Ten Years Ago, Nonito Donaire Vs Guillermo Rigondeaux



Ten Years Ago, Nonito Donaire Vs Guillermo Rigondeaux

When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong? – A look back at Nonito Donaire v Guillermo Rigondeaux

Within the star-studded lights of midtown Manhattan at Radio City Music Hall, the sweet science took center stage when Nonito Donaire faced off against Guillermo Rigondeaux on April 13, 2013.

Despite the demand of hardcore boxing fans, Nonito Donaire did not have to fight Guillermo Rigondeaux. Imagine if Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns, and Marvin Hagler faced off against Mike McCallum. Envision a time when Oscar De La Hoya stepped in the ring with Winky Wright or Vernon Forrest. And more recently, if Canelo Alvarez decided that he would stick around the middleweight division to fight Demetrius Andrade.

Nonito Donaire battling Naoya Inoue

Long before he was seen as an ATG OG, Nonito Donaire was positioned as a potential heir to the Pacquiao throne (or a portion of it)

2012 was a fantastic year for Donaire and boxing in general. Following up 2011, where he scored one of the most memorable knockouts of the decade against Fernando Montiel and a tepid yet dominant performance against Omar Narvaez, the Filipino Flash made his move up to the super bantamweight division. In a year, Donaire defeated Wilfredo Vasquez, Jeffrey Mathebula, Toshiaki Nishioka, and Jorge Arce, winning the WBO, IBF, and lineal titles in the process.

Nonito Donaire won BWAA Fighter of the Year honors for his performances in 2012

Donaire would be awarded the 2012 Fighter of the Year honors by the Boxing Writers of Association and was rated as one of the best fighters pound-for-pound.

Arguably, Donaire had already punched his ticket into the Hall-of-Fame with titles in officially three divisions, four if you count the interim WBA title he won at super flyweight and holding wins over top fighters in every division he fought in.

The only miss on Donaire's resume at the time was Abner Mares, who won a bantamweight tournament put on by Showtime in 2011. Donaire-Mares would be another bout over the last decade that could be added to the graveyard of fights that didn't take place due to contract and network affiliations.

Despite the Mares bout not taking place, Donaire's status coming out of 2012 was at its peak. He was a fighter that had the willingness to stay active against a variety of opposition with tremendous punching power, especially in the left hook.

“If he was a natural 168-pounder, who would be favored, him or Andre Ward?” Max Kellerman said to HBO before Donaire-Rigondeaux. “If Nonito Donaire was a natural 147-pounder, who would be favored, him or Floyd Mayweather? Donaire is pound-for-pound as good as anybody.”

The Rachel-Nonito union paid big dividends personally and professionally. Both thought Nonito was well positioned to box with Rigo

Rigondeaux, at just 11 fights for many, was still a question mark. As an amateur, he won several national championships and Olympic gold medals in 2000 and 2004. As a professional, he had lived up to his potential by winning the WBA super bantamweight title and had shown the ability to hurt his opponents. But, stepping up to face a fighter like Donaire, who hadn't lost since his second professional match, seemed like a tall order for even a technical marvel such as Rigondeaux.

However, there wasn't any lack of confidence from the two-time Olympic gold medalist in taking on Donaire. For the match, he reunited with former Cuban amateur national coach Pedro Diaz who likely instilled in his fighter that despite any perceived technical flaws or weaknesses, Donaire would be a dangerous opponent.

“We know the condition and quality of Donaire,” Pedro Diaz said to HBO before the fight. “But none of that intimidates us. We don't lose sleep over it. We're putting extra effort into our work.”

When Rigondeaux was finally able to defect from his native Cuba in 2009, he left with a chip on his shoulder and a hunger to prove something. The bout with Donaire was more than just a unification of titles, but was a form of validation of his skill and being viewed as a great boxer.

“I'll beat anyone who says 11 fights isn't enough experience,” Rigondeaux expressed to HBO. “They'll see my results once the bell rings. It's simple.”


With both fighters at the time fighting under the same promoter, Top Rank, the bout was going to be relatively easy to put together. However, Donaire, at the time, was the only fighter likely in all of combat sports to be conducting 24/7 /365 year-round drug testing through VADA. There seemed to be some hesitation on the side of Rigondeaux to have VADA testing, so much so that Donaire aired his grievances on social media. Michael Woods covered at that time for the ESPN NY Boxing Blog:

“I am NOT going to NYC for the presser this Thursday bc Rigo is backing off his agreement to VADA drug testing,” Donaire said. “Rigo's team verbally agreed to VADA testing both online and in negotiations. But now that the contract to start testing is in front of them, they are finding every excuse not to sign and delay the start of the testing. I have NOT signed my fight contract yet to fight him so I have no obligation to fight ONLY HIM. It disappoints me that top fighters these days run from everything that will hold professional boxing integrity to its highest standard. I will be looking into other opponents with my manager, Cameron Dunkin immediately.”

Regardless of any miscommunications or reluctance, the fight did move forward. It would be just the second professional boxing match to take place at Radio City Music Hall. The last time a boxing match took place in the venue was in January 2000 when Roy Jones Jr. came to the ring with the Hip-Hop duo Method Man and Redman to defend his light heavyweight titles against David Telesco. The choice to use Radio City Music Hall for the fight's location was peculiar, but it did give the event a unique flair.

More like Radio Sh*tty that night for Nonito Donaire. The Cuban craftsman was pretty dazzling with his ring generalship

Heading into the fight, there were rumors and speculation that Donaire was getting burnt out on boxing. He had his first child on the way and was going back and forth between training camps speaking with then-trainer Robert Garcia over the phone instead of at the gym. With such vulnerabilities and distractions taking place, why would Donaire still choose to move forward in facing Rigondeaux?

The fight itself proved to be a standout and, at times, a virtuoso performance from Rigondeaux, who used lateral movement and timing to consistently offset Nonito Donaire.

In the ring, Rigondeaux was able to control all aspects, not just in terms of the four criteria by which a boxing match is scored but also in terms of keeping his composure and never seeming out of place. Not once did Rigondeaux look to take a deep breath in between rounds. He knew when to punch and when to move.

Most importantly, when he punched specifically with the straight left hand, it landed cleanly and like a missile.

Donaire could never find the correct positioning to attack Rigondeaux. He was always in the wrong place at the wrong time. There were moments when Donaire was able to land a left hook yet was always immediately met with return fire.

“I don't think for a second that Nonito Donaire ever fully understood what he was up against here tonight,” HBO commentator, Jim Lampley, said while calling the fight in the later rounds.

In the 10th round, Nonito Donaire was able to score a knockdown with a left hook when the two were tangled up after an exchange, and Rigondeaux stayed in the pocket too long. But when the final bell rang, it was a foregone conclusion with the Cuban being awarded the unanimous decision victory.

Both are today still grindin’

The bout was a turning point for both fighters. Donaire would go on to win more titles at featherweight and lose a few more fights, including a stoppage to Nicholas Walters in 2014. It looked like Donaire was in the twilight of his career, but a resurgence for the Filipino took place in 2018 when he moved back down to bantamweight to win more world titles, further adding to his legacy.

Rigondeaux, on the other hand, would never reach the heights he did that night against Donaire. His promoter at the time, Bob Arum, didn't know what to do with him.

“I don't know what I'm gonna do,” Arum said to ESPN about Rigondeaux after the Donaire fight.”I have to look for someone to fight him. He's one of the best defensive fighters I've ever seen, but it's not a very pleasing style. He's a very good fighter, but it's not pleasing, so we will have to see.”

The Cuban amateur boxing star would eventually leave Top Rank and run into continuous stretches of inactivity, and be relegated to fighting on undercards. The next time, Rigondeaux was in a significant bout, he was embarrassed against fellow two-time Olympic gold medalist Vasiliy Lomachenko in December 2017.

So, did Nonito Donaire make a mistake in facing Rigondeaux? The answer as to why he faced him is simple. It's because that's what real fighters do. It's what they are supposed to do.

Donaire, inside and outside of the ring, always kept it real. When it came to his opponents and when it came to fighter safety. And when it came to taking on challenges.

While keeping it real went wrong for him in terms of winning against Rigondeaux, it was something that needed to be done. Not necessarily because it was the right time, but because that's who he was.