For the regular readers of my articles on this website and listeners of the many podcasts I am a part of that are unaware, I began watching boxing when I was eight years old back in 1977. 2021 marks the 45th year of me following and studying the sweet science. Being that it’s the 45th anniversary of my boxing fandom, I thought it be the perfect opportunity to reveal my greatest fighters from this time frame. These are not my greatest fighters of all-time but the 45 greatest fighters that have fought in the last 45 years. This includes all fights from January 1, 1977 until present day. We begin with one of the greatest Filipino fighters of all time, number 45, Nonito Donaire.
Although born in the Philippines, Nonito migrated with his father to the United States at the age of 11. Along with his older brother Glen, they began boxing under the tutelage of their father, a former amateur boxer himself. The Donaire brothers both had solid amateur careers but weren’t considered future stars. Nonito turned pro in 2000 at the age of 18 and in his second pro fight lost via five round decision to the nondescript Rosendo Sanchez, who at the time had only three pro fights to his credit. After defeating Nonito, Sanchez would retire after his next fight, never affording Nonito the opportunity to avenge the loss. Soon thereafter, the entire Donaire team went back to the Philippines in an effort to restart the brothers’ careers.
While Glen had moderate success early on in his career, he was never as flashy or as skillful as his younger brother. Glen was the first Donaire to receive a world title opportunity as on October 7, 2006. He faced the powerful southpaw slugger Vic Darchinyan for his IBF flyweight title. Darchinyan roughed up and completely manhandled the older brother, including breaking Glen’s jaw with an elbow in the fourth round. The fight was stopped after the sixth round with the champion regaining his belt via unanimous technical decision. This fight is what I believe propelled Nonito to become a better fighter and one day gain revenge for the beating his brother endured at the hands of the Armenian brute.
After losing his second pro fight to Sanchez, Nonito would win 16 consecutive fights before getting his shot at Darchinyan’s title on July 7, 2007. At this point of Darchinyan’s career, he had walked through all of his opponents with his unorthodox southpaw style and decapitating power. Nonito thoroughly outboxed and was embarrassing Darchinyan until the Armenian champion walked into a perfectly placed counter left hook that knocked him out in the fifth round. At the age of 24, “The Filipino Flash” was now in the beginning of one of the greatest runs of any fighter under 130 pounds.
In the following six years, Donaire would win 13 consecutive fights with the combination of speed and power that I hadn’t seen since a mid-to-late 90s Roy Jones. Donaire looked damn near invincible as he acquired world title belts at 115, 118 and 122. Unfortunately, during this iconic run, Donaire began to ignore his incredible boxing ability and instead became more of a seek and destroy fighter. This cost him dearly when on April 13, 2013 Cuban master Guillermo Rigondeaux completely undressed him by outboxing the Filipino great over 12 rounds to end his reign at 122 pounds. Eighteen months later, Donaire lost the WBA 126-pound title he had just won when the Jamaican Nicholas Walters brutally knocked him out in the fifth round. In 2017 and 2018, Donaire was throughly outclassed by both Jesse Magdaleno and Carl Frampton in world title fights at 122 and 126 pounds respectively. At this point in time the then 35-year-old Nonito seemed to have been completely washed up. That’s when he decided to move back down to 118 pounds in a move that totally resurrected his career.
Donaire entered the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament upon his arrival back to 118 pounds. In his very first fight back on November 3, 2018 at 118, Donaire stopped the reigning WBA bantamweight champion Ryan Burnett in four rounds to once again become a world champion. In his next fight, a WBSS semifinal fight against Stephon Young, Donaire landed his signature left hook in the sixth round that literally paralyzed the young American fighter. The stage was now set for the finals of the tournament. Donaire would face the 26-year-old Japanese superstar Naoya Inoue in Inoue’s Japan homeland.
Nine days before his 37th birthday, Donaire put on one of the greatest performances ever by a losing fighter in a major title fight. It was one of the greatest technical fights ever displayed in a boxing ring by both combatants. Donaire miraculously survived an 11th round knockdown before losing the decision, tournament final and his title to the Japanese “Monster.” Donaire more than held his own against the much younger Inoue to the point where he broke both Inoue’s nose and orbital bone. For more on this once in a lifetime type fight, read my previous article chronicling the entire bout.
Today Nonito Donaire is 38 years old and still clamoring for a rematch against Inoue. With a record of 40-6 with 26 knockouts and world titles won in five weight classes, I feel that there is nothing more for Nonito to accomplish. A rematch with Inoue can only ruin his legacy, as at this point in time, Donaire is too old and shopworn to beat a fighter who has only gotten better since their first meeting almost two and a half years ago; a legacy that made him the 45th greatest fighter of the last 45 years.