Since knocking out Vic Darchinyan in 2007, in what at the time was considered a major upset, Nonito Donaire has established himself as one of the major forces in the lower weight classes, winning titles in multiple divisions and earning fans with his explosive style inside the ring and his approachable charisma outside the ropes. We sat down with the Philippines-born, Northern California-based star to learn more about the man behind the boxer.
Do you remember your first fight?
We would have street boxing; the parents would say, "Hey, let's have our kids fight." We'd put gloves on, and we were getting dropped like crazy. But the first time I really went into the ring, I was 11 years old. My dad had trained me for 45 days. And I peed my pants going into the ring. I literally really, really did. I was bullied growing up, and to go in there and fight -- I was scared. But the moment that I first got hit, I felt like a wounded beast. And that's when I found out I had a personality I didn't know about. And that personality is, I'm going to fight to the death, no matter what.
Did you look up to any athletes or fighters when you were growing up?
I looked up to a lot of fighters when I was young. [Felix] Trinidad was someone I looked up to when I was growing up. My style was Sugar Ray Leonard; when I was an amateur, my father liked Sugar Ray Leonard, Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, he was an old school type of guy. But for me growing up, it was Trinidad, [Oscar] De La Hoya, Roy Jones.
If you could go in a time machine and fight anybody, who would it be?
I have the greatest respect for all the fighters from back then. But one of the guys would be Sugar Ray Robinson. He was an incredible fighter. How would you fight him? How do you fight a guy who was tricky, who had power, who was tough? I'd rather just watch him, actually. Not fight him, just watch how he works.
Do you follow any other sports?
From time to time I do watch football, baseball, basketball. And when I'm a fan, I'm a [San Francisco] Giants Fan, a [Golden State] Warriors fan. I'm a Bay Area fan.
What's the worst injury you've sustained?
I would say my shoulder. For a few years, I had a bad shoulder. I got it fixed after the fight [with Guillermo Rigondeaux in April 2013]. I couldn't sleep on my right side for about a year. So that's when my wife and I switched sides in bed. But as a fighter you kind of shrug it off. Pain is pain. I think I may be having the same problem in my left shoulder; we'll see where it is, for now. But I had two tears in my right rotator cuff, but now I'm back, stronger than ever.
What do you think you might be doing if you weren't a fighter?
I'm an artist-type person. Either music or art. I love to draw. I love to paint if I can, but that never developed. Growing up, I used to sketch; I used to draw for people - cartoons, or people's faces. I'd probably do something like that. But you never really know. Now I'm trying to go back and do some of that: trying to go back and learn the piano, trying to go back and do some painting. And I do photography. I love photography.
Complete this sentence: I will retire when ...
I will retire when I know that I'm not good enough to be on top.
What do you want your son to be when he grows up?
I want him to be happy. Whatever choice he makes, I will support him. That's one thing that is different from my relationship with my father. My father had a military-type mentality: "You'll do this, you'll do that. And you have to do it this way." So I never really got to do the things I wanted to do. So, my son, if he wants to be a breakdancer, he can be a breakdancer. If he wants to be an artist, he can be an artist. I'm going to be there, whatever. If he wants to box, though, I'm going to be tough as nails.