The successful eight-year run between Nonito Donaire and Top Rank has come to an end.
With about a month remaining on his promotional agreement, Top Rank agreed to release Donaire from the remainder of the deal, allowing him to pursue other opportunities, both sides told ESPN on Wednesday.
Together they had a quite a run, during which four-division titleholder Donaire won world title belts in three weight classes --- four if interim titles are included -- and captured 2012 fighter of the year honors.
"The phones have been going crazy the past couple of days. I am getting calls from everywhere -- international, East Coast, West Coast. There are a lot of opportunities out there for me," Donaire said. "There are a lot of big names out there I could go against. My goal is always to fight to best out of there. I've always been that way.
"I'm grateful for what Top Rank has done with my career. I've gotten fighter of the year, been in front of everyone on television. But I've always been excited for new opportunities. When I started boxing I didn't have the luxury of being an Olympian and having the path laid out for me. I fought my way there and conquered whatever I had to. I am very excited about the future. There's uncertainty but there is also opportunity."
"The Filipino Flash" Donaire (37-4, 24 KOs), 34, who was born in the Philippines, raised in Northern California and lives in Las Vegas, won a flyweight title in 2007, and when his contract with Gary Shaw was up he signed with Top Rank in 2008.
With Top Rank, Donaire went on to win an interim junior bantamweight belt and a unified world title at bantamweight before he unified titles at junior featherweight. Then Donaire moved up to featherweight and won another world title before returning to junior featherweight to win yet another title.
In November, however, Donaire lost a controversial decision and his junior featherweight belt to Jessie Magdaleno, who was unwilling to give him a rematch. That was Donaire's final fight with Top Rank. Top Rank brought up the possibility of Donaire challenging featherweight titlist Oscar Valdez in April, but Donaire said he was not going to be ready to fight him that soon and sought a release from his contract. Top Rank ultimately agreed.
"Simply, his contract [was about to run] out and they are free to explore any and all options that may come their way," Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti said. "Wish them nothing but the best. Perhaps in the future we can do some more fights. Are we mad? Of course not. Boys get mad, men don't."
Rachel Donaire, Nonito's wife and manager, said the parting was amicable.
"I think Top Rank is a great promotion company and they did the best they could for Nonito," she said. "He had the best years of his career with Top Rank. No hard feelings at all. We're very appreciative of everything they did for his career. If there's a point where he can fight Valdez, we are completely open to it. We've made lifelong friends at Top Rank. It's business, but the friends we made will always be there."
Now Donaire is aiming to return to the featherweight division, which is deep with talent. Beyond Valdez, most of the top fighters in the division are represented by Al Haymon under the Premier Boxing Champions banner. Since Top Rank and Haymon rarely do business together -- and spent most of Donaire's prime years as enemies refusing to work together -- he missed out on fights with the likes of Leo Santa Cruz, Abner Mares, Carl Frampton, Lee Selby, Jesus Cuellar and Gary Russell Jr.
Donaire said that as a free agent he hopes he can land those kinds of bouts.
"That's where I want to be -- in those kinds of fights against those guys I couldn't fight before because they were unable to work together," Donaire said. "I can work with everybody now as a free agent."
Said Rachel Donaire: "At this point, going into the 126-pound division, Nonito has a lot more options as a free agent. Our perspective is it's time to write a second chapter with no limitations. Nonito has called out all these fighters for a long time."
While Rachel Donaire would like her husband to have a lesser fight at featherweight to readjust to the weight class, Nonito said he wants a significant fight right off the bat.
"I've learned a lesson from my previous time at 126, when I wasn't in the best shape and had extra fat," he said. "I didn't really do enough to create the muscle. I just went up there because I didn't have to lose weight. Now I'm pushing myself the right way, working with a strength trainer. I walk around at 132 pounds, all muscle now. So if there's an opportunity at 126 that's what I am building my body for. I want to be at 126, really strong and muscular, and to fight the best fighters there."