Nonito Donaire, Pound For Pound Boxing’s No. 1 Role Model

That smile looks at home on Donaire, but it wasn’t always so. He suffered through a dark childhood, and there were days, he said, he didn’t want to trudge on. He did, and look where he is now. THAT is a role model. (Chris Farina-Top Rank)

When he dropped the bombshell on me back in October 2011, I was in awe of the guy, how far he’d come, and thought he could and should be celebrated–outside of the narrow world of the boxing racket–as a potent symbol of how you can come back from the depths.

However, when Nonito Donaire in an NYC hotel room a few days before he was to fight Omar Narvaez at the MSG Theater admitted that he was so depressed as a kid he thought about offing himself, I confess I felt almost uncomfortable.

That info was too raw, seemingly out of place outside of a therapy session. But I felt honored that the boxer had chosen to share such emotionally intensive material with me. Yes, from that moment on, I of course had a new level of respect for Nonito Donaire, the Filipino Flash, who is now in the process of taking the reins over, as the Phillipines boxing standard bearer, from Manny Pacquiao.

I filed a story for a publication and the story fell in between the cracks, as new editors took control. The impact didn’t hit them as much as it hit me, and I vehemently disagreed, as I’d never heard about such a prominent athlete having the courage to reveal that dark place they’d resided in as a child. But I didn’t battle excessively, as I don’t assume my judgment is the be-all end-all anywhere, at home or in the work world.

The story sat, and I was happy when I saw that SI’s Chris Mannix had spoken to Donaire, who he named 2012 Fighter of the Year, and Donaire went there. He talked about trying to kill himself to Mannix. “One by one he tied the shirts and pants together, creating a makeshift rope from a pile of dirty laundry….At ten-years old, Nonito Donaire attempted suicide.”

Here is an excerpt of my dusty-in-the-archives never-ran piece:

Growing up in General Santos City, in the same area as Manny Pacquiao, Donaire
wasn’t known as “The Filipino Flash.” Teasing classmates called him “Dumbo Ears” and “Snotface.”

“I was tiny, sickly, always picked on,” he says. “I had big beaver teeth. And I never believed in myself.”

His parents were in the US, laying the groundwork for Nonito, big brother Glenn (also a pro boxer, with a 17-4-1 record) and their older sis to go to America. They lived with their mother’s parents, and Nonito remembers a harsh atmosphere.

Donaire detailed some of the physical abuse he suffered at the hands of an older relative, and described a system of discipline in that region, in that era, which rendered hitting an acceptable child rearing mechanism.

Little Nonito would pray to get hit by a bus, but the bus didn’t arrive, so he inched towards doing the job himself. Sometimes he’d creep into his room, tie a shirt around his neck, because he wondered what it would feel like to hang. He’d stop choking himself right before he passed out. So what kept him from committing suicide? “I always believed in God, and I felt if I do take my life everything I believe in would crumble around me and hell would be my destination.”

As Donaire spoke, he’d break into a smile, when, frankly, I thought maybe I’d see a teardrop fall. I wondered, is this guy all the way back? Could he have healed to that extent? He seems to be scar free; is that possible? It looked and felt like he had the love of his life there in the room with him, his wife Rachel, someone who accepted all sides of him, someone he could lay off grief and suffering to, without fear of misuse of information, so I believed. But I asked anyway.

Is that little boy who prayed to die still in you?

“Rachel can answer that,” he said in October 2011, and laughed, while turning to look at her. She stayed quiet, let him continue. “I think I still have it in me, that little boy. But everything turned out to be great. If you just believe in it, one thing I learned in life, no matter how good or bad I’m always thankful, just breathing, for just living. I always smile. That little kid, I never regret him being bullied or being hurt,” Donaire said. “I’ve learned a lot. It made me the character who I am now.”

That’s a role model, I thought to myself as I left the hotel room in NYC, and for days, and months, and now well over a year later, and every time I’d watch Donaire, now one of the top three pugilists in the world, do his thing. That’s someone who a little kid who was bullied or beaten and so hammered down by circumstances that they contemplate an early ending can look to, and look up to, and see the future.

I’m so damned pleased that this portion of Nonito’s journey is out there, because now I can see one or two little kids with big ears, or a leaky nose or a runty physique or a single mama who can’t afford the cool gear knowing his arc, taking pause, instead of taking their life.

He was where I am now, hating life, dreading my existence, maybe they say. Maybe I will choose life, maybe I can fight through this and end up with my hand raised, with a smile that can light up an arena. Nonito did it, maybe I can to.

Happy New Year, and thank you, to the number one role model in the sport, who has done something more impactful than winning another title in another weight division. Happy New Year to Nonito Donaire who I dare say may be saving a life, or two, or more, by sharing a painful past with the world, and allowing those similarly suffering to see past the darkness, past a self-imposed early exit, to a future where maybe you can always smile.

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Comment on this article



-Radam G :

Wow! This copy is kind of bizarre. More than likely TFF got teased in the USA about his ears and teeth. Man, we Filipinos, like most Asians, are stereotyped for "Jumbo ears" and "beaver teeth" on the U.S. mainland, not in the homeland. And this type of nonsense have gone on since the Yanks invaded the P-Islands in 1898. Wow! TFF as a kid must have been sissy-like early in life and over sensitive because teasing in the P-Islands goes just so far. Nagging rudeness will get you a quick dirt nap in the P-Islands. My understanding is that Da Manny's childhood friend and now assistant trainer was a protector of the sissified-child Nonito "Jun-Jun" Donairey Jr. I'm not saying this stuff isn't true. I don't know. I lived a privileged childhood in the P-Islands and the USA. I got fudged up/straightened up in boarding school in Hong Kong, though. I believe that TFF suffered from depression as a child, and now as an adult he has told the story of his childhood so often that he is prone to exaggerate for the sake of more attention. And all of this is good background copy that readers rather hear. Privileged and decent childhoods get you hated. C'mon, Editor Mike, you scribes are more likely to script the downside of a life, not the upside. TFF came up similar to the GOAT Ali. They were both in the middle class, so scribes have to dig in on the downside to make 'em interesting -- not that what they do in that squared jungle isn't already doing that. Holla!

-Radam G :

Yup! The now famous sidekick assistant trainer -- Buboy -- of Da Manny was a whup@$$ childood protector of TFF. Holla!

-tlig :

"So what kept him from committing suicide? "I always believed in God, and I felt if I do take my life..blah blah blah"" No. You didn't take your life because, like most people who attempt to do so, you
chickened out. No shame in that; talking about suicide and following through with it (not merely "attempting" it) are three, maybe even four, worlds apart. If there's one thing most human beings are scared of it is death (and to a greater extent, "dying"). You were scared. In any case it's good that you are here now and achieving goals. PS, Radam's take on the story sounds more realistic too. Maybe TSS should consider doing a little research before going ahead to publish this type of story.

-admin :

most people who attempt to do so, you
chickened out. No shame in that; talking about suicide and following through with it (not merely "attempting" it) are three, maybe even four, worlds apart. If there's one thing most human beings are scared of it is death (and to a greater extent, "dying"). You were scared. In any case it's good that you are here now and achieving goals. PS, Radam's take on the story sounds more realistic too. Maybe TSS should consider doing a little research before going ahead to publish this type of story.

-tlig :

So, you're insinuating that Donaire is a pathological liar? Because that's what he'd have to be to make that stuff up. NO. NOT. All due respect. Thx for reading. --MJW
Pathological liar seems rather extreme. I find it hard to believe he would have been bullied for his teeth and ears in the Philippines and somehow not have to face the same once removed (and in the US, where he'd most likely have looked even more different to the majority). I also- again this is my own opinion and nothing more- do not believe he decided against suicide for the reasons he stated. He may indeed have contemplated it but following through with it is a whole 'nother game and he, like most people who think it the easy way out, backed out
for fear. Reading the article's my pleasure btw.

-Radam G :

Danggit! I didn't mean to start a roid. But "The Filipino Flash" has the norm of Filipinos looks. So-labeled "Jumbo ears" and "beaver teeth" are just us. I took a holla at the seven living generations of my fam, and we are just some Jumbo-ears/beaver teeth muthasuckas. Wow! Chinese, Malayans, Spaniard, Scottish and Asiatic blacks are just known for those Jumbo ears and beaver teeth. Pilipinos are the most mixed people on the planet. I just hate that TFF suffered from apparent inattention blindness and didn't and couldn't see all the Jumbo ears, beaver teeth and snot faces looking right back at him. Considered one of the handsomeness man to ever have lived, Scottish-American Clark Gable had the biggest ears and beaverist teeth of any movie star of his days and nowadays. And holla at Scottish-Irish mixed Marilyn Monroe. That late, great beauty brought in what is known as sexy nowadays for dolls, damsels and dames. She did not only pack much @$$, she had the jumbo ears, and the beaver teeth. Holla at Prez Obama. Da dude Prezy got a double dose of jumbo ears from his African pops and his Irish-Scottish grandfather. Presidents Lincoln, Kennedy, Reagan and Obama have the biggest jumbo ears and elongated beaver teeth known amount U.S. Prezs. Even dentists are making mad moolah to elongate the so-called beaver-teeth look. I'm riding with Tlig on this one. TFF appears to have his geography off a bit about the teasing of his childhood. And he is no pathological liar for what he believes. Holla!

-deepwater :

Holy batman. Your in awe of a guy that got bullied and looked dorky because he didn't kill himself. News flash = every kid goes through it get over it. Be in awe of the guys skills and all the good deeds he may do. Value the mans virtue not some wishy washy lame nonsense that never ever even happened . Value the light in people not the darkness in your mind. Little big man made me smile when I heard the Cuban boxers crew insulted a female with donaire family , when he heard about it he went to the guys hotel room and called him to straighten him out. I applaud old fashion values like a man defending a woman's honor. Keep it up nonito!!! The only chivalry this site mentions is Orlando Cruz and his man lol. Happy new year buddies!!!!!!!

-deepwater :

Agreed , lol. Stick to boxing and fighting. The weirdo stuff about nonsense is weird at best ,troubling if you think about it.You better be careful with that matchup of presidents' 3 outta 4 has something very bad in common. Kennedy went against the central bank with silver certificates and got it. Lincoln went against the central bank with greenbacks and got it. Reagan tried to back the dollar with gold and got it in the head but got up after all. Obama has nothing to worry about him and geither and Bernake are printing money out of thin air and smoking 1000 dollar bills while they say fiscal cliff and pretend to argue. It's all an act. If we could pay the debt we would, we can't and they won't.hyperinflation again and again.

-brownsugar :

I think Donaires suicide comment is common experience... we were taught that life is a gift from God,.. if you take it,.. it's an offense against God, and therefore the transgressor must suffer the hell fires... I remember having a young and dumb moment myself when I just wanted to quit,.. give all up and give up the ghost, Yet I remembered that verse. and chose to live through the pain rather than face an eternity of oblivion. (whether it's true or not,.. it's a powerful deterrent to suicide) I've heard the same admission from other people. And I've known a few people who failed at actual suicide attempts for the same reason. Part of the human condition I guess. And it proves that people are basically the same all over the world, once the superficial facade is stripped away. I appreciate Donaire for sharing that story... he's a very unique individual. and a very unique fighter... just give us Donaire vs Mares or Rigo already....

-SouthPaul :

There's been a surge of articles on the message board and admittedly I've lost a bit interest with what I thought was run of the mill repetition. Different author..more less the same article. Anyhow, wow, this is intriguing. Radam's input is most interesting. I am doubting very seriously bulling is unique to the states.

-Radam G :

SouthPaul, excessive bullying is straight-up Yanky panky -- I mean hanky panky. Attempts at bullying is world wide, because the devil just wanna have fun. In the P-Islands, that syet last for a sec, then da bully bytch is double fudged up. Pinoys don't play that syet. We believe in "pakikisama" -- getting along -- with everybodee and dey momma. It is an interesting article flowing around about "The Filipino Flash!" In that piece, he admits that he talks and lets things go on inside of his head, and he is not aware of that until he doesn't get a response from another person. Go to the "Pinoygreats" site and holla at the piece, "Body Talk With Nonito Donaire Jr." Check out closely the part about does TFF talks in his sleep. And WTF! How can you believe a cat, who cannot figure out if he is expressing something outside the cranium or inside it? Holla!