Nonito Donaire, 39, driven by idea of becoming ‘undisputed’

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Is this Nonito Donaire’s last stand? Or does the 39-year-old future Hall of Famer have more to give?

We’re going to find out in the early morning hours U.S. time Tuesday in Saitama, Japan, where Donaire will face unbeaten Naoya Inoue a second time for thee of the four major bantamweight titles (ESPN+).

Donaire stunned the boxing world by pushing Inoue to his limits before losing a unanimous decision a few days shy of his 37th birthday in November 2019, although we learned later that Inoue fought with a broken bone in his face.

The Filipino-American proved that performance was no fluke by stopping Nordine Oubaali in four rounds to win the WBC 118-pound title in May of last year and successfully defended against Reymart Gaballo in December, also by a fourth-round stoppage.

Of course, a healthy Inoue, Boxing Junkie’s No. 2 fighter pound-for-pound, is an enormous step up from Oubaali and Gaballo. And Donaire, an Honorable Mention on the pound-for-pound list, is closing in on his 40th birthday.

Donaire (42-6, 28 KOs) said that his strong performance against Inoue (22-0, 19 KOs) in the first fight lit a fire under him that still burns.

“After I lost to Inoue it was more of, ‘Man, I can beat this guy,’” the four-division titleholder said on The DAZN Boxing Show. “That fire was just burning hard. And right after the fight, after feeling could beat him the next time, I got back to the drawing board. I spent a week or two and then got back to the gym again.

“He’s been on my mind since then.”

Donaire fought Inoue on even terms for much of the first fight but the Japanese star pulled away late in the final of the World Boxing Super Series tournament, punctuating his performance with a left to the body that put Donaire down in Round 11.

Where did Donaire go wrong in the end?

“I cam in there to fight,” he said. “I came in there without the game plan. I came in there with just sheer guts. It was more me going into there and trying to bully the kid. He came up pretty strong. He was tough, he was tough. I didn’t expect that from him. He could crack, too.

“One thing for me was I just came in there with the mindset of fighting. This time I’m coming in with everything.”

The fans and pundits can’t stop talking about Donaire’s ability to remain a world class fighter at an age when most boxers are well into second careers. And for good reason: It’s truly remarkable.

Donaire isn’t interested in going there. His focus is squarely on the challenges Inoue presents and checking off one more accomplishment on his already-remarkable resume.

“For me, it’s the … goal, the purpose of becoming undisputed,” he said. “Getting these belts and then getting the other belt [owned by Paul Butler]. The mindset is pretty much I’m driven by beating this kid and I’m driven by becoming undisputed.

“That’s the only thing I don’t have on my resume.”

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