LOS ANGELES – Nonito Donaire is old enough to have fought at Dignity Health Sports Park through all of its name changes.
This weekend will mark his fourth career appearance at the infamous War Grounds, fighting in his third different weight class at this location. Saturday marks his attempt at becoming a three-time bantamweight titlist, which will require his unseating WBC champ Nordine Oubaali (17-0, 12KOs). The Showtime-televised headliner comes more than six years after Donaire saw his WBA featherweight title reign come to a halt in a 6th round stoppage versus unbeaten Nicholas Walters when the venue was still the StubHub Center in Oct. 2014.
Two years prior, Donaire created what he views are his fondest memories in the house where Fight of the Year candidates are regularly produced. For the Fil-Am superstar, it was actually a Fighter of the Year campaign spawned on site, still known as Home Depot Center in 2012. A 12-round win over Jeffrey Mathebula saw Donaire unify two junior featherweight titles that July, followed by a 9th round stoppage of Toshiaki Nishioka just three months later to establish championship lineage at that weight along with a time capsule moment.
“The biggest and most exciting fight for me in this venue was the Nishioka fight,” Donaire told BoxingScene.com. “That was one of the fights I was looking forward to and everything we worked on happened in that fight. It was a fun fight and I went on to have one of the biggest years of my career.”
Donaire began 2012 with a 12-round win over Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. in San Antonio and ended his four-fight campaign with a 3rd round knockout of Jorge Arce. From there came worldwide accolades—including BoxingScene.com—as the 2012 Fighter of the Year, along with having established himself as a legitimate three-division champion by that point. A loss to Guillermo Rigondeaux in April 2013 ended his reign, moving up to featherweight where he added a fourth divisional title following a technical decision win over Simpiwe Vetyeka.
The aforementioned stoppage loss to Walters wasn’t the end of Donaire on the title stage, having since reclaimed titles at junior featherweight and bantamweight, the latter coming in a 4th round stoppage of Ryan Burnett in Nov. 2018. A hard-fought 12-round loss to Naoya Inoue in Nov. 2019 ended his reign, though earning BWAA 209 Fight of the Year honors in the process.
Donaire has not fought since then, with his showdown versus France’s Oubaali postponed several times before landing at Dignity Health Sports Park. A touch of good karma comes with the rescheduled affair, as the two were first due to fight last May only for the pandemic to essentially shut down events around the world. Plans to meet last December were ruined when both sides produced positive COVID-19 tests ahead of the canceled event, which would have taken place without fans in attendance.
A socially distanced but rabid crowd is expected this weekend, as the fights in the stands have at times trumped the action in the ring. For the 38-year-old Donaire, it’s not just a shot at making history—breaking his own record as the oldest fighter to win a bantamweight title—but a chance to return to a venue that has played such a significant role in his Hall of Fame-level career.
“It’s going to be a great fight,” notes Donaire. “I’ve fought in this venue many times and I always make magical fights in the first place. It’s always going to be magical with me. I’m a unicorn.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox