MANILA, Philippines - Although retirement is far from his mind, WBO superbantamweight champion Nonito Donaire Jr. said recently he has plans of going back to school and earning a degree to prepare for life after boxing.
Donaire, 30, realizes that prizefighting is a short career – you make the most of it when you can. He’s careful not to be trapped in the swirl of being a celebrity living on the fast track. He makes prudent use of his hard-earned money with a house on a 2.5 acre property close to the Las Vegas strip bought from a retired four-star US general his biggest investment.
“I don’t surround myself with yes men,” said Donaire who insists his feet are firmly planted on the ground and his head isn’t flying on air. “I don’t run around with an entourage. When I’m in training camp and the guys in my team aren’t critical of what I’m doing, I get worried. My trainer (Robert Garcia) trusts me and I go over the strategy for every fight with Robert and Brian Schwartz. Robert is busy with his brother Mikey, Brandon Rios and his other fighters but we keep in touch on a regular basis. In my corner, he has a calming influence. He’s definitely our team leader.”
Donaire said he finished short of earning a high school diploma to concentrate on his professional career. “I was offered a scholarship at Northern Michigan University just like Brian (Viloria),” he said. “But my dad wanted me to go straight to the pros. No regrets. I had to deal with the real life out there. Now that I’ve established myself as a fighter, I plan to go back to school. This year, I want to finish my high school, maybe on-line. Then, I hope to earn a college degree. It might take some time but that’s okay. Several years ago, I met Mr. Delfin Gonzalez, Sr. who enrolled in law school at 89. I was really inspired by Mr. Gonzalez, now a lawyer. Age isn’t a hindrance to what you set out to accomplish.”
Donaire said he has learned a lot from Manny Pacquiao. “Manny taught me that no man is invincible, that we should be constantly learning to improve, to keep trying until you reach your goal,” he said. “He taught me to focus on whatever you’re doing, whether it’s in boxing or show business, to always work hard to do better.”
Donaire said there are other values that he embraces. “I always pray at night, before I sleep,” he said. “There’s not a day I haven’t prayed. Before a fight, I pray that God gives me strength to do my best, not necessarily to be victorious. After a fight, I give thanks to the Lord. I particularly pray to St. Michael the Archangel for strength. I believe in loyalty, like I felt so bad when the San Francisco 49ers, my team, lost in the Super Bowl. I also believe that no matter what your lineup looks like, you can become a championship team with good coaching because your coach is your leader. A prime example is the Los Angeles Lakers who are struggling and the Golden State Warriors who are succeeding even if their lineup isn’t as talented as the Lakers.”
Donaire said his life has changed since he became a world champion. “It’s definitely different now,” he said. “But it’s fine. I’m honored that people recognize me – taxi drivers, policemen, shoppers in malls. It’s a blessing for me and I take it as a responsibility to do my best to deserve the recognition.”
Gearing up for a unification showdown with WBA champion Guillermo Rigondeaux of Cuba on April 13, Donaire said his hand problems are now a thing of the past. “So far, so good,” he said. “My left hand is holding up. “The skin around my knuckles split during my fights against (Wilfredo) Vazquez and (Toshiaki) Nishioka. It was okay when I fought (Jorge) Arce. My Japanese friend Masa (Ueda) introduced me to this gel pad that the Winning brand makes. Whenever I spar, I put the gel pad over my knuckles then layer it with a thick sponge like what is used to clean cars then I do the wraps to compress everything. My hands are protected in sparring and preserved for my fight.”
Donaire took Fighter of the Year honors from nearly every major boxing entity for sweeping his four world title assignments over Vazquez, Jeffrey Mathebula, Nishioka and Arce. The most prestigious recognition came from the Boxing Writers Association of America which had bestowed the same honor to Pacquiao thrice. “I never imagined I would be honored when I started out, to be chosen from hundreds of thousands of fighters all over the world is a huge honor,” he said. “I dedicate this to my country, my loved ones, my family, my friends and all boxing fans. If I were to rate the fighters I beat last year, Nishioka would be No. 1. It took a lot of brainwork and energy to defeat him. Critics thought I could score a knockout only with my left but I stopped Nishioka with my right. At the end of the fight, I was exhausted. Next would be Vazquez because it was my first fight at 122 and I couldn’t finish him off because I hurt my hand. Then, Mathebula because he’s the tallest fighter I’ve ever faced. Finally, Arce who’s a true warrior. I felt bad after I stopped Arce because we’re good friends, we joke around a lot and we respect each other so much. But it’s part of the game. It was how I felt about Nishioka, too, because he’s a very nice guy.”
As for Rigondeaux, Donaire had no comment on the Cuban except to point out that the two-time Olympic gold medalist has never fought anyone with the speed, counterpunching ability, intelligence and power he has.