Nonito Donaire still has that magic at 38 years old

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Nonito Donaire’s present looks a lot like his distant past.

The 38-year-old Filipino-American, who won his first title with a crush left hook in 2007, used the same punch to take out Nordine Oubaali in the fourth round to become an 118-pound titleholder for the third time Saturday in Carson, Calif.

Donaire put the previously unbeaten Frenchman down twice in Round 3 and again the next – all from his signature punch, which is as big as any in the world pound-for-pound.

He has now won nine world titles in three divisions. And the latest just might’ve clinched a spot for him in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

“I’m back, I’m back,” he said moments after the fight was stopped by referee Jack Reiss as Oubaali sat dazed on the canvas. “The king has returned.”

The king arguably returned in his previous fight, in which he pushed pound-for-pounder Naoya Inoue to his limits in a losing cause in November 2019. Donaire proved in that fight that he could compete with anyone.

Oubaali (17-1, 12 KOs) entered the fight at Dignity Health Sports Park as a two-time Olympian and an undefeated beltholder. However, he never tangled with the likes of Nonito Donaire, who was too big, too strong and too good for him.

Donaire (41-6, 27 KOs) fought patiently as Oubaali bounced and jabbed, waiting for opportunities to counter with his power shots. And when those opportunities came, he countered masterfully and with power.

The first knockdown was the result of a head-spinning left hook, which formed Oubaali to stumble forward and touch the canvas with his gloves.

The Oubaali camp will probably object to the second knockdown after watching it on video. Donaire arguably landed his second monstrous hook a split second after the bell, although it was close. Donaire could argue that he started the process of throwing the punch before the bell.

At any rate, it put Oubaali down and hurt him badly. Reiss allowed the fight to continue after looking closely at the injured fighter but no one would’ve criticized him had he ended the fight at the point.

Then Donaire ended the fight himself, punctuated a brutal barrage of hard punches with a final left hook to put Oubaali on his pants. That was all Reiss needed to see. The fight ended at 1:52 of Round 4, making Donaire the WBC beltholder.

Donaire broke his own record by becoming the oldest bantamweight titleholder in history with his victory. He was asked about what his accomplishment means to him in terms of his age.

“Being at this age is really not the question,” he said. “It’s my performance, my ability to grow. No matter how old you are, what matters is how strong you are mentally. … [And] I believe the human body is an incredible machine, an incredible thing if you take care of it.”

Nonito Donaire expressed gratitude to his supporters and called for an end to violence against Asian people after his victory. Katelyn Mulcahy / Getty Images

Donaire is clear on who he wants to fight next: Inoue, who defends his IBF and WBA 118-pound titles against Michael Dasmarinas on June 19 in Las Vegas.

If Donaire gets that fight and wins, he have three of the four major bantamweight titles. He would then target the WBO title, which is currently held by John Reil Casimero.

“This is why I wanted to win this fight,” Donaire said. “That’s my next goal. That’s the only thing I haven’t accomplished in boxing … becoming undisputed. That’s my goal this year until I get there. I’m going to make that happen.

“The next phase is getting that rematch.”