He’s that other top-rated fighter from the Philippines, the one with the catchy nickname, the perfect English and the left hook that can drop an elephant.
It dropped Vic “Raging Bull” Darchinyan onto the canvas two years ago in what many called the “Knockout of the Year.“
It was scary, but pretty.
Undefeated and defending his IBF flyweight title for the seventh time, the cocky Darchinyan ran into the left hook in the fifth round of their July 2007 fight and went down like a drunk slipping on an icy sidewalk. He made a valiant effort to get back to his feet, but he couldn’t find his balance. Or his feet.
The guy with the pretty left hook and the catchy nickname - Nonito “The Filipino Flash” Donaire - was suddenly the new flyweight champion of the world.
Now, three wins later (making it 20 wins in a row), Donaire (21-1, 14 KOs) is ready to let go of his title and move up to the super-flyweight class. He fights Rafael Concepcion (13-3-1, 8 KOs) of Panama City for the interim WBA super-flyweight title on Saturday (pay-per-view) from The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Top Rank is calling it “Pinoy Power 2” in honor of Filipino fighters.
“Concepcion is a tough guy with heavy hands,” Donaire said on a recent conference call. “He has a lot of heart and he can take a punch. He’s there to do his best. He fights with all his heart and those guys are usually dangerous. They never give up. But I’m very confident going into this fight.”
In his last title defense in April, Donaire stopped a tough Raul Martinez in four rounds. It was one of his better fights, and he did it in front of a home crowd in Manila.
“I think (my performance) had to do with the flow around me and being in the best possible shape,” said Donaire, who moved to the United States in 1993 when he was 9. “My team and I trained hard. I was really confident when I came out and the people around me supported me. There were 15,000 people in the coliseum and that really motivated me.”
Donaire now lives in San Leandro, Calif., but he remembers where he’s from. In honor of former Philippines president Corazon Aquino, who recently died of colon cancer, he’ll be wearing yellow trunks against Concepcion.
“That was her color,“ Donaire said.
While Donaire’s popularity is growing, he’s still trailing pound-for -pound king and fellow countryman Manny Pacquiao, who is almost god-like in his home country.
If it bothers Donaire to be in Pacquiao‘s huge shadow, he didn’t say it. Instead, he said it was an honor just to be associated with Pacquiao. Asked if he felt tied to him, he said from now on, every Filipino boxer will be tied to Pacquiao.
“He’s a great champion, so for me, it’s an honor to be part of that,” he said. “I don’t care about being labeled or anything like that. It‘s more about the pride I bring into the ring. It’s about having the heart of a champion.”
Like Pacquiao, Donaire expects to continue moving up to the heavier weight classes. He says getting back down to 112 pounds right now would be tough for him.
“I’m gaining (weight) as my body matures,” he said. “The weight is difficult to shed.”
Two years ago, he said he was walking around at 142 pounds when he wasn‘t in training.
“At that weight, I wasn’t chubby or anything,“ said Donaire, who recently left Gary Shaw and signed with Top Rank. “But I know that with the proper training and putting that soft tissue into muscle, I can go up to 130 or maybe 135.”
There was a time earlier in his career when Donaire says he couldn’t get fights. Or if he did, he had to take them on just a few days’ notice. His only loss was a five-round decision in the second fight of his career.
When he tried to sign with managers in the past, they told him Filipino fighters were not marketable.
“I was told that Filipino fighters couldn’t break an egg,” he said. “But Manny has helped change all that and we are thankful for everything he has done for the Filipino boxing world.“
As for a rematch with Darchinyan, it might be too late. The Raging Bull just lost another fight, this one by decision to Joseph Agbeko for the IBF bantamweight title.
“Darchinyan only has one punch and if he can’t land it, he won’t be able to beat anybody,” Donaire said. “Agbeko had a game plan and executed it perfectly. I don‘t know anything about fighting Darchinyan again.“
Also on the card is WBO featherweight champion Steven Luevano of LaPuente, Calif., who will defend his title against mandatory challenger and former world champion Bernabe Concepcion.