- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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With his promotional issues with Top Rank recently settled and a new contract in place, unified bantamweight titleholder Nonito Donaire will return to defend his belts Nov. 5 against an opponent to be determined, Top Rank president Todd duBoef told ESPN.com.
"We are looking to secure an opponent and a site for Nonito's return on Nov. 5 and we're very excited," duBoef said.
DuBoef said HBO, despite a tight fourth-quarter budget, has committed to buying the fight, which will likely be Donaire's last fight at bantamweight before he moves up to the junior featherweight division.
The date means that Donaire, who was born in the Philippines but has lived in Northern California since childhood, will be fighting in the prime slot one week before his idol, Filipino icon Manny Pacquiao, who returns to HBO PPV after a one-fight move to Showtime PPV for his third fight with rival Juan Manuel Marquez on Nov. 12, a fight Top Rank is also promoting.
Top Rank's Carl Moretti told ESPN.com that Donaire's bout will likely take place in either Las Vegas or California.
Moretti is the point person HBO is working with as they go over potential opponents. It is unlikely that Donaire will face the winner of Showtime's four-man bantamweight tournament, which concludes Saturday night with titlist Joseph Agbeko defending his belt against Abner Mares. The timing of the fight and the fact that Showtime has an option on the winner makes it unlikely, according to duBoef.
The names presented to HBO as possible opponents, according to Moretti, are Argentina's Omar Narvaez (35-0, 23 KOs), a reigning junior bantamweight titleholder and former longtime flyweight titlist; former two-time title challenger Silence Mabuza (23-3, 19 KOs) of South Africa; Mexico's Christian Esquivel (23-2, 17 KOs); Sebastian Gauthier (21-2, 13 KOs) of Canada; former junior bantamweight titlist Alexander Munoz (35-4, 27 KOs); and Juan Mercedes (26-3, 17 KOs) of the Dominican Republic.
Narvaez is the biggest name among the potential opponents and Moretti said he has talked to his handlers.
"Narvaez's people have interest in the fight and there's a hefty offer out to them right now," Moretti said.
HBO was interested in Donaire facing fellow former flyweight titlist Vic Darchinyan (36-3-1, 27 KOs), who is now among the top bantamweights. Donaire knocked out Darchinyan (who later unified three junior bantamweight titles) with one punch in the fifth round to win a flyweight belt in 2007. A rematch has often been talked about since but never solidified.
"We have absolutely zero interest in pursuing a Darchinyan rematch," Moretti said. "We've been down that road before. We've tried to make it and it didn't get done. I don't think there's anything for Nonito to gain by fighting him again."
Darchinyan, who is coming off a win in the Showtime tournament consolation match against former titlist Yonnhy Perez, has a Sept. 3 bout scheduled in his native Armenia against Evans Mbamba. Darchinyan has also fought all of his fights in the United States since 2006 on Showtime.
In his last fight in February, Donaire (26-1, 18 KOs), one of the top fighters in the world pound-for-pound, made his HBO debut and scored a sensational second-round knock out of Fernando Montiel to take his two 118-pound belts. HBO had an option on his next fight, which duBoef said the network has exercised.
HBO originally intended to bring Donaire back on May 28, but before that deal was finalized, Donaire left Top Rank and signed with rival Golden Boy. He was unhappy with Top Rank and believed his contract had expired.
When they went to arbitration, Golden Boy was enjoined from promoting Donaire and Top Rank's contract, which began in 2008, was upheld. At that point, Donaire and duBoef, with assistance from the fighter's wife, Rachel, worked through their differences before agreeing to a new multiyear contract last month, one that will pay Donaire a minimum purse of about $700,000 for future bouts.
When Donaire and Top Rank announced his new contract last month, Donaire said his return would come in October, but it was pushed back until early November.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.