Limpag: Donaire, a special class

Almost 14 years ago, I and a select group of Cebu sportswriters were lucky enough to meet a young boxer who had just etched his name in the boxing world with a stunning fifth round knockout of an erstwhile undefeated fighter.

That boxer was Nonito Donaire Jr., who had flown into town with his father and trainer and namesake. It came just three months after he stopped Vic Darchinyan, a knockout that put the world on notice.

Back then, we didn’t know much of the Donaires, and to be honest, the first time I heard of the name was a year before when his brother Glen fought Z Gorres.

If I only knew then that the Donaires grew up in the town next to ours, perhaps they could have shared some interesting stories.

But that night, it was all about boxing and Junior’s preparation for his first defense against Luis Maldonado. The meeting was at Mooon Cafe, the original branch, and I remember that while we enjoyed the meals offered, the champ, since he was in the middle of training, only had a salad.

We all know what happened against Maldonado. He was the first in a series of victories that saw Donaire undefeated in five years, winning two more weight divisions, before losing to Guilliermo Rigondeaux.

A year and three fights later, he would suffer his first knockout loss to Nicholas Walters for the WBA super featherweight belt. He dropped down to the super bantam division and would win the title against Cesar Juarez and even defend it in Cebu against Zsolt Bedak. That fight was crazy, and since it was election time, I remember the crowd screaming “Du-ter-te” when he got in the ring.

He lost twice in the next three fights, and I think fans were beginning to write him off as past his prime. But ironically, it was in another loss that fans were reminded that he still had it when he rocked the monstrous Naoya Inoue before losing by unanimous decision.

Then 2020 happened, and to a fighter getting close to 40, getting a year written off is a career-ender. He had a fight that had to be canned because of a Covid-positive test, something which he contested.

Time to hang up the gloves, right? He’s not Manny Pacquiao.

Yes, he isn’t, and last Sunday he showed why. Because he’s Nonito Donaire Jr., who at 38 is the oldest bantamweight champion, 14 years after his first title at flyweight. If you want that in terms that you can relate to, just imagine that in 14 years you are still as deadly and as good and you gained only six pounds.

And now, this early, they are talking about a rematch with Inoue. Now’s that something.