The Truly Great Nonito Donaire Takes Down Nordine Oubaali

By age 38 — more like age 50 at 118 pounds, where fighters get older faster — Nonito Donaire should be well into the part of his career where he gets by on veteran savvy, if he gets by at all. Coming off a two-year rest, after the most grueling fight of his life, no way Nonito shouldn’t have been anything but creaky coming in to Saturday’s fight against Nordine Oubaali on Showtime.

After he won with relative ease, Donaire said he was able to do so by keeping mentally focused and treating his body right. Don’t doubt his commitment, or his know-how. But Donaire, the faster and/or more powerful man in pretty much every fight he’s ever had since flyweight, was both again against Oubaali despite being a positively ancient bantamweight. He’s a genetic marvel.

That’s a building block for a career that can only be described at this point as “great.” Donaire has been in against some of the very best of the smaller weights, winning all but six of his 47 fights, and usually comporting himself very well in the losses. Five of those losses have come in the last eight years, the other in just his second bout. There have been times during that eight year stretch where Donaire looked as though he was fading. But he’s nearly looked as good in his last two as he ever did.

Donaire didn’t just dwarf Oubaali in physical talent, though. He said beforehand that he found Oubaali predictable, and it sure looked as though he was ready for anything Oubaali might do. Oubaali isn’t conventional, as Donaire suggested. Maybe he just looked that way to Donaire? The awkward movement of an opponent might just feel like a metronome for Donaire’s unique rhythmic sense. After all, the exceedingly awkward Vic Darchinyan was a sitting duck for Donaire’s career-making knockout back in… holy crap? 2007?

Because it felt like Donaire counterpunched every single shot Oubaali threw. Donaire’s stylistic gifts have always resided in the counterpunching department. In actuality, Donaire landed a mere (sarcasm font) 50.7% of his power punches (!) en route to a 4th round knockout.

A Donaire counter left hook between an Oubaali salvo led to the first knockdown in the 3rd. A left hook thrown and landed distinctly after the bell led to the second knockdown; Oubaali, it must be said, also was throwing his punch after the bell and Donaire just instincted like he’s gonna instinct to counter. Oubaali looked waaaay out of it, but referee Jack Reiss — perhaps feeling responsible for the after-the-bell punches he was nowhere near close enough to stop — gave a very long leash to Oubaali to continue. At one point, compounding his error, Reiss guided Oubaali back to the wrong corner, making him appear even more like his sentience had been fundamentally rattled.

Oubaali did recover some in the 4th, albeit not enough to avoid getting crunched with a left uppercut that left him folded neatly, on the mat between the ropes, for the knockout.

We’re well now into accounting simply how great Donaire is, then how much greater he can be. At 38, he’s the oldest bantamweight to win an alphabet title belt, less interesting for this writer than that he beat the #3 man in the division at his age to make an argument that only nemesis Inoue stands above him. Once merely part of a crop of Filipino fighters to rise to prominence in the shadow of Manny Pacquiao, it’s now clearer that the pair amounts to two of the best handful of Filipino fighters ever.

A rematch with Inoue that he actually wins after breaking the nose and orbital bone of his younger, stronger, faster opponent only to lose the first time around? It would be the single most amazing accomplishment of a career that continues to awe even now in its third calendar decade.

(Nonito Donaire celebrates his knockout of Nordine Oubaali; photo via PBC)

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.