HOUSTON -- Junior featherweight titleholder Nonito Donaire is a man of the people.
As his next fight approaches, rather than spend the time hiding out in his room while making weight, the outgoing Donaire is more comfortable hanging around the hotel lobby, mingling with reporters and taking pictures with fight fans, whom he accommodated over and over on Thursday.
Donaire is happy to be where he is -- among the top fighters in the world and getting ready for yet another world title fight, a defense of his 122-pound belt against former titleholder Jorge Arce, the popular Mexican brawler and one of Donaire's good friends.
They meet Saturday night (HBO, 9:30 ET/PT) at the Toyota Center, where Donaire could put the finishing touches on a fighter-of-the-year campaign by winning his fourth world title bout in 2012, an uncommonly busy schedule for a top fighter in this era.
"I'm excited and blessed with having four fights this year," Donaire said. "If I can, I will do it again next year. I am also sharpening my skills and working on my craft by fighting so often. My skills are getting to a new level.
"I just want to keep fighting and try not to get [fighter of the year] in my head. I just want to keep getting better, and when people started mentioning that I could be fighter of the year, I was like, 'That's pretty cool.' But I am focused on winning and getting better. I believe I am still getting better. I want to fight the best out there -- and next year I am, for the top two in my division [fellow titleholders Abner Mares and Guillermo Rigondeaux] -- or the best at featherweight."
It already has been a big year for Donaire. The former flyweight, interim junior bantamweight and bantamweight titleholder moved up to junior featherweight and won a vacant world title in February by winning a decision over former titleholder Wilfredo Vazquez Jr., knocking Vazquez down in the process.
In July, Donaire scored a knockdown and rolled to a points victory to unify 122-pound belts against Jeffrey Mathebula. Although Donaire vacated one of the titles, he retained his remaining belt in October by dropping former titleholder Toshiaki Nishioka twice en route to a dominant ninth-round knockout.
And now Arce (61-6-2, 46 KOs), 33, of Mexico, will face Donaire. The champ has sought this fight for quite some time, but it has been put off more than once.
"When we were both in the flyweight division, we were on the same card and supposed to fight in the next fight, and it never happened four years ago," Donaire said. "On and off, and it never happened. We were supposed to fight in October, but then he didn't take the fight. I have wanted this fight. Everyone kept saying I was going to fight Arce. When this fight came up, I said to my promoter [Top Rank] and my manager [Cameron Dunkin] that if this doesn't happen now, don't ever mention Arce to me again. Fortunately, we were able to get this fight. It's a fight I have wanted for the longest time."
Donaire (30-1, 19 KOs), 30, a native of the Philippines who lives in San Leandro, Calif., in the Bay Area, wanted to fight Arce -- even though they are pals -- because he has a big name and a reputation for making action fights, which is what Donaire wants. They have good-naturedly needled each other during the promotion but have the utmost respect for each other.
"We go out to dinner with our wives, so we are friendly," Arce said though Top Rank publicist and translator Ricardo Jimenez. "We know each other very well, but when we come up in the ring, it's totally different. I admire him and I respect him a lot, so I figure I better be in the best shape ever because I want him to meet me at my best."
Saturday's HBO broadcast, which will mark the final fight for analyst Larry Merchant after 35 years with the network, will open with a replay of last week's pay-per-view fight between Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao, their fourth meeting, which ended with Marquez scoring a stunning one-punch sixth-round knockout victory.
The co-feature, junior featherweight titlist Guillermo Rigondeaux (11-0, 8 KOs) defending against former titleholder Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym (48-2, 33 KOs), was canceled on Thursday after Kratingdaenggym failed a prefight blood test and was refused a license by Texas regulators.
Donaire, known as the "Filipino Flash," is like most fighters from the Philippines in that he idolizes Pacquiao. Donaire is the heir apparent to the mantle of the No. 1 Filipino fighter as Pacquiao winds down his career.
"I'll never replace Manny Pacquiao," Donaire said. Donaire missed last week's fight because he was en route to Houston for the fight with Arce. When he heard that Pacquiao had been knocked out, he didn't believe it at first. Then he realized it was true.
"It was shocking and then heartbreaking and then sad," said Donaire, who has won world titles in four weight classes plus an interim belt in another. "Everybody was sad on their Twitter and Facebook. It was like when Roy Jones went down [against Antonio Tarver], shocking and sad. I thought Manny did a great job when I saw the fight -- a fantastic job -- but he got careless and got caught. To see a person who we never saw go down like that get knocked out like that, it's like, wow. I have so much respect for the man. It is part of boxing, and I do congratulate Marquez for his victory."
Some have suggested that if Donaire can knock out Arce, it would help the Philippines, at least in small measure, even the score with Mexico. But Donaire said he isn't looking at his fight like that.
"I'm in there to knock Arce out because I want to and that's what I plan to do," he said. "I am here to win the fight, but not with that mentality. I won't put that revenge status in my mind. That just gets me off my game. I want to go out and win and then raise my flag. I hope all the Filipinos can smile, that they can enjoy the fight, and we can give them a good show. The Pacquiao thing was unfortunate, but that's part of boxing. He is still a legend and still Manny Pacquiao, a legend of the Philippines. He opened the door for me and all the other Filipino fighters."
Arce has the opposite approach. He's looking to follow up Marquez's knockout.
"What happened last week in Las Vegas with Pacquiao and Marquez is going to happen again," Arce said. "A new surprise."
Said Donaire: "His morale is high because of Marquez knocking out Pacquiao. And Arce loves to make history. He keeps telling me he wants to knock me out and shock the world and show the Philippines that Marquez can knock out Pacquiao and that he can beat me. He feels he is invincible."
Arce is filled with confidence, despite being a heavy underdog.
"[Donaire is] definitely the best fighter I ever fought," Arce said. "He's the best opponent, the most complete fighter, he's the best I have ever faced. But I'm gonna surprise all of you. When I win and knock him out, everyone will be saying how surprised they are."
Arce points to his May 2011 victory against Vazquez, who was the big favorite before the fight. But Arce knocked him out in the 12th round to pull the upset and win a junior featherweight title, which he defended once and then vacated.
"When I fought Vazquez, I knew I could do it," Arce said. "I'm even better prepared and in better shape than I was for that fight. People said Vazquez would knock me out, but I knocked him out. Donaire couldn't even knock him out.
"I know that I am going to ruin everyone's plans. Everyone says Arce is done. I want to show I am like the phoenix and get up from the ashes and show everyone I'm still good and can still do a lot of things. I am looking forward to beating Donaire and then going up to 126. I'd like to get a title at 126."