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Nonito “The Filipino Flash” Donaire Jr. in full fighting form at Manhattan’s Mendez Boxing gym days before his Radio City Music Hall fight with Guillermo Rigondeaux on April 13.  (Photo by Jason Costa)


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Special to the Filipino Reporter

Both Nonito Donaire Jr. and Guillermo Rigondeaux stared at one another, unwilling to concede one iota of trepidation ahead of their WBO/WBA junior featherweight title unification fight this Saturday at Radio City Music Hall.

Both Donaire (32-1, 20 knockouts) and Rigondeaux (11-0, 8 KOs) took the traditional staredown photo opportunity to another level of meaning at Wednesday’s press conference, as if looking away would be tantamount to a mental lapse in what is expected to be a high stakes game of speed chess.

Finally, after nearly two minutes, the two broke away to speak with the press, but it left “The Filipino Flash” Donaire with a good feeling about what most expect to be his most difficult trial to date.

“Today was my moral victory,” said Donaire, a former four-division world champion and current holder of the WBO junior featherweight title.

“The only reason I looked away was because he broke his stare at me and started to look at my nose and my mouth. He felt my energy, and maybe that’s why he looked away from me, because I was starting to get heated. That’s my alter ego; the warrior inside of me starts to come out. I’m a very peaceful, happy guy, but when I’m in that mode my alter ego comes in.”

Donaire, a native of Bohol, Philippines now residing in San Leandro, Calif., carries into the ring the burden of being the last bastion of the Golden Era of Philippine boxing.

The past decade has been the best period in the history of Filipino boxing.

Prior to Manny Pacquiao’s breakout victory over Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003, Filipino boxers were largely viewed as opponents with little marketing potential.

Yet in the last decade, as the careers of Pacquiao, Brian Viloria and Nonito Donaire Jr. took off, so did the sport in the Philippines, inspiring a new generation of Filipino boxers.

Following Pacquiao’s knockout defeat to Juan Manuel Marquez and Viloria’s shock defeat last weekend to Juan Francisco Estrada, Donaire carries with him the weight of a nation’s boxing legacy.

“For me, I just keep trying to do what I need to do,” said Donaire, deflecting any talk of his standing in boxing hierarchy at Tuesday’s press workout at Mendez Boxing Gym in New York.

“Before me, Pacquiao, he inspired me and hopefully I can inspire others out there. When I do hit that mountain, there’s going to be other kids who are right next to me. I’m just going to keep doing the best that I can, make the country proud, make my people proud.”

Donaire, 30, has won world titles at flyweight, super flyweight and bantamweight before moving to 122 pounds, where he currently holds The Ring magazine’s recognized championship.

His place among the all-time greats of Philippine boxing, alongside the likes of Pacquiao, Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, Gerry Penalosa and Luisito Espinosa, as he climbs The Ring’s pound for pound list (he’s currently No. 5).

Having absorbed so little punishment through his hit-and-don’t-be-hit approach to the sport, it isn’t inconceivable that he could one day surpass all of those names.

Some day.

Yet, more than making Philippine boxing history, Donaire is making overall boxing history as well.

This will be his seventh consecutive bout on the premium network HBO, making him the sport’s biggest draw in the lighter divisions.

He is also just the second boxer in Radio City Music Hall’s 82-year-history to headline a boxing event at the historic venue (Roy Jones Jr. was the first in 2000).

The Rigondeaux fight will be Donaire’s first bout in New York since his disappointing 2011 outing against Omar Narvaez at Madison Square Garden, where a gun-shy Narvaez lost every round trying to just survive to the final bell.

Donaire rebounded with his best year to date in 2012, winning four title fights and earning himself the Boxing Writers Association of America Fighter of the Year award, which will be presented to him at a celebratory dinner Thursday evening.

Donaire is only the second Asian boxer to win the prestigious award, following Pacquiao.

In Rigondeaux of Miami, Fla. by way of Cuba, Donaire faces his toughest stylistic challenge as a professional.

Rigondeaux, who won gold medals at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic games before defecting from Cuba in 2009, is a slick, powerful southpaw coming off a banner year of his own.

Rigondeaux won three bouts last year, knocking out Rico Ramos to win a world title in just his ninth pro bout, and making two defenses of the belt before the year ended.

“I think he’s a smart guy but he tends to do the same thing over and over,” said Donaire of Rigondeaux, who is close to a 2-1 underdog.

“He is an intelligent fighter, but a lot of the things he’s going to do is not going to work. If he doesn’t change then it’s going to be my game from the get-go.

“He has good power and decent speed as well. A guy who is faster than me will give me a lot of trouble but if not, it’s not going to be a fight.”

Rigondeaux, who will be working with his former amateur coach Pedro Diaz for the first time as a professional, put on a show at Tuesday’s press event, working the pads with fellow Cuban amateur greats Joel Casamayor and Ramon Garbey.

Appearing physically larger in the upper body than Donaire, Rigondeaux downplayed oddsmakers placing him as a slight underdog.

“It could be 10-1, 20-1, that doesn’t mean anything to me,” said Rigondeaux.

“I’m just here to fight. I’m one of the first to become a champion with as many fights as I’ve had and they don’t mention it enough. They don’t give me the accolades.”

Donaire, whose wife Rachel is pregnant with their first child and is due in July, has a lot of incentives awaiting him with a win on Saturday night. All of those issues will have to wait for Sunday morning, however.

“I’ve accomplished a lot and there’s nothing else to prove for me,” said Donaire.

“I’m just going to go out there and win. We’re ready for anything. It’s just-another-day kind of mentality.”

***

Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to The Ring magazine and GMA News. He can be reached at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.

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