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Donaire: Boxing was my dad's dream but fire in me still burns

 

By David Kelly

It wasn't meant to be this way, or was it? Sitting in Tony and Jen's coffee shop on the Lisburn Road, Nonito Donaire ponders a 35-year-old journey during which he dreamed of becoming an artist and largely held a cold indifference to a sport that transformed his life.

"It wasn't for me, boxing. It was my father's dream," explains Donaire as he looks ahead with a vastly different perspective to Saturday night's fight with Carl Frampton at the SSE Arena. Now he feels the love, the passion for the ring as never before. Maybe it's because he is in the last chance saloon and you never miss the greasepaint until the final curtain arrives or, as he insists, "I feel amazing, limitless - better than ever."

Dignified and humble, Filipino Donaire is one of the greatest sportsmen to have ever landed in Northern Ireland, having won world titles at four different weights and yet it could easily have ended six years into his professional career when he flattened Vic Darchinyan to pick up the IBF flyweight title.

"Even after I became world champion I did not like boxing because I felt I did it for my father. That was his dream because I had the opportunity to go to university at Northern Michigan on a scholarship. I wanted to go there and do a degree. I told my mom I don't want to box but my dad was a very powerful voice in the house and every time I would tell him he would speak about how much money had been spent on my career, how much time and that I shouldn't throw it all away," said Donaire, speaking exclusively to the Belfast Telegraph.

"I didn't want to disappoint my father so, instead of going to college to study maybe art or video games, I turned professional. I was very smart in mathematics. I was a big gamer, I wanted to make my own games… with my own children, it's about what they want to do and I will tell them 'I will support you but I will show you that it takes discipline to be what you want to be'.

"After I won the world title in 2007, beating Darchinyan, I said I'm walking away from this, I achieved what my father wanted, I achieved the dream so I'm done.

"My dad and I got into it again, then I met my wife Rachel and she asked me why do I box and that was the only question I couldn't answer. I was blank, I had no idea because boxing was not for me.

"They didn't like my wife because she was very vocal. She was fair in terms of it's wrong, it's wrong and she would say it. Before I never questioned but then I started to question them and my parents told me not to marry her and that was tough.

"My parents and I didn't speak for five years… I was never angry with my dad, I was just sad and I was put in a tough place because I had to protect my wife but, at the same time, I knew there was goodness in my parents.

"Then my son came along and I told my wife we need to talk to our parents and we need to work together and we hugged it out, my dad and I both cried and we now have a great relationship.

"Sometimes with darkness, there is always light somewhere down the end of the tunnel. It made my parents realise that I'm my own man and I can make my own decisions. I kept fighting because I started to realise that I loved the sport. In the past I was always told what to do and so I never felt it was me who did it, it wasn't my effort."

While his father Nonito Snr's influence ran deeply throughout his life, Donaire's early years in the seaside village of Bohol in the Philippines were impacted by the guidance of his grandparents Francisco and Florencia.

The future boxing legend's parents had emigrated to the States when he was six and it wouldn't be until four years later that he could join them in Oakland, California.

Those days growing up in Bohol remain strongly embedded in his character.

"We didn't have much, we ate a lot of dried fish and when we managed to get some fresh fish to eat that was like paradise. At night we would go out walking and for light we would get these coconut leaves and wrap them tightly and we could light them and they would stay alight for two hours and for toys we'd carve out cars from wood… it seems such a long way away now.

"We had no electricity so when I would be doing my homework it would be done by candlelight and some times I would be staring at it so long and getting so close that I would start to smell something and then I'd realise that my hair had caught fire!"

The family unit, which included his two brothers, a sister and half sister, came together in the States but it was a sweet and sour experience for little Nonito.

"I was a very small kid and I got bullied. I didn't speak English so I was the subject of ridicule and everybody could pick on me… I actually got beat up by a girl.

"I had done this great drawing of Sonic The Hedgehog and she stole it and somehow we got into a fight, she pushed and scratched me. I was the one bleeding from the neck because I was taught by my father never to hit a woman and also to never use what I knew in the ring out on the street. But I was the one who got suspended even though it was like I had been attacked by a wolf!"

Boxing came along on the back of his brother taking up the sport and, with the drive of his father behind him, he would have a successful amateur career before going on to become one of the best pound for pound fighters of his generation.

On Saturday night, he is determined to make sure the hammer-like fists of Frampton do not bring his incredible ring journey to a jolting halt.

Belfast Telegraph

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