Two options for Donaire
Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - January 11, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines - WBO superbantamweight champion Nonito Donaire, Jr. said the other day he’ll fight either former IBF featherweight ruler Evgeny Gradovich of Russia or No. 5 contender Zsolt Bedak of Hungary in a 12-round title defense at the Smart Araneta Coliseum on April 23.

“So far, only Gradovich and Bedak are the names discussed by my manager (Cameron Dunkin) and Top Rank,” said Donaire. “Gradovich is still under consideration but we have another option in Bedak. The date for the fight remains the same.”

Last Saturday, Gradovich was in Spain to face Mexico’s Jesus Galicia in what was supposed to be a tune-up bout for Donaire. The fight was a gauge of whether or not Gradovich, who has never weighed less than 125 pounds in his pro career, could scale down to the superbantamweight limit of 122. Gradovich weighed 128 pounds and beat Galicia on a majority 10-round decision.

Gradovich, 29, is trained by former IBF superfeatherweight champion Robert Garcia who used to work with Donaire. He hasn’t been impressive in his last five outings. The downhill spiral began when Gradovich got off the canvas to outpoint Alexander Miskirtchian in Macau in May 2014. Then, he was held to a split 12-round draw by Jayson Veles, lost a technical decision to Lee Selby, barely defeated Aldimar Santos on an 8-round split decision and managed to escape Galicia.

It doesn’t seem likely that Gradovich can bring his weight down to 122 and challenge Donaire. If he’s scratched out of the running, Bedak will get the nod. Bedak, 32, has a 25-1 record, with 8 KOs, and is coming off a win over Kenya’s Nick Otieno in Hungary. Otieno was the same fighter who lost to Z Gorres in Cebu City in 2008 and to Genesis Servania in Tagbilaran City in 2012. Bedak’s only loss was to Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. on a 10th round stoppage in Puerto Rico in 2010. Vazquez bowed to Donaire on a split decision in 2012. The only Filipino whom Bedak has fought was Ramie Laput who capitulated in seven rounds in Austria in 2009.

Donaire, who is in town for the holidays with his family, said his defeats to Guillermo Rigondeaux in 2013 and Nicholas Walters in 2014 were rousing wake-up calls. “I was disempowered when I fought Rigondeaux,” he said. “I entered the ring hurt with two tears in my rotator cuff so I had a ready excuse to lose. I felt I didn’t belong in the same ring for some reason. It was like how I felt when I was bullied as a kid, I didn’t belong, I was this small kid with big ears. I wasn’t mentally prepared to fight Rigondeaux. Then, against Walters, I wasn’t myself. I staggered him in the second round and I thought he could’ve gone. At the end of the round, he didn’t know where he was and walked towards my corner. But I got hit in the back of the head in the third and I just couldn’t match his strength. From the weigh-in, I went from 125 1/2 to 129 but he went from 125 1/2 to 147 or 149.”

Donaire, 33, blamed himself for the setbacks. “I wasn’t grateful for what I had,” he said. “I began to treat boxing like a job that I didn’t enjoy. I wouldn’t spend extra time in the gym, I had a hard time getting up from bed. I was at my best when I stopped Fernando Montiel in 2011. I went up to No. 2 in the pound-for-pound ratings but I lost it. It was a case of self-sabotage.”

Rebounding from the losses meant a transformation for Donaire. “I went back to my first trainer, my father,” he said. “I started eating healthy, reading books. I used to devour pork – lechon, crispy pata, barbequed pork. Now, I’m content eating just bits of it. When I wake up, I’m thankful to God for another day. I’m grateful for what I have. I’m re-enjoying the gym. I’m mentally prepared. I’ve learned a lot from Chad Cooper who’s with Tony Robbins, an inspiring motivational coach. It was Chad who made me believe that I couldn’t lose to (Cesar) Juarez in my last fight, that I had to get past the guy to save my family. I knew I had to do everything I could to save them. When I hurt my foot and Juarez started to come on strong, quitting never entered my mind. I just had to win. Boxing is what I do for a living. There was so much at stake in the fight and I couldn’t lose. I wanted to finish the fight like a warrior and that’s exactly what I did in the last round. I broke Juarez’s nose but he kept punching. I thought of my wife Rachel and our two sons. I couldn’t let them down.”

Donaire floored Juarez twice in the fourth round but stepped on referee Ramon Pena’s foot in the sixth, leaving him with a severe sprain. Juarez capitalized and with Donaire’s mobility compromised, found it easier to land on a standing target. Donaire, however, held on to win the vacant WBO superbantamweight crown on a unanimous 12-round verdict in Puerto Rico last Dec. 11.

“Right now, I feel great,” said Donaire. “I’m constantly learning. Some people think I’m done, that my best is in the past. But I’ll show them. I’m just halfway through. Now I’m empowered. My mind is clear. Before I was at a high level, now I’m aiming for the highest level. I want to fight Rigondeaux again. I can beat him. Walters is now up to superfeatherweight and didn’t even make the weight in his first featherweight defense of the crown he took from me. So, I don’t think we’ll ever meet again. My family is important to me and it’s for their future that I fight.”

Donaire is signed for three fights under Top Rank this year. Down the road is a showdown with No. 3 contender Jessie Magdaleno. If Gradovich backs out, Bedak will be Donaire’s opponent in his first Manila fight since demolishing William Prado at the Big Dome last March.


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