In the highlands of the Philippines the bandits sing the praises of the Filipino Flash, the boxer known as Nonito Donaire, in songs of bravery, adoration and respect for the tiny fighter currently wearing three coats in Belfast.
On Saturday night Donaire fights Carl Frampton, the latest adored kid from the streets of the city he loves, for the interim WBO featherweight title, which is a secondary prize on the night where the real prize is the right to continue fighting at the top level. The fight for a future is always the best type of fight in the boxing game where the costume belts are often clutter.
Donaire has been a world champion at four different weights, winning at flyweight first in 2007, going 12 years without defeat at one point and now, at 35, he is closer to the dreaded exit than Frampton. The Flash has lost just four times in 42 fights, most of which have been for some type of title, and one of the defeats was when he was a kid having his second fight.
The move from eight-stone fighter to nine, the slow switch from flyweight through the divisions to featherweight by Donaire, is something that Manny Pacquiao, another Filipino idol managed; Pacquiao also started at flyweight and went as high a light-middleweight, an increase of over 40 pounds. Pacquiao’s promoter, Bob Arum, perhaps the greatest ever, believes we will never know what Pacquiao’s true size was meant to be because the boxer was starved through most of his lost childhood; Donaire’s life was not quite so savage.
“I’m finding the weight now and I don’t feel like I’m carrying any extra weight,” said Donaire, who lost a version of the featherweight world title in 2014 to a dangerous but flawed fighter called Nicholas Walters. “I was not strong enough at that time, now I’m a proper featherweight.” Frampton, like Donaire, held a world title at the lower weight of super-bantam before the sensible move to featherweight, a crucial increase of just four pounds.
On Saturday night the harsh but real story is about the loser and how few options he will have once he collects his bag and leaves the dressing room; a rematch after a close loss is the very best the defeated man can hope for in an unforgiving business and a division currently stacked with terrific fighters. Even the deluded, a hefty contingent in the boxing world, will struggle to make pretty the foul terrain of the loser’s abandoned room once defeat starts to sink in.
Frampton, oddly installed as a heavy betting favourite, has been brutally honest about his future should he fail to have his hand raised at the end of the fight. Frampton is happy, he has prepared under new trainer, Jamie Moore, and, more importantly inside a totally new regime, but he still has the growing pressure of his legal dispute with his former promoter, Barry McGuigan, lurking like a filthy cloud in the shrinking distance. Frampton needs a big win, feels he is due a big win and he is right.
Donaire, who might be 35 but they are invisible years and he still looks like a fighting boy, has simply glossed over defeat, turned the harsh odds against him in this fight into motivation and talked boldly of future big fights. At Donaire’s side, and nodding at his every positive twist, is his wife and manager, Rachel. She is the one that made this fight happen, according to her, which is probably true because she is a fearsome operator and former taekwondo international fighter. She plans on being in the corner – actually up the steps and in the corner - on Saturday night and is certainly not a wife that hides in the toilet, sobbing in fear at the noises she can hear in the distance and imagining her husband getting a beating. “I don’t watch his fights through my fingers,” she once warned. “I have to be there with him.” She also got Donaire to admit to wearing her Foreign Intelligence Flirt lip gloss, a dual sex item from her range of beauty products called Secret Agent Beauty. Donaire certainly gives the rebel fighters back in the Philippines plenty of material for their songs of resistance.
In Belfast they paint murals of Frampton on empty city walls and on Saturday they will walk from all parts of the city, every section of belief, to fill the SSE Arena. The flock will roar little Carl, lovingly known as the Jackal, from the moment he appears at the back of the hall under a spotlight and then, behind a deafening wall of their screams, he will walk to his ring. They also sing songs about their beloved boxers in Belfast. The Jackal against the Filipino Flash just might be as memorable as their iconic nicknames.