by Kieran Mulvaney
When the smoke had cleared, the final bell had rung and the scores had been read out at the conclusion of his April fight with Guillermo Rigondeaux, Nonito Donaire knew he had done something that he hadn't done in a long time – not since 2001, in fact, and the second fight of his professional career.
He had lost.
On the scorecards, at least, it had not been an entirely one-sided drubbing, but the margins of defeat were narrowed by the fact that Donaire scored a knockdown in the tenth round, by which time the pattern of the fight had long been set and the result appeared a foregone conclusion. Donaire simply was unable to catch up to the lightning-fast Rigondeaux, who moved in and out at will, leaving the soon-to-be-ex-champion, so often a dynamic presence in the ring, looking somewhat lost.
"He beat me. He beat me," Donaire admits. He insists, however, that all was not right with him in the build-up to the contest. There was a shoulder injury for one thing -- a pair of tears in his right rotator cuff that, he says, had caused him such discomfort that he could no longer sleep on his favored right side. More than that, however, was what he says was a problem with focus.
The proximate cause of that, he asserts, was his wife Rachel's pregnancy.
"Honestly, if you look back at all my interviews, I would always say, 'I'm going to beat the guy, I'm going to beat the guy,'" he says. "But before Rigondeaux, I was answering, 'It doesn't matter I win or not. I want to focus on my kid.' And that was the mistake that I made."
But the malaise ran deeper than that. Undefeated in 12 years, and coming off four victories in 2012 that had netted him the Boxing Writers Association of America Fighter of the Year award, he began to question whether he still had the drive to continue succeeding:
"When you win over and over and over, you begin to question, 'Is there any more desire?' And then your focus is, 'You know what? I think I'm done after this. My kid is here, and I think I'm going to take care of that.' After the [Jorge] Arce fight [in December 2012], I kept asking Robert [Garcia, his trainer], 'Hey Robert, what age were you when you retired?' And he'd tell me it was like 28, 29. I'd think, 'Oh that's young.' And I kept asking him that, and it's just in the back of your head. After a while you fight for the money. All your life, you fought for the title, you fought the best. Then you start to question how much you're making. 'How much is it? OK, I'll fight.' And that's not me."
The loss to Rigondeaux might have been expected to confirm such feelings of separation from the sport; instead it wound up causing him to question and ultimately reject them.
"When I lost the fight, that's when it dawned on me that I love boxing," he says. "It answered my question about whether or not I was done, and I realized I'm not. I'm glad the fight went the way it did, because it answered my question. I want to be doing this as long as I can."
The first step on that continuing road – and the first test of his surgically repaired shoulder -- comes on Saturday with a rematch against Vic Darchinyan, whom he knocked out in 2007 to begin his ascent toward stardom. But as he proclaims his rediscovered love for boxing, talk turns to the prospect of another rematch and the chance to erase the stain from earlier this year.
"I wouldn't take anything back from that night; it gave me the answer that I needed," he insists of the fight with Rigondeaux. "But we'll see the next time, at my best and at his best, which one is better."