BELFAST can be a hostile environment for a visiting fighter. When Chris Avalos had the temerity to challenge Carl Frampton, he was nearly booed out of the weigh-in. That was not the case for the latest visitor from overseas to face off with Frampton. The crowd at the Europa Hotel applauded Nonito Donaire as he stepped on to the scales, hardly the rapturous reception that greeted the local hero but significant still.
Donaire has been on a charm offensive. His admiration for Frampton as a fighter is clear. He’s exuberantly burst into song. At the public workout this week he showed off his dance moves and then invited children from the crowd into the ring for an impromptu boxing lesson. It was masterclass in high level diplomacy.
“It’s been amazing being here in Belfast, everyone’s been really kind. Even though they’re big Carl Frampton fans, they’ve been really very, very accommodating and very, very kind. I’ve had the greatest experience so far here,” he said. “I’ve had an amazing time here. It’s a wonderful experience.”
The weigh-in complete, he scaled 8st 13½lbs. Though he has come up from much lighter weights, Donaire did look good at feather. “We’ve worked really hard on it and we’ve had plenty of time to gain the weight the right way and I’m very confident in being a full featherweight,” he insisted. “In previous fights I was walking around the weight I was weighing in… I took the time to really put on the weight and I feel very confident and very comfortable actually.
“This time I’m feeling a full grown featherweight and sparring with bigger guys.”
He knows the scale of the threat Frampton, a former world champion at featherweight, poses. “It’s definitely a big fight with Carl Frampton as the opponent. In terms of our legacy, in terms of being an elite fighter, this is definitely a make or break fight for both of us,” Donaire said. “When you’re fighting Frampton you have to be at your best.
“Frampton is easily one of the top three, top two guys out there. One of the best guys out there. That’s why we took this fight.”
The atmosphere at the SSE Arena, also known as the Odyssey Arena, however will be something else entirely. That crowd in full voice is utterly deafening and genuinely intimidating. That is something that’s hard to prepare for. But Donaire insists there is something special about him. He’s ready, wiling and eager to face it.
“I think it doesn’t compare to my very first fight as an 11-year-old kid, who was bullied in the street, who didn’t know how to fight. Yet when I’m put in a situation I show up. On Saturday no matter what situation, when it comes down to fight or flight, I’ve always fought. And that’s always going to be me,” Donaire said.
“Growing up I was always bullied because I was very small. I didn’t speak English when I was in America so I was the subject of ridicule. But my father got me into the ring, 45 days in training he thought that was already enough to start fighting amateur. So I started fighting amateur right there and literally I pissed in my pants. I was scared. But when I was in the ring I was liberated. I felt that I needed to survive. I went out there, I didn’t run, I didn’t cry. I just fought and I know from all my experience, no matter how tough the guy in front of me, no matter how big, no matter how strong, there’s always something within me that is always ready to fight and never give up.”