Father-son reunion for Donaires
November, 8, 2013
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com
Nonito Donaire has grown into one of the best fighters in the world. He claimed 2012 Fighter of the Year honors and has won world titles in three weight classes, plus an interim belt in another.
The person most responsible for the development of the skills that led to those achievements is Nonito Donaire Sr., his father, who trained the younger Donaire until an acrimonious falling-out several years ago. They had been estranged since then until their recent reconciliation brought on by the birth of Nonito Jr.'s son.
Rachel Donaire, the fighter's wife, gave birth in July to their first child, a baby boy named Jarel -- an unusual name derived from the first letters in each word of the phrase "Junior and Rachel's everlasting love."
After the birth, Nonito Jr. began thinking about his father. He said he even had dreams about him. Rachel, whose frosty relationship with her father-in-law was part of the reason for the split between father and son, noticed. She had tried at various times to help them patch things up.
Then, in September, she finally took matters into her own hands and brought Nonito Sr. -- a Filipino immigrant who settled in San Leandro, Calif., where Nonito Jr. was raised -- to Las Vegas, where they now live. She hoped father and son would reconnect, and also wanted Nonito Sr. to meet his grandson.
Rachel's efforts paid off, and not long after the smooth reunion, Nonito Jr. asked his father to return to his corner as part of his training team. It was something the boxer especially needed after losing his most recent fight, in April, when Guillermo Rigondeaux outpointed him to unify junior featherweight titles in an upset that came in Donaire's first bout after receiving his Fighter of the Year award. Up to that point, Donaire (31-2, 20 KOs) hadn't lost since his second professional fight in 2001.
Now Donaire is set to return against 37-year-old, former two-division titleholder Vic Darchinyan (39-5-1, 28 KOs) -- the brawling power puncher who is a native of Armenia and who lives in Australia -- on Saturday night (HBO, 9:30 ET/PT) at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, Texas.
"Things happen for a reason, and when we had our baby, I realized my dad was always there, so I wanted to reach out," Donaire said. "Coincidentally, it was the Darchinyan fight and we got it settled and it just worked out. I thought, 'Why don't we just make it happen?' and I'm glad that things happened the way they did."
Donaire-Darchinyan is a rematch of the 2007 fight that put Donaire on the map -- a fight for which his father was his head trainer. That night, Donaire pulverized Darchinyan with a one-punch fifth-round knockout to win a flyweight world title. A rematch was talked about on and off, and now it's finally on as both men are moving up to the featherweight division.
Although Robert Garcia remains Donaire's head trainer, he said he welcomed Nonito Sr. to their training camp.
"His dad is the one that made him and was there when he won his first title, so I was very happy when I heard that his dad was back in the training camp," said Garcia, a former junior lightweight titleholder who was trained by his own father, Eduardo Garcia. "We had a great camp and it will show on Saturday night.
"When he first became world champion, his father was his only trainer and his father was doing all the work. Like all families, they had differences, but now that he is back, I think Nonito is better prepared mentally; he is happier and enjoying training camp, and that's what matters to me. They are father and son, and I'm glad they are back together and they are happy."
Donaire, 30, is also happy to have his father back in his corner. Besides having his family together again, he believes his dad's presence will help him return to the ways that made him so good in the first place, after admitting that he was complacent going into the Rigondeaux fight and hadn't trained as hard as usual, perhaps caught up in all of the hype surrounding his stellar Fighter of the Year campaign.
"He doesn't have a title in the corner," Donaire said of his father's role. "He holds the mitts for me in the gym and he is involved with everyone putting the game plan together. He is just a guy that is in the corner.
"[But] it has been great having my father around. I am getting back to the old me -- a smarter me -- not just someone getting ready to brawl. And that is something we are trying to get back."