Nearly 14 years after the first time he knocked out an unbeaten world champion, Nonito Donaire did it again on Saturday at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California.
In addition to becoming the WBC bantamweight champion, Donaire become sort of a philosopher after his fourth-round knockout of Nordine Oubaali. At 38 years, 203 days, he broke his own mark as the oldest man to become a bantamweight champion.
He put Oubaali down twice in the third round and finished him with a crushing hook in the fourth, showing the speed and power that made him a champion the first time when he knocked out Vic Darchinyan on July 7, 2007, to win a flyweight belt.
“There’s a reason they call me the 'Filipino Flash,'” said Donaire, who has lived in the humungous shadow cast over all Filipino fighters by the legendary Manny Pacquiao.
Donaire hadn’t fought since losing a Fight of the Year battle 18 months ago in Japan to the great Naoya Inoue, but despite being sidelined, he wasn’t idle.
He was, as wise fighters do, working on his game.
“That whole time I was not fighting, I was learning,” Donaire said.
He did some educating, too, during and after the fight. He wore a blue T-shirt with the words “Stop Asian Hate” on the front. After the fight, following his interview with Showtime’s Hall of Fame interviewer Jim Gray, Donaire pressed the issue.
Asians have been the subject of hate crimes for a long time in the U.S. now. In March, eight people were killed in shootings at three spas in the Atlanta area. Robert Aaron Long, 22, was charged with the crimes. Fani Willis, the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, said they were inspired by an anti-Asian sentiment.
It speaks volumes to the man that Donaire has become that on the night of one of his biggest victories, he took the time to spread a message of peace and understanding to others. There is no logical rationale to hating someone because of their race, their skin color, their gender or their religion.
Donaire’s father, Nonito Donaire Sr., is reluctant to leave his home because of the violence perpetuated upon those like him. It’s the same fear that many Black people have felt when they’re hated for no reason other than the color of their skin.
It makes no sense, and Donaire showed courage and foresight in calling it out when it would have been easier for him to ignore it and simply revel in his huge victory.
“I want to make the statement that we’re all one,” Donaire said in the ring after the fight. “If we could help each other, then we should help each other. ...
"Let us stop Asian hate. My elderly father is afraid to go out. Let’s stop the hate, any kind of hate.”
He’s exactly right, just as he was when he spoke about his age. No bantamweight at his age has ever done what he’s done. He’s been a pro since Feb. 22, 2001, and looked as sharp as ever on Saturday. It’s hard for those lighter weight fighters to make the weight after all of those years of sacrifice and denial.
Anyone who’s ever had to cut weight knows how miserable it is, and it gets increasingly harder after years of the kind of success that Donaire has enjoyed.
“Being at this age is really not the question,” Donaire said. “It’s about my performance. It’s the ability to grow. I believe it matters not what your age is. It matters how you are mentally, how strong you are mentally. … I believe the human body is an incredible machine. It can do incredible things if we take care of it. That’s the question, that taking care of our body allows us to be strong mentally. You’re only as strong as your mind can be.”
He’s pretty strong in every way at this advanced age for a boxer. His ticket for the International Boxing Hall of Fame was punched long ago, but he delivered a little reminder for those who may have been focused on other things why he belongs.
He’s 41-6 with 27 knockouts and 20 of his 47 fights have been for world titles. It’s a remarkable career and he’s hoping to end it with a flourish.
His goal is to unify the 118-pound belts before stepping away.
It’s a huge task, but who would have bet 14 years ago when Donaire kayoed an unbeaten world champion to win a belt for the first time that he’d do it again so much later. George W. Bush was the President of the United States when he stopped Darchinyan. After the terms of Barack Obama and Donald Trump, now it’s Joe Biden who is in the White House.
And Donaire is on top of the bantamweight division. It’s been a glorious run and there’s no sign yet it’s close to ending.
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