They say you should never meet your idols, for they will only ever let you down. This past Saturday night, Reymart Gaballo learned that one should also never fight their idols. Especially if said idol has a history of denting heads and exploding livers.
Growing up in the Philippines, Gaballo (24-1, 20 KOs) idolized fellow countryman Nonito Donaire and honestly, how could you not? In a sport run by shitheads, carnies and shameless criminals, Donaire (42-6, 28 KOs) is one of boxing’s true — and let’s face it, only — good guys. The random acts of kindness shown by Donaire throughout his career read like an Emily Post instructional guide on proper etiquette. He’s nice to a degree that doesn’t seem possible. It seems a near certainty that upon his eventual retirement we will discover a meth lab that runs on the souls of young children in his basement or something. Human beings are awful, malevolent creatures who simply don’t seem capable of the type of humble generosity that Donaire displays on a regular basis. Either he really is this honorable of a man or he’s the antichrist somehow leading us all into darkness. Honestly, I don’t know which is scarier.
Donaire’s reputation for grace and humility outside the ring is surpassed only by his propensity for absolutely fucking guys up inside of it. Over 20 years into his Hall ofFame career, he seems to somehow be getting better at both.
At 39 years of age, Donaire is ancient by prizefighting standards. For a bantamweight though, he may as well be sleeping in a sarcophagus with mud bugs climbing out of his empty eye sockets. The lower weight classes are no country for old men, yet due to some combination of hard work and what I assume to be sorcery, Donaire is in the midst of a late-career renaissance that has seen him rise, once again, to the top of his sport. It’s been a truly magnificent revival and that I personally feel honored to witness.
I’m not one for giving advice, but if there’s any wisdom I could impart on new, or long-suffering, boxing fans it would be this: Root for fights, not fighters*. All fighters will eventually let you down. Good fights never will. There’s nothing dumber than nationalism or civic pride, especially when it comes to something as meaningless as sports. I’m not saying don’t have a rooting interest, just not to let it supersede your overall enjoyment of the events in the ring. I love my grandmother more than life itself but if you can drag her into a back-and-forth slugfest and score a highlight reel knockout that breaks her wheelchair and shoots her catheter up into the cheap seats, I’m not going to be mad about it. Hats off to you, sir. You have my respect. See you at the funeral.
*(This will also keep you from being the psycho that scours Twitter looking for any ill word spoken of your beloved favorite fighter and leaving maniacal, 560-character replies defending the honor of a professional athlete that will never know you exist and would swan-dive out of third story window to avoid speaking to you, should you ever find a way to bypass their security detail. If you’re that guy, let me gladly be the one to inform you that literally everyone hates you.)
That said, Donaire makes that rule extremely hard to abide. Rooting for him feels like second nature, like rooting for water in the desert or for drugs during church. Somethings are just inherently right. Heading into Saturday night’s Showtime card at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif. it was hard not to root for the aging Donaire to continue his ascent against his young protégé, Gaballo, while also feeling that nagging twinge of nervousness that accompanies nearly-40-year-old fighters each time out.
Donaire came out in his customary ass-high socks, circling to the outside and looking for spots to land his vaunted left hook. To his credit, Gaballo denied him an opening by keeping his right hand held high. As Donaire darted in and out, Gaballo held his own with sneaky jabs and solid defense. Not exactly a chess match, but smart boxing from two guys on opposite ends of 30.
Between rounds 2 and 3, Donaire’s wife and trainer Rachel started to implore him to abandon his plan of looking for a home run shot with the left hook and focus on his younger opponent’s body. I don’t know about you but when my wife tells me to do some shit, I don’t ask questions. No matter what Gaballo had planned for the rest of the fight, it wouldn’t come close to the hell Donaire would’ve suffered at home should he ignore the advice of his better half. Hell hath no fury like a trainer/wife ignored.
Luckily, like all things the Donaire family does, it was the right call.
In the remaining seconds of round 4, Donaire landed a short left hook to Gaballo’s body that sent him to one knee. He rose at the count of eight but dropped back down and took the full count. Just like that, it was over. Mentor makes mentee piss blood. It’s a tale as old as time.
As is now customary for Donaire, he rushed to Gaballo’s side and showered him with words of encouragement. With an arm around his shoulder, he assured him that he would one day be a champion and offered to help him in any way possible. Real movie shit going on here.
Donaire then professed a desire for a rematch with Nayoa Inoue as well as floating the idea of moving down to 115 to fight the winner of Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and Juan Francisco Estrada. Lofty goals for most prizefighters. But then, Nonito Donaire is not most prizefighters. With his legacy already secure and his ticket to Canastota already punched, Donaire seems poised to do his best work post-40. Whatever happens from here out, Donaire’s legacy is one of greatness, both as a fighter and as a man.
What a joy it has been to witness.
(Photo: Reymart Gaballo, left, trades punches with Nonito Donaire, right; Esther Lin, Showtime)