This is easily the weirdest way I’ve scored an interview in my whole life: 1. I say on the Internet that a boxer’s wife is hot. 2. Someone from the boxer’s team gets in touch with me to say his wife, a Taekwondo champion, smiled about the blog entry. 3. Relieved that the e-mail doesn’t threaten me with violent kicks or punches to the head, I ask for an interview with both husband and wife. 4. The request is granted.
The boxer in question here is Nonito Donaire, owner of 2007’s Knockout of the Year and a 112-pound titlist looking to join the gang at one of boxing’s most stacked divisions, junior bantamweight (115 lbs). He’s both one of my personal favorites and arguably one of the 20 best boxers in any division.
(This makes two interviews in one week, after Sean’s snagging of Lamon Brewster the other day. Do we deliver on our promises at The Queensberry Rules, or do we not?)
The Donaires, both U.S. citizens although Nonito is a native of the Philippines, spent about 45 minutes — remarkably — chatting with me from their California home by phone. I transcribed it all word for word below, except where there are ellipses. Unless noted, the interview is in the order of the questions asked. I grouped things with sub-headlines by subject — so if you are interested in Donaire’s next fight, but not how these two fighting lovebirds came to be married, you can breeze past it. Given how long the interview is already, I presume the reader knows a little about the subjects already and therefore don’t spend much time on back story.
First, the two of you have had some conflict with the press in the Philippines. Why don’t we start with me giving you an opportunity to clear the air on those reports?
Nonito: Ladies first.
Rachel: I think in all honesty, the press is the press and they only print certain materials. You’re looking at a father and son deal. With any father and son relationship there are a lot of ups and downs. Being in the Philippines, they really are focusing on the father/son, and they’re not focusing on the fact that it’s a job — father/trainer. We hope that it would just pretty much dissolve within the family and not have too much media light brought to it. It blows it into unbelievable proportions… A lot of the reporters, being from the Philippines, haven’t really even taken the time to call the United States part, which would be my husband. They’ve only heard one part because the father is over there…. He’s never been ungrateful, he’s always given his father credit.
N: For the whole thing, it’s the ongoing process. With a Filipino father, it’s usually difficult. It’s not the same as in here in America. We do have that respect with each other, but a Filipino father, he tends to take control of things. It’s an ongoing thing between me and my dad. It’s really nothing new, except everything’s been blown in to something it isn’t. It’s nothing new for me. My father and I will always work things out, I guess.
Who do you expect to be training you for your next fight?
N: I don’t really need any trainer. I already know how to fight. I don’t want anyone to take the credit for what my dad has built with me. To get another trainer, a lot of them would think differently and do things differently, like my routine and training, and I don’t want anyone to change my routine and training. I’m more looking for an assistant than a trainer.
R: He doesn’t want his dad thinking he replaced him as a trainer… he doesn’t want to give that title to just anyone. He’s just switching drivers – he’s a fast car, all the mods are there, it’s just about tuning it up. Nonito Jr. wants to sever the ties as trainer/fighter for now only to save their relationship with father/son. When it first all came out everyone was upset and emotional; they could not talk as a family if they kept going the way they were.
So it sounds like you don’t know who your trainer will be in the future?
N: I’ve had a few friends that have had experience in boxing. It doesn’t matter if they’re good at what they’re doing as long as they listen to what I say about how to assist me. As long as they assist me in that corner, and inspire me to work hard, I’d rather get that guy than someone who has all that prestige in their name…
How did things degenerate with Gary Shaw, and how happy are you about the move to Top Rank?
N: Top Rank has taken good care of us. We haven’t had any problem with them, they’ve been really great. They did the most they could to make me comfortable. We [Donaire and Shaw] didn’t have much of a connection in terms of personal relationship… I’m grateful about where I’ve gotten and part of that is because of Shaw. I definitely am happy where I am and want to stay around.
R: They treat us like family. A business is a business. But they communicate about where our next step is going to land. Being that his boxing career is not as long as any other career is, it’s really important we don’t have one of those 354 days of layoff.
What brought you two together — was it the mutual love of combat, or something else?
N. I have my version, she has her version.
R: I just love hearing his version all the time.
N: Go ahead. I’ll just add on mine.
R: I had an after party. It was at the nationals and I won. I invited Ana Julaton. She’s a female boxer. She couldn’t make it, unfortunately, but she invited Nonito and told him, “My cousin’s having a party and you should go.” They couldn’t get into the club; they came in when it was at maximum capacity.
N: It was only like 11:30.
R: Danity Kane was there that night too. I didn’t know who he was. The bodyguards went out there to get him. I asked, “Who?” They said, “He’s the world champion. He doesn’t wait in line.” Once he got in, 20-30 minutes go by and he hadn’t even said “Hi” to me.
N: I was talking to a guy from Premiere. He was talking to me about putting me on the cover. My attention was towards that. They [Premiere] had a boxing after party because they had a fight somewhat nearby so they went there for the after party. He saw me and he said, “You don’t wait in line, you go in front.” I was talking to him for a little bit and completely ignoring her.
R: I totally thought he was stuck up.
N: I turn around. I wanted to thank her because she invited me and all. I shook her hand and turned around and went back and talked to the guy and she just left. I thought, “She’s stuck up,” too.
R: Basically throughout the night we didn’t really connect because the club was so big. We continued the after party at my house and I showed him my fight video.
N: You skipped a part.
R: Do we have to go through the whole dancing thing? Oh, OK.
N: A friend says, “She thinks you’re cute.” I kept my eyes on her. I’m two-stepping with a bunch of friends. It was near the end of the club, and she grabbed me and danced with me and I thought, “I guess this girl really does have it for me.” Go ahead.
R: And then I showed him my fight video on my laptop. He just kind of looked at me afterwards and said, “That’s you?” “No, I picked someone off the Internet who looked like me just to impress you.” Ten minutes later I go to the baby grand piano. I guess it was his dream to play the piano. That was the second spark in his eye. He started singing “Unchained Melody.”
N: You can’t beat me. I can’t be defeated on some things. I had to show her up.
Is it true that the proposal involved a singing performance from Nonito, and if so, what did you make of it, Rachel?
N: She cried.
R: He makes me cry a lot…. I have this strong, tough persona that I’ve always given off. I don’t know if it has to do with the fact that I went to an all girl school and did Taekwondo and all that. He just makes me all the time. He’s always coming up with something. He proposed to me on TV, and I’m mortified to see the video. I didn’t know what to say. He was singing, and he
grabbed my hand and it was just one of those things you would never understand. I was wearing, like, workout clothes. They wanted us to punch and work out during the interview, and I wasn’t exactly Miss America look. I get the grand proposal and I’m sweaty and my makeup’s running. It took me off of my feet, and it’s been a whirlwind experience of getting thrown into the boxing world.
I read that you scrap against one another from time to time. What’s this story of the rear naked choke?
N: We watch MMA sometimes. And wrestling, we were talking about the WWF with all the drama and all that stuff. I was just playing with her, doing the wrestling moves, and then all of sudden… I’m like, “So you don’t wanna lose?” All of a sudden, I don’t how she did it, but maybe my arm got stuck. Or I let her, of course.
R: Uh-huh, yeah.
N: We both fell off the bed and that’s how I got out.
R: We’re competitive in a fun way. I just bought a Wii —
N: — and I knocked her out [in Wii Boxing]. She beat me in bowling. Because I let her again.
R: We’re really competitive with each other. Even in Taekwondo, if I start to slack off, he’ll say, “I can kick better than you” to show he has a hand up on me. When he’s training in boxing, I say, “One more, push it.” Our competitiveness toward each other and whoever he’s fighting next pushes him to another a level. I’m not the kind of girl and wife who just stays home and does laundry. I do the laundry, but not just that.
N: In the training camp, the food that I eats, she eats. When I’m on a diet, she’s on a diet. When I’m in the sauna, she’s in the sauna.
How quickly did you go from honeymoon to prepping for your title defense?
N: We never went. We went directly after the wedding to training. I knew I hadn’t fought in a while, and I was getting frustrated to the point I didn’t feel like training anymore. I had six or seven fights offered. I just rested most of the time instead of being in the gym. I got disinterested. I wanted to be in the gym for this last fight as soon as I could. We didn’t get to celebrate much of a honeymoon.
R: I fell asleep on our wedding night. We were so tired. It was a small wedding, just our immediate family. We were both just done.
N: We were working most of the time. When it was over, everyone was just like, asleep. We didn’t even make it to our place where we rented for after the wedding. We ended up dropping off our friends instead of making it to our rented place.
R: We booked a whatchamacallit in Hawaii, the big island. It just so happens that there was this promotional thing, not like a time share, that called me while I was in Las Vegas and I was already in Vegas, so I said, “Give me something else.” After the Pacquiao fight we’re on the way to the Philippines for the holidays.
N: Next after that is training. I can’t really slack off because I might get Fernando Montiel next. I need to have my stamina. I’ve already been training some.
What’s the status of your Taekwondo career, Rachel?
R: I fought last year and then stopped. I had to stop a little because of the fact that between the wedding and between helping him figure out when the next fight was, I didn’t want to go in the ring not 100 percent. When we scheduled our wedding date, nationals was two weeks before. My father suggested I not fight. In my entire career, he never said, “Do not fight.” If I was sick or hurt, he told me to fight. He said, “If you’re not going to go into it 100 percent, don’t go. Come back next year.” I’ll be most likely to come back after the spring. It will depend where we are. I could fight with the Philippines national team. If we are in the U.S., there’s a tournament in the U.S.
Rachel — how active are you in Nonito’s career? It seems like wives of boxers who get very involved — like Shane Mosley’s wife — end up being the subject of all kinds of remarks.
R: I read a bit about Shane Mosley’s wife. I know that according to some people, she did run the boxing career on his behalf. Want to say something, babe?
N: For the last fight, doing all the weight loss, there’s no way that I would make it an hour or two of meetings. Sometimes I send her out there because she understands the business aspect of that. Pretty much anything I need her to do, she does it for me.
R: People say, “Oh my God, she’s running his boxing career.” It’s nowhere near that. I’ve stated this to anyone who listens, his boxing manager is Cameron Duncan. Negotiations, purse contracts, he’s going to be handling all that. I’m Nonito’s personal manager. If he’s sleeping, we need to schedule an interview at this time. If something’s too small for a promoter, like I need someone to sing the national anthem or do his entrance song, I take it. I don’t want him to worry about that. I just do what they asked me to do on his behalf so he can do what he needs to.
[Rachel added a post-script on this in a second phone call: “Some of the writers have contacted me and had explained that what was published wasn’t written that way. It was made to create more of an intrigue for the readers, which in turn created more of a soap opera kind of boxing. They’ve sent me, like, their originals.” She said she and Mosley’s wife have different roles, but she knows where the criticism comes from for both of them. “I think it’s mostly that boxing is a male-dominated sport. A woman comes in and says ‘My husband needs this’ and they say, ‘Whoa, what’s going on.’ There’s also Filipino tradition with women. I hate to tell you, but I grew up an American. I could care less if I’m a bad guy and telling people ‘No, he can’t do an interview right now, he’s sleeping.’ My best interest is him.”]
The Philippines seems to be a little bit of a hotbed for fighters these days, between you, Manny Pacquiao, Gerry Penalosa and a few others. Why do you suppose that has happened?
N: Pacquiao has started it all. Before, for a lot of Filipino fighters, it was “Aww man.” They have this wall in their mind that it’s impossible to beat foreign fighters. Pacquiao started doing it and it made that wall crumble. He’s shown that if you have heart you can do anything. Penalosa was in there but he never got big in the U.S., he got big in Asia. With anybody, it gives them confidence that nothing’s impossible. Some Filipinos, they have an inferior mentality because they grow up poor, they call everyone else “sir and ma’am.” They never have that confidence. Everything has changed, one person to another, and that has led to a chain where everyone’s confident.
I’ve tasted the wrath of fans in the Philippines for things I’ve written; they’re very passionate, to say the least. How do you handle them?
N: You can’t blame them for that. They didn’t have anyone for the longest time. In Mexico, for decades they have had great fighters. I’ve gotten a little bit of it. Even if I say something that didn’t really mean that, people interpret it in a different way. They are so passionate about everything. I was attacked in a similar way because of what I said. Of course, they’re what brings the Filipino boxers together. That’s great for Filipinos, those fans being so passionate.
THE MTHALANE FIGHT
You caught a little criticism for your last fight because the title challenger was having some success. How do you respond to that?
N: People don’t see it the way I see it in the ring. People only see it from the way they see it but not from the fighter’s eyes.
I got caught a little in the middle rounds. He wasn’t that strong; it was a technical thing, and I got hit a little. More than I should’ve. I know my hand was broken in the second round. I wanted him to open up, so I could catch him. It was a technical, tactical thing. My plan was to take it from that half. My corner said, “We’re going to take it from this half.” The first six rounds in that fight were pretty slow. In that last round we were willing to put it all on the line. It never got materialized for them to see what I had in the last six rounds. I was pretty slow in that fight. People think I played it wrong, have rust. It felt different in the beginning. When the first punch lands, everything else becomes natural. We had our own game plan. People wanted to see a KO, another Darchinyan fight. Sometimes you can’t do that… It’s the opponent’s way of fighting that changes and alters the whole event….
What made you point out to the referee that he was cut?
N: I was hitting him and he was bleeding and he kept coming and I kept wiping his eyes. I wanted him to wipe his eye and see if he could go back at it. He couldn’t see anything. I was throwing combos, I was in the right hand stance because of the injury. I was throwing combinations, jab-straight. I told Cortez to see what was going on and I guess they stopped the fight. If they had just wiped it off I was willing to step up the gear at that point. It was bleeding. There was a fear of him going blind. All of the blood was going in his face.
R: Have you seen the picture? On MySpace? There’s a picture of it on his MySpace. It’s a vertical cut. It’s a vertical cut. It like, split his eyelid in half. People said he could have kept going. It just seemed so inhumane.
N: If it was her, she would have kept going.
R: We’re talking about different people. I would have kept going, of course.
N: Did you see her clip? She would knock people out and stand over them.
I thought that kind of thing was frowned upon in the martial arts.
R: Things have changed. They used to not like it would you do anything dominating. As things have gone on it’s the way to go to be the #1 opponent. [Pretending to be playing it off:] Or, um, the momentum of my kick was going forward, so I just, you know, kept going that way.
THE NEXT FIGHT
Word is that Bob Arum is interested in matching you up with Fernando Montiel. What do you think of that idea?
N: He’s a great champion. I’ve always had respect for the likes of him and Arce and all those guys. He’s been on top of the game for many years and he still is on top. He’s knocking people out. I think his confidence level has gone up since the Gorres fight, knowing that he can’t take it easy with anyone. It makes me get my game up. I want to fight the people on the top. They were really nice to us in Mexico, very hospitable. That fight is what I want as well. He is not only a person I respect, but he’s the champion. So he’s an obstacle.
Where would the fight be, when would it be and how close is it to being signed?
N: Right now, they’re looking at making the deal on the location of where the venue is going to be, from what I’ve heard from my camp. I’ve already said yes, and he’s already said yes. Montiel’s decision is not the thing that’s interfering. It’s for the promoters to decide where and when…. Probably late February or early March. I can’t wait for next year. 2009 is going to be great.
THE JUNIOR BANTAMWEIGHT DIVISION
What did you make of how Vic Darchinyan looked against Christian Mijares?
N: It was a good fight for him. He stuck to his game plan and Mijares didn’t stick to his game plan. Mijares, he’s a brilliant fighter but he didn’t fight his best that night. He knows how to win, he knows not to give up. Both of those guys are great fighters I want to get in with both of them, especially Darchinyan. Yeah, I beat him, but to beat him again would totally stop everything, his mouth and the luckiness talk. I want to make it happen for that.
I’d love to see the winners of those two fights [Darchinyan-Arce, Donaire-Montiel] face each other, and even the losers fight each other. Any fight you make with the four of you are very interesting fights.
N: It seems like Duran, Hagler, Hearns and all those guys circling all over again. This is a lighter division, though… You could mix up Mijares in there, too.
It seems like you’re just arriving at 115 at a time when a number of the top guys at 115 are looking to move up to 118 or 122. Aside from your next fight, what are your long-term plans for your career?
N: For me, if nobody fights me at 115 next year, I’m moving up to 118. If anyone challenges me at 115, then definitely I’ll go back down. I’m not going to wait around and sit around. If they make the fight happen, and not prolong things, I will definitely do that. My main goal is to be able to win a title in each division. People might say that’s just talk. But it keeps me going. It’s something that keeps me from being stagnant and complacent. I want to go as high as I can.
Has making 112 pounds been difficult, and would 115 make that much of a difference?
N: 112 and 115 might just be a little different. I know I’m still going to have a little weight problems at 115. It will definitely help. I never care about the weight as long as I prepare for it. As long as I’m disciplined the way I am now I’ll be able to do whatever I’m asked to do. At 115, I don’t have to cut too much weight. Right now I’m at the best because of the lose-weight factor. For this last fight, all our focus was losing weight. It wasn’t much strategy. I hadn’t fought in a while, and it hurt me. If you want me to fight at whatever weight I can do it, just tell me where to go.
It seems like in America, fighters in some of the lower weight divisions have trouble getting traction, even though they’ve been home to some of the best fights of the past decade or so. Is there anything you can do, or the powers that be in the sport can do, to change that attitude?
N: One thing’s for sure: The lighter guys will fight for their lives. Vazquez and Marquez, those were incredible fights. Corrales and Castillo, those were great fights. You can put Mijares and Arce, or Arce and Montiel, Darchinyan, we’re willing to fight for our lives. If they bring up their level, we’ll bring the next level. It’s starting to get more recognition with people now. Right now the heavyweight division, the heavier weights, aren’t really giving that charisma or that excitement as much as it did back then. People are turning their attention to guys who are willing to fight.
THOUGHTS: PACQUIAO-DE LA HOYA PREDICTION, ETC.
And how’s your brother doing? What are his plans?
N: Right now my brother’s on and off. He’s got two kids and he’s focusing on taking care of them. We haven’t gotten into boxing as much. He has to realize he has to give 100 percent if he’s going to get into that ring. Lately he hasn’t been at 100 percent. He’s a very talented fighter but he doesn’t have the heart, I mean, the mentality, to push it to the limit.
Give me your picks for De La Hoya-Pacquiao.
N: Of course for us, for me, I have great support for Manny. He’s a good friend of mine, and from the way he’s training, and with his speed, I think he can do it, but it’s still not going to be easy. De La Hoya’s a great champion. He’s legendary. Everybody, even Mayweather, had trouble with him. With [Pacquiao’s] speed, I think he’ll be able to give angles. If he plays the right strategy, he can make things happen.
Do you second that Rachel?
R: I totally second that. Second, third, fourth. We saw him… and he’s huge. He’s so big now compared to when he started way back when. I believe he was around 150. It was good to see him ripped at that level and the bulk he has put on to fight De La Hoya. He’s not taking this anywhere near lightly.
N: We wanted to thank everyone and wish them Happy Holidays and Happy Thanksgiving, to you as well. To all the people supporting us and supporting Filipino boxing, we’re coming up and we’ll do our best. Most of all, the fans and everyone who support the boxing world. we’d like to thank each and every one of you.