Donaire’s career turned around

Fri, 18 Feb 00:51:00 2011

Nonito Donaire will fight Fernando Montiel in a bantamweight title bout at the Mandalay Bay Events Center and he’s going on about Montiel as if he’s the great Mexican fighter’s publicist.

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Donaire praises Montiel’s power, his punching accuracy, his style, his accomplishments. If you’re out of a job and need someone to make a case for you, Nonito Donaire Jr. is your man.

Listen to him rave about Montiel, the World Boxing Council/World Boxing Organization world champion, and you fear for the Filipino’s safety.

“He’s fabulous,” Donaire says of Montiel.

All the while, though, this grin creases Donaire’s face. He’s not being disrespectful to Montiel in any way, because Montiel’s record commands respect. After all, it’s not often you come across a guy with a 44-2 record and world championships in three weight classes. Someone wasn’t paying attention if Montiel isn’t elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame the minute he becomes eligible.

Donaire’s grin, though, is more about what he knows about himself. He knows better than anyone the transformation his body has made in the last 10 months. He knows how much more explosive he is, how much faster he’s become, how much harder he hits and how much more difficult he is to hit.

Everything about Nonito Donaire Jr.’s boxing game has ratcheted up a few notches in the last 10 months, which is saying something since he was a world-class fighter before that.

But since a chance meeting at a Northern California bank with Victor Conte – yes, that Victor Conte – Donaire has transformed himself into a completely different athlete.

“The world is going to see a special athlete and a very special boxer, I believe, on Saturday night,” Conte says.

The world got a glimpse on Dec. 4 in Anaheim, Calif., when Donaire essentially walked through Wladimir Sidorenko at the Honda Center. He knocked Sidorenko down in the first and the third and then knocked him out in the fourth.

It looked like a man against a boy – a very good, very accomplished man against a not-so-good, inexperienced boy – but it wasn’t really. Sidorenko was a bronze medalist in the 2000 Olympics and held a bantamweight title for three years. His credentials needed no apology, yet the fight was still not remotely close.

“I was shocked,” Donaire promoter Bob Arum said. “I expected Nonito would probably win the fight, but it almost looked like a fight where you put a really top, top guy in there with a stiff. Sidorenko was no stiff, but Nonito made it look one-sided and non-competitive.”

It was the kind of performance reminiscent of his much more ballyhooed countryman, Manny Pacquiao. Donaire was in charge the entire way and was never threatened.

Much of it is due to the changes he made in his preparation prior to his July 10 bout in Puerto Rico with Hernan Marquez. Donaire met Conte, the founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative who became notorious for supplying world-class athletes with steroids that were undetectable at the time, while making a deposit at a bank near his home in San Mateo, Calif.

Conte was also in the bank. The bank’s manager was friends with both Conte and Donaire and introduced them. It turned out Conte’s daughter, Veronica, trained with Donaire’s strength and conditioning coach, Michael Bazzel. They struck up a conversation and Donaire decided to meet with Conte to see what Conte could do for him.

Conte and his daughter went to meet Donaire, Donaire’s wife, Rachel, along with Bazzel and gym owner Brian Schwartz to discuss specifics. Conte told Donaire of the comprehensive blood testing and individualized nutrition program he could create and talked about having Donaire do hypoxic training, which would simulate training at altitudes of up to 15,000 feet.

He later introduced Donaire to Remi Korchemny, a sprint coach who had trained the likes of world-class sprinters such as Dwain Chambers and Kelli White.

Korchemny set about increasing Donaire’s speed and quickness. Conte said that when Donaire began working with Korchemny, Donaire would do a 20-yard dash in 2.78 seconds. At the end, he was down to 2.48 seconds.

“That’s essentially improving by three yards in a 20-yard sprint,” Conte said. “Do you know how unbelievably impressive that is?”

And that kind of improvement is what made Arum’s jaw drop while watching the Sidorenko fight and it’s why his boxing trainer, Robert Garcia, said that Donaire now routinely embarrasses his sparring partners.

“He’s in such incredible shape and he goes at such a hard pace that when we’re done sparring 12 rounds, he’s smiling with his hands up in the air and it’s like he hasn’t even started,” Garcia said. “And he’s not only in so much better condition, but he’s so much quicker. It’s amazing how fast he is.”

Speed has long been a primary weapon for Donaire, who lost in his second pro fight and then subsequently reeled off 24 consecutive wins. But Donaire’s speed has gone to new heights since his collaboration with Conte and Korchemny.

It may seem odd to some that a boxer would need a sprint coach, but if you think about it, boxers run five or six miles all the time and how often do they do that in a fight? A fight is all about short bursts of speed, quickness and energy and Donaire has been willing to think outside the box in order to improve.

“If you look at the way I fight, it’s all a burst, all a sprint,” Donaire said. “I’m not there to run six miles, like a traditional fighter would do. When you fight in there, you don’t run for six miles. Your body has to be used to the fact that it’s a muscle twitch. It’s a fast muscle twitch. It’s similar to how I punch in that ring. It’s all muscle twitch.

“It’s all speed. It’s all burst. That’s the type of training I have with my sprinting.”

The one downside of the work that Donaire has done with Conte and Korchemny has been the talk that they’ll stain his reputation. Conte is notorious for creating undetectable steroids and served time in prison as a result. Korchemny was put on a year’s probation for his role in the BALCO case.

It’s a risk for a 28-year-old at the peak of his career to be willing to take on men with such notorious reputations, but Donaire is nothing if not mentally strong. Shane Mosley worked with Conte prior to a 2003 fight and vowed he was clean, but it later turned out he’d used the Cream and the Clear, two of the designer steroids Conte created that were undetectable at the time.

Donaire, though, has no fears of being given something that turns out to be illegal. He offered his arm to a group of reporters and said he’s willing to be tested any time because he knows he’s clean.

And Conte, who has admitted his past failings and vowed never to repeat them, said a bond has been created between them.

“You meet each other and you give it a try and you come to a decision where you’re either all in or you’re out,” Conte said. “If I work with somebody, I have to be 100 percent for him and he has to be 100 percent for me. We’ve gotten to that point and there has been no doubt, no wavering about us working together. It’s a decision Nonito and Rachel made together and they feel good about that decision. I feel good about the decision.

“We’re just beyond working together. We’ve become friends, like family. My daughter, Veronica, is very good friends with Rachel. We hang out with them. We go to dinner with them. We party after the fights with them. The two families are so close now, and that even makes working together better. We know we can come out and be ourselves and not be afraid, because we know our commitments to each other are unconditional. “

Conte paused as he searched for the right words. He sounded almost embarrassed as he continued to speak.

“I love the guy,” Conte said. “I hope they love me, my family, my daughter, as well. I feel great about the relationship and that there is a bond there now after a long period of time of us being together. It’s genuine and we’re doing this the right way. Nonito is completely clean and he’s just a very gifted athlete who has a smart team of people with him.”

And that’s why Donaire seems to smile so broadly, so easily, so often. He knows that he’s gotten himself to a point that few boxers have ever reached.

On Saturday, he plans to prove it to the world.

Kevin Iole / Yahoo

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