The Ageless Wonder: Nonito Donaire Aims For Another World Title At 40

'The Filipino Flash' fights for the WBC championship this weekend
07:00, 12 Jul 2023

Age is just a number. While sport often disproves that fact, with legendary figures withering before our very eyes, it remains true of the ‘Filipino Flash’. Nonito Donaire fights for the 50th time this weekend at the ripe old age of 40. Already old in boxing terms, the big four-oh is considered a death sentence in the lower weight classes. Just don’t tell Donaire that, as he bids to extend his own record as the oldest bantamweight champion in history. 

This Saturday the four-weight king takes on Alexandro Santiago for the vacant WBC title he lost to Naoya Inoue last time out. That chastening, two-round knockout defeat would have derailed lesser men. It was a shock considering Donaire had given Inoue one of his toughest and most exciting fights back in 2019. Most expected the veteran to push Inoue hard again, but it wasn’t to be.

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Yet still he keeps coming. Donaire won his first world title in 2007, stopping unbeaten IBF flyweight champion Vic Darchinyan in five rounds. The victory over the fearsome ‘Raging Bull’ saw Donaire win Upset of the Year and Knockout of the Year in The Ring Magazine, and heralded his arrival on the global stage.

To demonstrate how long Donaire has been fighting and winning at the absolute top level, let’s take a look at his fellow champion when he won that first IBF strap. Floyd Mayweather had beaten Oscar De La Hoya for the WBC light middleweight title two months before. Joe Calzaghe still reigned supreme, nearing the end of his historic tenure as WBO super middleweight champion. The heavyweight belts were shared between the IBF boss Wladimir Klitschko, WBC ruler Oleg Maskaev, WBA holder Ruslan Chagaev and the WBO titlelist Sultan Ibragimov.

These feel like names from another era altogether and they are. But Nonito Donaire is the connective tissue that has endured. Every name listed above has retired. Not recently either. The most recent being Floyd, who aside from a few exhibitions called it a day in 2017 along with Klitschko. Donaire isn’t just a testament to longevity, he is the benchmark.

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From that triumph Donaire has fought on through a thrilling and decorated career. He wouldn’t lose another fight after becoming champion until 2013. That was the year the unbelievably gifted Guillermo Rigondeaux finally made Donaire look human. Even then it was close. ‘The Filipino Flash’ had his opponent down in the 10th round. The scores of 116-111, 115-112 and 114-113 reflected the action. Rigondeaux left with the WBO, The Ring and lineal titles Donaire brought in, as well as his own WBA gong.

Donaire’s road to that setback had been paved with gold. Along with that super bantamweight bounty, he had collected multiple other belts along the way. The hard-hitter had retired Jorge Arce with a punishing third-round knockout. He ended the career of Japan’s former WBC bantamweight king Toshiaki Nishioka. Stopped renowned unified world champion Fernando Montiel in two rounds. It had been a reign of terror before Rigondeaux put a full stop on the destruction.

But, as with Inoue, that full stop was more of a comma. The ensuing years would be more mixed than the period of utter supremacy that had preceded it. There were world title defeats to Nicholas Walters and Carl Frampton. But there was more than enough fight in the old dog to lift the WBO super bantamweight gold, which Donaire did by outpointing Cesar Juarez and the WBA version when he stopped Ryan Burnett. It was the latter title he would lose to Inoue in their classic first fight in 2019.

The irrepressible title-collecting machine won the WBC bantamweight bauble in his very next fight, blasting out the unbeaten Nordine Oubaali in four rounds and doing the same to the similarly undefeated Reymart Gaballo in his first defence. We all know what happened to Donaire and his title when he faced Inoue again. But now he has the chance to win it back.

You wouldn’t bet against the 40-year-old doing exactly that. No fighter has managed to keep Donaire down for long. He can’t keep doing this forever but retiring as a reigning world champion would be a fine way to go out. It won’t be easy, as he prepares to face a man 13 years his junior. But then Donaire is a man who made his name with an upset win. He doesn’t care what odds are stacked against him. Somehow, someway, he always seems to end up on top in the end.

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