Nonito Donaire’s fight raised to title status

Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — What was originally set as a title eliminator has been upgraded to an interim championship fight and Nonito Donaire Jr. said yesterday it was only fitting that his duel with Ireland’s Carl Frampton will be for the WBO featherweight crown, even on a temporary basis, at the SSE Arena in Belfast on April 21.

WBO titlist Oscar Valdez suffered a cracked jaw and broken teeth during his win on points over Scott Quigg at the StubHub Center in California last March and will take months to recover from a procedure where his mouth was wired to heal the injury. Whoever wins in Belfast will be recognized as the interim champion while Valdez recuperates and mandated to face the Mexican once he is fit to fight again.

“Frampton and I are both champions and our fight deserves to be a 12-round title match,” said Donaire. “I was told that the fight was upgraded a week or two ago and I think it’s great. It’s a reflection of how big this fight is. I know the fans will go all out to cheer for Frampton in his hometown but that’s not a problem for me. Once the fight starts, my mind will just be focused on winning and I won’t hear the crowd.”

Donaire will leave Las Vegas, where he is based, for Belfast on Friday. “I’ll do heavy training but no sparring in my first two days in Belfast then I’ll taper off,” he said. “Weight’s not an issue. I’m comfortable in the featherweight division. Right now, I’m walking around at 130 and it won’t be difficult to trim down to 126 for the weigh-in.”

Donaire said training camp has been smooth. “I’ve sparred at least 80 rounds with five or six different fighters,” he said. “I had to cut down sparring long rounds to avoid peaking too soon but now, I’m back to sparring 10 to 12 rounds. I like rotating sparmates with different styles so I can work on my adjustments. Frampton’s not anyone like I’ve fought before. He reminds me a little of Fernando Montiel whom I knocked out with a single left hook in the second round in 2011. Frampton’s more of a straight-up kind of fighter and unlike Montiel, I don’t think he’ll give me a wide opening for my left hook. He’s both a boxer and puncher. Whatever style he’ll use, I’m ready so bring it on.”

Donaire, 35, and Frampton, 31, are both former WBA featherweight champions looking to get back on the throne in the crossroads of their careers. Frampton is also a former IBF superbantamweight titlist. Donaire has been the IBF/IBO flyweight, interim WBA superflyweight, WBC bantamweight, IBF/WBO superbantamweight and WBA featherweight champion. Donaire’s record is 38-4, with 24 KOs compared to Frampton’s 24-1, with 14 KOs.

Frampton’s only loss was a majority decision to Mexico’s Leo Santa Cruz last July. He’s coming off a win by unanimous decision over Mexico’s Horacio Garcia and survived a knockdown in the seventh round to book the victory last November. Frampton also went down not once but twice in the first round but stormed back to defeat Mexico’s Alejandro Gonzalez, Jr. via a unanimous 12-round verdict in El Paso, Texas, in 2015.

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