Profiles

Donaire On Donaire

Get to know the next great Filipino boxer through his wife, taekwondo blackbelter Rachel Marcial-Donaire.
IMAGE At Maculangan for FHM Philippines
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The most exclusive club in all of professional boxing is the venerable Ring Magazine’s “Top 10 Pound-for-Pound Fighters.” It’s a highly subjective list, and few topics in sports are as fanatically debated. Even in the complex business of pay-per-view combat, however, the cream always rises to the top.

On the current dean’s list of the sweet science are four Americans, including Floyd Mayweather Jr., the undisputed nemesis of the Filipino people; two behemoth Ukrainian brothers whose dominance of the heavyweight division has turned pugilistic history on its head by sparking a search for “The Great Black Hope”; an unknown Argentinian handsome enough to be a Hollywood leading man; the undervalued Mexican who epically defeated our own alleged Mexicutioner three times over the last eight years (the official record, however, only unkindly registers 0-2–1 on his ledger); and, incredibly, two Filipinos.

No two Filipino athletes could be more dissimilar, even if both at one time or another—and what a freakish coincidence this is—once resided in General Santos City, Mindanao, Tuna Capital of the Philippines. Sure, they can each crash a gloved fist into an unpadded human skull as violently as a mule can kick after you tug hard on its testicles, but their fighting styles—and lives—contrast sharply.

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Rosalio Pacquiao abandoned his young family; Nonito Donaire Sr., a high school dropout, with resolve and guile, hauled his family over to the States. Manny Pacquiao is all muscle and sinew; Nonito Donaire Jr.’s body is like a cougar’s, fleshy until it ripples then strikes. Pacquiao wants it all: fame, fortune, Christian pastoral cachet, maybe even the Nobel Peace Prize; Donaire, with an old-school warrior’s respect for history, merely wants to unify belts before he rises in weight and conquers the next division. Pacquiao showers his beloved, spunky, and melodramatic mother with Herme?s bags; Donaire Jr. and Sr. have a love-and-hate relationship so dysfunctional it would’ve given Freud a month-long hard-on. Pacquiao married fair-skinned Maria Geraldine “Jinkee” Jamora when she was just 20 (at 33, she is now the even more miraculously fair-skinned mother of his four children); on November 11, 2011 (11/11/11), Donaire Jr. married Rachel Marcial of Daly City, California, an elite athlete who enlisted herself in the US Air Force.

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"I asked them, 'Can you kick me? Can you knock me down?' They thought it was a silly question and answered, ‘Of course, we’re not allowed to do that.’ 'So why should I be scared? Because you’re yelling at me? I can yell back, too, right?'"

Knockout Queen
Two girls stood nervously beside 14-year-old Rachel during their taekwondo blackbelt test—Damesha Craig, daughter of legendary San Francisco 49ers running back Roger Craig, and Anna Julaton, a Fil-Am who would eventually become known as “The Hurricane” and win the IBA Super Bantamweight title after just five professional bouts. Brian Schwartz, a professional kickboxing champion exquisitely nicknamed “The Mad Stork” and who’s now part of Nonito’s corner, side-kicked Rachel’s torso to test her mettle. She quite literally bounced off the wall and doubled over, gasping for air—you gonna quit, or you gonna get your blackbelt? She got up.

The sport’s complicated scoring system favors long-limbed jins, yet at just 4’11” and 102 pounds, Rachel routinely defeated taller taekwondo opponents. Maybe it’s in the genes: her father (Gerry Marcial of Aklan) was a black belter and her younger sister, Nicole, was a U.S. Junior National Champion. Rachel’s sobriquet was “Lady Savage,” and she’s won gold (or in competitions that didn’t confer medals, first-place citations) at the Junior Olympics, US Collegiate Team Trials, AAU National Team Trials, AAU National Championships, US Collegiate Nationals, US Armed Forces Team Selection, US Air Force Team Selection, Philippine National Team Selection, and World University Games Trials. That’s a cupboard-full of cans of ass-whooping between 1994 and 2008, so after all those kill-or-be-killed matches, how could the rigors of Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, possibly unnerve her?

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“I signed up with the Air Force when I was 19, about a year and a half after I graduated from high school. My parents had set up everything in my life, but I wanted to be able to go on an adventure and pay for my education without their help—the military was one way of doing it. It paid me to fight in tournaments, so all I had to do was train and fight."

"The instructors were making all the girls cry during boot camp, and they asked why I wasn’t crying. I asked them, ‘Are you allowed to hit me?’ And they were like, ‘What do you mean?’ Can you kick me? Can you knock me down? They thought it was a silly question and answered, ‘Of course, we’re not allowed to do that.’ So why should I be scared… Because you’re yelling at me? I can yell back, too, right?

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Soul Kiss
Groucho Marx once said that behind every successful man is a woman, and behind her is his wife. Pacquiao has famously found the Lord, and Jinkee hopes that her husband will now employ Archie Moore’s fabled crab-like, cross-armed defensive posture each time a nubile groupie throws herself at our Pambansang Kamao. Yahweh, shield my husband against temptations, she prays. Amen, Manny nowadays concurs, says his camp.

To celebrate making it into the US National Team yet again in 2007, Rachel threw a party at a club and met Nonito for the first time. She asked him to dance, even if he had earlier tried to act a bit too cool, and they talked. She didn’t quite grasp that he was the rising star of boxing (he wasn’t really the type to talk about it); Nonito, too, didn’t realize just how accomplished an athlete she was in her own right. So Rachel showed him her fight video.

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"He said, ‘Oh my God, that’s you?’ No, I told him, that’s just some girl who looks like me. I’m pretending that’s me to impress you. He realized that we had parallel fighting experiences, but mine were done with feet!"

Nonito proposed marriage to Rachel partly by singing Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” to her willing ears: But I won’t hesitate no more, no more / It cannot wait, I’m yours. The ballad was as persuasive as his nuclear left hook, and at their Church wedding:

“The priest, after he pronounced us as man and wife, kinda walked away before he told us to kiss or anything. So Nonito slowly lifted my veil, and the anticipation made me giggle, and it made my heart flutter. All the chaotic stuff we went through—it was worth it. To finally have our vows done in front of God… Wow!”

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See, after meeting Rachel, Nonito made two career-altering decisions that have spawned both controversy and professional success.

Family Feud

Who really knows a man better than his very own parents? Your heartbreaking colic crying fits, the brave face you faked during the first day of school, how the world opened up the day you earned your own money—it’s difficult to compete with this kind of biological connection. But when father-son becomes trainer-boxer, the flesh-and-blood arrangement rarely ends well, and patrilineal flameouts litter the back alleys of boxing’s narratives.

Roy Jones, Sr. was a merciless disciplinarian, physically and verbally abusive to his young boy. Jack Mosley, an impenitent control freak, remains clueless to this day about why his son terminated his services 40 fights into a Hall of Fame career. Floyd Mayweather Sr. and his prized “Junior,” who was just as outrageously conceited, eventually split up after the inevitable ego Clash of the Titans. The relationships between Roy Jr., Shane, Floyd Jr. and their fathers were convenient, media-friendly backstories before they devolved into vaudeville. Compared to the rambunctious, high-profile Americans, the tale of Nonito Sr. and Jr.’s estrangement flew under the radar. Rachel attempts to put it in into perspective:

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“I think that our family issues aren’t any different from anyone else’s. I’ve met numerous people who have had similar problems. I think it’s really dependent on the family—whether they see it as ‘gaining a daughter’ rather than ‘losing a son.’ It didn’t have to be me. They would’ve had a problem with whomever Nonito married.”

She may be understating the depth of the fissure. See, after meeting Rachel, Nonito made two career-altering decisions that have spawned both controversy and professional success.

First, in 2009, he replaced his father—who had trained his brother Glenn (19-4-1 against modest competition) and him from the start of their pro careers, who worked his corner in the bout that made Nonito Jr. famous, his Knockout of the Year against Vic Darchinyan in an IBO and IBF Flyweight title fight in 2007—with Robert Garcia, a former IBF Super Featherweight champion himself.

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Secondly, Nonito Jr. hired the services of Victor Conte and Remi Korchemny. Conte, 61, is the founder of BALCO, a California sports nutrition center the US Anti-Doping Agency (USDA) charged with marketing a then-undetectable steroid called “The Clear.” The resulting scandal tainted the legacies of Olympic track-and-field legend Marion Jones, baseball’s all-time home run king Barry Bonds, and NFL roid-rage posterboy Bill Romanowski. Because of BALCO, their once-lauded records will forever have asterisks attached to them. Conte cut a plea bargain, pled guilty to illegal steroid distribution, and spent four months in jail. Also enmeshed in the BALCO scandal, Korchemny, 80, a Russian sprint coach, was meted out a one-year-probation penalty. Both specialists, from most accounts, have completely rehabilitated themselves and are widely considered by even the most hyper-critical members of the sports media to now be sufficiently chastened and, more crucially, legit. With all those watchful eyes trained on them (USDA, the FBI, spurned athletes), how dumb would they be if they reverted back to their chicanery?

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“You know, when I first met Victor, one of the first things he did was to admit what he had done in the past. It takes a big man to admit his mistakes. Now, he completely understands the consequences of his actions. The proof is in the pudding—he took blood samples from Nonito and discovered he had low levels of magnesium and zinc. Nonito even consults with him over simple things like when he’s not getting enough sleep or when his muscles feel tired, like they haven’t fully recovered. And Victor will ask Nonito a series of like maybe 20 questions, then get to the bottom of the problem.”

Garcia, only 37, is already a highly respected trainer, having trained 11 current or former world champions. With Conte’s mad-scientist grasp of sports nutrition and Korchemny’s technical mastery of training techniques that extract fast-twitch muscle explosiveness, the troika transformed Nonito into one of the world’s most evolved fighters. Fight fans witnessed the grisly virtuosity of Nonito’s newfound power over a particularly violent two-fight span. In 2010, he surgically disfigured the pale, pained face of former WBA Bantamweight champion Volodymyr Sydorenko; the Ukranian hasn’t fought since. Two months later, a demonic left hook left highly regarded Mexican bantamweight champion Fernando Montiel with, literally, a dent on his cranium.

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The wins propelled Nonito to number four on the hallowed PFP list. Nonito Sr. seethed, feeling his son was reaping the benefits of his own years of self-sacrifice, without the mandatory show of gratitude. Nonito and Rachel, moreover, lived with the Marcials for three years, further displacing the Donaires from the mix.

Once upon a time, Nonito and Rachel felt they could both simultaneously live their elite-athlete dreams. She realized quickly, however, that something would eventually have to give.

Normally, sour-graping of this kind would simply be attributed to the inability of mom and dad to let go of a firstborn, their golden boy. As has been noted many times in boxing message boards, Nonito’s a grown man: he can make his own decisions. But in the mostly libel-proof, gossip- fueled Philippine media, stories of a son’s unacceptable filial disloyalty went toe-to-toe against a family’s unseemly mendicancy. It didn’t help Nonito’s cause that the supposed power behind his throne, Rachel, was being portrayed as a scheming nymph—promoter Bob Arum, the 80-year- old Harvard Law School graduate who might be the most prosperous schemer in all of sports history, basically called her a tart (he apologized profusely later on and shrewdly wooed Nonito back into the Top Rank fold). Rachel was also hot enough to be featured in FHM Philippines, adding to the stereotype. It was easy to hate her because, well, she was beautiful.

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So, what then? Was it a case of a golden boy deciding he could no longer deal with the pressures of being the goose that needed to lay the golden egg throughout his parents’ retirement years? Is the story more sordid than relinquishing an assumed duty, at least in terms of the demands placed by Filipino cultural utang na loob?

This must’ve gutted Nonito. A 2012 report from ABS-CBN News stated that his brother Glenn and his “grandparents” cheered for Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. against their very own blood. Maybe it was partly true, but the account was malicious. While maybe Glenn really did plop himself on the couch in front of that TV set in General Santos City, the “grandparents” couldn’t possibly have. Nonito’s paternal and maternal grandparents, according to Rachel, are deceased. Confounding the situation: Glenn was trying to resuscitate his boxing career.

“After the reconciliation last March 2011, I helped Glenn in getting back into the ring. I tried to get him fights, and I even sent him boxing equipment, but they were highly impatient about getting opponents, so they signed with another management team. It was just something I was trying to help with even though it wasn’t my job. Around the same time, Nonito had given his parents money to help them with bills, etc., even though Nonito didn’t have a fight. They were very thankful, and I thought everything was okay."

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Unfortunately, Glenn decided that he wanted to quit his full-time job and ask us for financial help so he could box full time. After a long talk, Nonito and I decided that it wasn’t fair that he readily quit his job without discussing it with us first. In addition, we felt it a hasty decision considering Glenn had two kids and a wife. The money aspect has always been a factor in their argument within their family—not just with his parents, but with his siblings as well. I think Nonito’s family—his mom, dad, and siblings—are very fortunate to be in the US and should take the opportunity to work hard.”

Once upon a time, Nonito and Rachel felt they could both simultaneously live their elite-athlete dreams. She realized quickly, however, that something would eventually have to give.

“Because Nonito has to cut less weight nowadays, he’s not nearly as grumpy as before. It’s just that he’s always so tired. He did track work the other day, then sparred eight rounds the next. So even just asking him to hand me my headphones could potentially be asking for trouble! But Nonito is not a boxer when he’s out of the ring. To me, he’s still that same guy who would wait for me to get off work, the same guy that would go get me tapioca drinks, and the same guy that sits and plays video games while I read a book. The most important thing to me is that I can trust him. And he trusts me.”

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“I’m one of the guys. A lot of women are real particular about plastic surgery and shopping. Guys hate that. I like sweating, getting dirty, and hiking. I recognize beautiful women when I see them, and I’m not jealous or threatened. I give Nonito the freedom to make his own decisions. I like wearing sweats and lounging; and I’m not engrossed in designer this or designer that. Lastly, I think Nonito’s lucky that I’m independent. I don’t start anything that I can’t finish. I’m strong in my own right.”

Nonito Donaire Jr. has embraced the latest physics of his sport, discarding old-school tomfoolery (like ignorantly pounding on a used tire with a sledgehammer, the way Joe Louis used to do when he posed in front of 8mm cameras to shore up the World War 2 troops). Then there’s the question we’ve all been dying to ask... does sex weaken a boxer’s knees before a fight?

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“No. Scientifically, the opposite has been proven. I think it’s just an old-school tradition, and it’s more mental than anything. But yeah, Nonito doesn’t believe in it.

This article was originally published in the July 2012 issue of Esquire Philippines.

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