball player whose success leads to complacency could wind up on the bench or, in extreme cases, shipped out to the minors. But a world-class boxer who suffers from complacency usually winds up on his back with smelling salts under his nose.
The better a fighter becomes and the more notoriety he gains, the bigger a target he is and the harder it is to remain at the top.
"Having those guys around ensures I won't ever get complacent," Donaire said. "They're always around to remind you who you are and what it takes."
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Despite their great success, they've formed a sort of fraternity of underdogs. Guerrero pointed out that the Bay Area isn't a hotbed for boxing activity, despite their presence, and that they compete against established franchises like the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics, Golden State Warriors and the San Jose Sharks for attention.
Guerrero said that in a way, he, Donaire and Ward form the Bay Area's seventh pro franchise.
"We're from a place that isn't regarded as a real hot boxing area, and you can't just find a gym on every corner like you could in Las Vegas or New York, where there are world class guys working out all over the place," Guerrero said. "We feed off of each other. We all understand how difficult it is to succeed in this sport and to compete at the level we're at.
"It helps to have guys like them around who know what it takes and who understand what we go through as fighters. What you see is that at the end of the day, we all push each other and help each other and it makes us better and more complete fighters."
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