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When a fighter reaches a plateau where he is widely considered one of the 10 most accomplished fighters of his time, the first instinct usually is to put his career in the hands of a promoter and let the challenges come to them, maximizing profitability and comfort. But for Nonito Donaire, the search for new challenges starts again with each new fight, and his next appearance is a testimony to that way of thinking.
After winning titles at flyweight and super flyweight, Donaire (27-1, 18 KOs) made a move to invade the bantamweight division in 2010, grabbing two titles against Fernando Montiel and defending them against undefeated fellow two-division champ Omar Narvaez before deciding to make another move up in weight. This change will materialize Saturday in San Antonio, a town in which Donaire has never fought, where he will face a tough challenge in Puerto Rico's Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. (21-1, 18 KOs) in a super bantamweight fight with a vacant title on the line.
We caught up with "The Filipino Flash" during a halt in his training schedule, and this is what he had to say about his latest challenge:
How was your training for this fight? Have you made any adjustments to adapt to your new weight class?
I've been feeling great. So far, it's been a great training camp and I feel wonderful. The training has been really exciting for us; we've been working really hard and we've been sparring with bigger guys so that I can get used to the bigger bodies in front of me. I sparred with an 11-0 Russian fighter, Evgeny [Gradovich, a featherweight]. And the other guy is Javier Garcia, who is [my trainer] Robert Garcia's nephew. He is at 130-135 pounds, so I've been sparring with those guys along with the little guys, and they all gave me great work.
How do you feel at this new weight? Do you believe you can carry both your speed and power into the new division?
Definitely. I feel really strong at this weight class. I don't have to cut down weight, I am at about 126 right now and I feel great. I feel comfortable at this weight class. So we'll see.
You will be making your debut in a new division against a former champ with a title on the line. Do you have any additional expectations for this fight?
When I go and fight somebody in a championship fight, I expect anything from anyone, and we're expecting everything from him. We're expecting a tough fight, and we also expect a difficult challenge, but we're ready for all that.
You say that you don't study your opponents. Do you think this tactic backfired on you when you fought Narvaez? Do you think the fight would have gone differently if you'd been more familiar with his awkward style?
It didn't matter because he didn't engage in the fight. There is no point in studying somebody if he's going to do that after he gets hurt. He just protected himself because he didn't want to be knocked out. He never really got anything going. It would be difficult for me to hit somebody who blocks and moves at the same time. It would have been different if he had stayed in one spot -- then I would have been able to hit him with my power shots. But I was never able to do that because he never stood in front of me.
Do you plan to study Vazquez at all?
The thing is that Narvaez never gave me an intention to fight, and it's difficult to make a plan with someone who doesn't want to fight. But I know that Vazquez is going to be right in front of me and I could work in that ring to put together a good fight. So I am always going to be who I am, and that's the way I am going to fight. That's how I became world champion, and I am going to keep it the same way. Like I said, we're just going to go out there and do our best, and if it comes to the point where we see an opening for a big punch, we're going to do it. But if not, we're ready to take it to the distance. We're ready for anything. I don't look for the knockout, but if I am given the opportunity, I will take it.
You're fighting in San Antonio for the first time in your career, facing a Puerto Rican fighter in front of a largely Mexican crowd. Do you believe this will help you win new fans after the Narvaez disappointment?
The thing is that they are all going to be boxing fans, and I am going to do my best to try to win some fans out there, but I am going to do my best just to make sure everyone watching enjoys the fight and they all have a good time. We're definitely going to do our best, but if it comes to a point where we see an opening, then we'll try to go for it. But if not, we're going to work for the entire 12 rounds. But aside from that, we pretty much believe this is not going to be a boring fight, because we know that Vazquez is going to engage.
Are you staying in this division for a while, or are you headed straight up to featherweight?
Right now, my weight is really low, so we can't anticipate right now if I will be moving up because I would be a lot smaller than all of those guys. But we definitely need to find out how I do against these guys at 122 first before I think about moving up.
Is Jorge Arce in the conversation to be your next opponent?
Right now, we're thinking about [Toshiaki] Nishioka. He is from Japan and is the WBC champ. But if Arce comes in, he is on the list as well because it would be a great fight. So it would be great if I could get either of those two fighters.
How do you envision Saturday's fight playing out, round by round?
That I can't tell you, because every round is going to be different. I can't say what I will do in each round, because I am the type of person who likes to work on things as they are happening. I don't know what kind of style he will bring, because every time he comes in there, he is better. So round by round, I don't see it that way; I see the fight as a whole and I take it as it happens. But we're definitely going to go out there and if we see an opening, or if we see something that we can take advantage of, we're definitely going to use it. But right now, I don't know what he is going to do.
Diego Morilla is a contributor to ESPNdeportes.com.