By I. Wilfredo Ver (Originally published in Filipinas Magazine, February 2009)
In the sporting world, the emergent spectator event is the mixed martial arts fights, where practitioners of varied combat disciplines such as wrestling, boxing, judo and karate are pitted against each other. Recently, a matchup of a different kind featuring a boxing champion and a taekwondo champion has captured the attention and imagination of Filipino fight fans.
Nonito Donaire Jr. is the reigning International Boxing Federation (IBF) Flyweight champion of the world. Rachel Marcial is a blackbelt in taekwondo and a U.S. National Champion.
Both are fierce competitors whose victories were accomplished mostly by knocking out or incapacitating their opponents. He is called the “Filipino Flash,” reminiscent of the previous century’s greatest Filipino boxer, Flash Elorde. She is called “Lady Savage” and “Knockout Queen,” descriptive of her demolishing fighting style as well as her physical attributes.
What happens when these two intense champions meet?
In the early fall of 2007, Nonito was invited to a party at a popular Los Angeles nightclub, where he found a long line of people at the entrance. Mentioning his world boxing title at the door enabled him to jump the line and, once inside, he immediately sat down with acquaintances. That didn’t really impress the host, Rachel, who was celebrating her recent victory at the AAU Nationals. When she later went up to introduce herself to him, she figured he was mayabang (arrogant). He casually replied hello, and went back to talking to someone else. Feeling slighted, she wasn’t too friendly when later on he tried to have a conversation with her. He thought she was suplada (snobbish). I suppose it’s typical of sports people to always size up their competitor at first encounter.
The duo would eventually share the dance floor, and the two champions have different versions of the event. She claims he and his friends were eyeing her all night. He claims she pulled him to the dance floor. But as the night wore on, and cupid had struck his arrow, both were soon dancing to their own private music. (She says, “he tried to kiss me”; he said, “She closed her eyes and offered me a kiss.”) Usually, this is where the referee must step in to stop the clinching.
The party continued at her place, where Rachel showed video clips of her taekwondo fights from her laptop. “That’s you?” Nonito gushed upon discovering she was also a sports champion. Displaying another of her talents, she began playing the piano, but our boxing lothario wouldn’t be beat. He promptly countered with a soulful rendition of “Unchained Melody.” Champions always control the direction of the match.
From that day on, the two were inseparable. “And that was it, I couldn’t get her off my mind,” Nonito conceded. Within two weeks, “He said ‘I love you’ first,” she declared triumphantly. Two points for Rachel. Mushiness and love are considered emotional weaknesses among fighters.
Our squared-ring gladiator plotted a counterattack, and by mid-winter, had procured a secret weapon, the engagement ring. “I have achieved several of my life goals. I wanted to move on to something more serious, and I wanted to do it the right way,” Nonito explained.
He carefully chose the opportuned moment when Rachel was off guard, then delivered the perfect punch line. They were guesting for Makisig TV when he grabbed her and sang “I’m Yours,” then got down on his knees. “We had to punch and kick for the interview, and I was all sweaty, my makeup was running… and he put me through this on live tv!” exclaimed the FHM model and certified Estee Lauder make-up artist. The John Mraz song goes “I won’t hesitate no more no more/ It cannot wait, I’m yours.” To the ultimate question, Rachel replied, “Of course!” and they kissed before the TV cameras.
The boxer continued dictating the pace of the match. In Manila on Valentine’s Day, Nonito upped the ante by arranging dinner aboard a private yacht on a cruise around Manila Bay. “It was very intimate, very romantic, one of our best experiences,” her turn to gush. Another point for Nonito.
At a particular point in a match, the champion plans when to deliver the winner and seal the deal. This involves proper timing and executing the right moves. They chose to get married on the luckiest day of the new century, 08/08/08, a day when the world witnessed the unforgettable display of Chinese fireworks at the opening of the Beijing Olympics.
There were no such fireworks at Lover’s Point of Stewart Cove in the romantic city of Carmel, California, but the bride was fully radiant and refreshingly beautiful, and the groom was exuberant and totally cool. It was but fitting that they exchanged vows by the shores of the Pacific Ocean, the vast body of water that similarly washes the shores of their native land.
The boxing career of Nonito Donaire Jr. is surely looking good. Since winning the world title in July 2007, the “Filipino Flash” has been heralded as the heir apparent to superstar Manny Pacquaio. His surprise knockout of then undefeated and seemingly invincible champion, Vic “Raging Bull” Darchinyan, with a perfectly timed left hook, won for Donaire the “Knockout of the Year” and the “Upset of the Year” awards.
Nonito presents your typical rags-to-riches story, of the poor country boy from Talibon, Bohol who gets left behind by his new-U.S. immigrant father. He grew up under his grandparents’ care, where food and sodas were rationed. On the streets of General Santos City in Cotabato, he sold pomelo at 50 centavos apiece to help make ends meet. When he reached 11, his father sent for him and the family settled in San Leandro, California.
Street fights involving his older brother Glenn prompted their father to enroll them in a boxing gym. Nonito’s prodigious talent was evident from the get-go, such that he quickly rose in the amateur ranks, winning gold medals in the U.S. Junior Olympics and the International Junior Olympics. He was barely 17 years old when he entered the professional ranks; before leaving behind his teenage years he won the Asian Pacific flyweight title. He captured the North American Boxing Federation title at 23, and was only 24 when he shocked the boxing world by winning the World Flyweight crown. He has since successfully defended his title twice, demolishing both opponents by knockout.
Nonito is known for his lightning quick reflexes, his left hook darting at blinding speed with a crushing power equal to that of boxers four weight divisions heavier. In this aspect, he is easily compared to Manny Pacquiao. “There is only one Manny Pacquiao,” Nonito replied modestly when the comparison was mentioned. “He is his own legacy. And I am thankful for Manny. I trained with him in L.A., sparred with him, and he gave me tips, he was very helpful. I admire his fighting heart and the way he trains. He trains very hard, he trains at a higher level. He paved the way for all of us Pinoy boxers, to be able to achieve greater heights.”
Yet Nonito is not your typical Filipino boxing champion. He is very articulate, a classy guy with a good set of head and heart. In his last fight, his slashing punch opened a nasty cut above his opponent’s eye, and he could have jumped on his rival’s lack of vision. Instead he backed off and motioned to the referee to take a look, after which the referee put a stop to the carnage and awarded the victory to Nonito.
The Other Champion
Five months into the marriage, Nonito and Rachel are obviously still on honeymoon mode. As competitive as they both are, they alternately allow each other to have his/her say, while the other would quickly respond with a witty joke, giggling and cooing. The two-and-a-half hour interview and photo shoot for Filipinas was marked with a lot of hand-holding, shoulder-rubbing and eye contact between the two.
In this match-up, Rachel is the exciting and enigmatic one. She exudes sensual allure and raw beauty, one whose femme fatale figure has landed her an ample spread in the Filipino men’s magazine, FHM. One international boxing writer listed her in the top five Hot Chicks of boxing. But when she faces you with fire in her eyes and fervor in her demeanor, one instinctively knows to approach her with caution. The reality is, she is as deadly as she looks.
The video clips that reside in her iPhone show her in several taekwondo bouts, all ending the same way: her opponents falling like timber onto to the mat. You see her bouncing up and down in front of her opponent, left foot forward, measuring her distance to the target, then in one split-second motion, adroitly spins as her right foot travels swiftly and stiffly into her rival’s chin. It is a graceful yet menacing move. As her opponent falls, she steps in quickly to stand on top of her fallen foe, ready to strike with another kick.
Rachel Marcial is a third-generation taekwondo practitioner. Her father operates a dojang, a taekwondo training hall, where at age eight, she took naturally to the sport. By the time she was 12, she had won the gold medal in the U.S. Junior Olympics. It would be her favorite stumping ground, the Junior Olympics, winning medals, usually gold, in every year she competed until she reached 18.
During her college years at the University of Phoenix, she ruled the U.S. Collegiate Nationals, the U.S. Open and the AAU Nationals. She also took time to compete in the Philippines as a teenager and emerged champion at the Milo Philippine Nationals. She later won gold medals in the Samsung Best of the Philippines and the Philippine National Team Selections.
Like many Fil-Ams of her generation, Rachel heeded the call of service to her country and served a five-year stint with the U.S. Air Force. Accepted with a high 92 percent rating, she landed a plum job in the Personnel Division, assigned close to the commander, and was exposed to high echelon military administration and management. During this time, taekwondo took a backseat to her military career, although she managed to collect several gold medals in military tournaments.
Upon leaving the service in 2006, Rachel promptly resumed competing and won the U.S. Collegiate Nationals, the World University Games in Finland, and her second AAU Nationals Gold in 2007. The latter was the victory party she was celebrating when her life and career took a fateful turn. She met her man.
Marriage for Nonito and Rachel has been pure heaven so far. The five months have been a blissful love match. But knowing their lives are consumed by regular competition, and as fighters, control is very necessary, one wonders if they are actually on a collision course. Nonito negates that theory, “Well, actually we complement each other. She is feisty, and I’m quite calm. She brings fairness to the table, me, patience. And we both have so many things to give each other. Loyalty is something I like about her and I give her my honesty.”
There is some concern that such ideal circumstance propagates a lackadaisical attitude toward his preparation for championship fights. Nonito argues, “She has actually helped me train harder, and make me focus better on my gymwork. She arranges my schedules, takes calls for me and makes appointments and stuff like that. She understands what I do, she helps me out in a lot of things. In my training, well, she tries to join my running, and she understands nutrition which is very crucial to my making weight for my fights, so she is very helpful in my preparations.” Their partnership has so far produced one championship victory, his knockout of number one challenger Morouti Mathalane to successfully defend his world title last November.
These two champions are also conscious of the responsibilities of their celebrity. They have taken up a laudable cause and are passionate in their support of Bantay Bata, a child welfare program that rescues and rehabilitates sick and abused children. “I’ve always loved working with kids, I enjoy teaching them. It’s my way of giving back, I didn’t have much growing up; now I’m in a position to give back, I want to provide that positive influence in their lives.” In his last fight at the Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, Nonito actively promoted the sale of Bantay Bata t-shirts.
At this point in their partnership, Rachel’s blackbelt is hanging in her closet because she has chosen to focus on managing Nonito’s schedules and business, as well as participate in his training. In her MySpace page, she declares “I am a fighter and a lover and there’s only been one that could tame me.”
The articulate Nonito is as comfortable analyzing and describing a fight as [he is] expressing his thoughts and life principles. He was a boxing analyst during the Mexico vs. Philippines World Cup held in Sacramento, California, where Team Philippines won.
For the long term, he says, “My goal is to keep on going, and be part of the glory and the history. I want to give my all and achieve as much as I can. I’ll always do my best in every fight to represent the Philippines and show to the world we are really great fighters with great personalities and talents.”
Nonito Donaire – Career Highlights
Fight Record: 20 wins, 1 Loss, 13 KOs
1998 – National Silver Gloves Champion
1999 – National Jr. Olympics Champion
1999 – International Jr. Olympics Champion
2000 – National U.S.A. Tournament Champion
2000 – Finalist, U.S. Olympic Trials
2002 – WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight Champion (defeating Kaichon Sor Vorapin of Thailand, by KO in round 2)
2006 – NABF Super Flyweight Champion (defeating Kahren Harutyunyan of USA by unanimous decision in round 12)
2006 – Defended NABF Super Flyweight Championship (defeating Oscar Andrade of Mexico by unanimous decision in round 12)
2007 – World IBF and IBO Flyweight Champion (defeating Vic Darchinyan of Australia by KO in round 5)
2007- Winner of Ring Magazine’s “Knockout of the Year” and “Upset of the Year” Awards
2007 – Defended World IBF Flyweight Championship (defeating Luis Maldonado of Mexico by TKO in round)
2007 – Athlete of the Year, Philippine Sports Awards
2008 – Defended World IBF Flyweight Championship (defeating Moruti Mathalane of South Africa by TKO in round 6)
RACHEL MARCIAL – Career Highlights
1994 Junior Olympics: GOLD
1995 Junior Olympics: GOLD
1997 Junior Olympics: SILVER
1998 U.S. Open: SILVER
1998 Junior Olympics: BRONZE
1998 Pan American Open: SILVER
1999 U.S. Open: SILVER
1999 Olympic Weight Division Tournament: GOLD
1999 U.S. Collegiate Nationals: BRONZE
1999 Milo Philippine Nationals: GOLD
1999 U.S. National Championships: BRONZE
2000 U.S. National Championships: SILVER
2000 Junior Olympics: GOLD
2001 Korea Open: SILVER
2001 AAU National Championships: GOLD
2001 AAU National Team Trials: GOLD
2001 Puerto Rico Open: BRONZE
2001 U.S. Collegiate Nationals: BRONZE
2001 U.S. Collegiate Team Trials: GOLD
2002 U.S. Open: BRONZE
2002 U.S. Air Force Team Selection: GOLD
2002 U.S. Armed Forces Team Selection: GOLD
2002 U.S. Collegiate Nationals: GOLD
2002 CISM World Military Games: SILVER
2002 AAU National Team Trials: GOLD
2002 U.S. Collegiate Team Trials: GOLD
2002 U.S. National Team Trials: BRONZE
2002 Samsung Best of the Philippines: GOLD
2003 U.S. Collegiate Team Trials: GOLD
2003 Aruba Open: SILVER
2006 Korea Open: BRONZE
2006 Philippine National Team Selection: GOLD
2006 Samsung Best of the Philippines: SILVER
2007 AAU Team Member (Fin)
2007 World University Games Trials (Fin): 1st
2007 U.S. Open: BRONZE
2007 U.S. Collegiate Nationals: GOLD
2007 AAU National Championships: GOLD
2008 Collegiate World Trials (Fin): 2nd
2008 U.S. Collegiate Nationals (Fin): SILVER
I. Wilfredo Ver is the Oakland Raiders’ Tagalog translator on its web site.