source: Kevin Iole | Yahoo! Sports
The story is familiar even to the most casual of boxing fans: The young fighter of Filipino descent starts off in the lightest weight classes, dominating opponents and picking up titles. One by one, he punches his way to world championships, leaving in his wake a collection of battered and beaten bodies.
He’s doubted at first, derided as “just a little guy,” but he eventually wins over the critics and becomes widely regarded as the best fighter in the world.
Manny Pacquiao was on that path about 10 years ago and is now, along with Floyd Mayweather Jr., by far one of the two best fighters in the sport.
Nonito Donaire (27-1, with 18 knockouts) is on that same path right now and it would hardly be a shocker if the three-division world champion wound up with belts in six or seven classes and was universally recognized as the greatest fighter in the world within a couple of years.
“He is already a great fighter and he has such great knockout power and overall fighting ability; he can still get a lot better,” said Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer. “I was talking with [ex-boxer] Jesse James Leija the other day and we were saying how hard this guy can punch. He’s really dangerous and he can knock you out with one shot.
“To me, even though maybe he doesn’t get the recognition like Manny does, or like [Mayweather], he’s already in the top five and I think he has the ability to move up.”
Donaire, who owns world titles at flyweight, super flyweight and bantamweight, will seek a fourth crown Saturday when he meets Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. at the Alamodome for the vacant World Boxing Organization super bantamweight belt in a bout televised by HBO.
Donaire is hardly caught up in the hype. He’s eager to fight, particularly coming off a bout in October in which Omar Narvaez sought to survive and didn’t engage, making for an ugly fight which drew hoots from the bloodthirsty crowd.
He’s looking forward to swapping blows with Vazquez in the kind of fight in which his speed and power almost always wins out, and insists he’s not thinking of what may lie ahead.
All the accolades are great, said Donaire, a good photographer who is frequently seen shooting fights at ringside, but they mean nothing until his career is complete.
“I don’t think about it,” he says of the similarities to Pacquiao’s career path. “I enjoy boxing for the moment. I love the excitement and the competition. I am content to leave it to the fans to decide my place in the sport’s history.”
Donaire, 29, is right about where Pacquiao was at the same age. Pacquiao turned 29 on Dec. 17, 2007, and was regarded as a top-10 fighter by that stage.
Pac-Mania was in full force in the Philippines by then, but it hadn’t really caught on as much in the U.S. He’d just come off a convincing win over a faded Marco Antonio Barrera and was poised to fight Juan Manuel Marquez for a third time in a bid for the super featherweight belt.
It was that split-decision win over Marquez on March 15, 2008, that started Pacquiao collecting belts like Christmas ornaments. After winning the super featherweight title from Marquez, he won the World Boxing Council lightweight title from David Diaz in his next outing. After a non-title bout with Oscar De La Hoya, Pacquiao then won super lightweight, welterweight and super welterweight titles in his next four matches.
Currently, Donaire is fifth in the Yahoo! Sports ratings, behind Mayweather, Pacquiao, Sergio Martinez and Marquez.
If he wins on Saturday – and he’s a heavy favorite to do so – it will be his fourth championship, and a jump to featherweight would be looming fairly quickly.
“He doesn’t have the body to go much beyond [super featherweight], I don’t think,” said his manager, Cameron Dunkin, one of the game’s most astute observers. “But if he can pull that off – and it’s a lot to ask of anyone – and goes through 122, 126 and 130, when you put that together with what he’s already done, it’s pretty amazing.”
Donaire’s biggest competition for the top spot, once Mayweather and Pacquiao leave the scene, is probably his close friend, super middleweight champion Andre Ward.
Ward, the 2004 light heavyweight gold medalist, is a brilliant tactician who is just now emerging as a complete fighter. Ward, ranked sixth in the Yahoo! poll, has the defensive ability, the power and the punching accuracy, and, most significantly, the quality opponents to make him ascend to the top spot.
Bruce Trampler, the Hall of Fame matchmaker from Top Rank, raves about Donaire, but said if there is something that may keep him from earning legendary status, it’s the quality of opposition he ahead.
“He’s already an exceptional talent,” Trampler said. “He has a chance to be a great, great fighter, but when you think of the all-time greats, Sugar Ray Leonard had [Marvelous Marvin] Hagler, Tommy Hearns, [Roberto] Duran, [Wilfredo] Benitez, guys who were great in their own rights.
“You think of Ray as great, and he was because of the great fighters he beat. That’s the one question about how this kid will be remembered, but he is without a doubt a tremendous talent.”