Battling excruciating pain, Nonito Donaire Jnr is not about to quit. Down on all three judges' scorecards, his right cheek begins to flare and swell from the fractured cheekbone caused by Vic Darchinyan's numerous punches. The pain tells him to stop, but with a nation counting on him, Donaire just has to win in Texas. Somehow.
The tide begins to turn and the "Filipino Flash" ends the contest with a technical ninth-round knockout against the Armenian "Raging Bull". Donaire had won their first fight as a 7-1 underdog in 2007, but this rematch in November last year is an experience he will never forget.
Donaire's last contest was more than just a fight. It was a time of reflection and mourning for the Philippines after the devastation caused by Super Typhoon Haiyan.
Like his compatriot Manny Pacquiao, who fought and defeated American Brandon Rios in Macau two weeks later, Donaire needed to lift his country's spirits even if it meant he had to endure the pain of a broken cheekbone and the debilitating effects of flu.
"I thought about quitting because the pain was really excruciating," said 31-year-old Donaire, who will headline next month's "Featherweight Fury" at the CotaiArena in Macau. "But then I remembered how many Filipinos back home were rooting for me. Philippines had just been hit by an earthquake and typhoon and our people were still unwavering in their faith. They fought through the bad times. I couldn't let them down," said Donaire, Asia's second most successful champion after eight-division world champion Pacquiao.
Donaire's courage and bravado should be in evidence on May 31 when he attempts to lift a fifth world division title when he challenges World Boxing Association (WBA) featherweight world champion Simpiwe "V12" Vetyeka of South Africa.
The Filipino-American (32-2, 21 KOs), who like Pacquiao is a native of General Santos City and lives and trains in Las Vegas, has won titles in flyweight, super flyweight (albeit an interim title), bantamweight and junior featherweight divisions. He's now stepping up a class as he chases a featherweight crown.
It's a whole new challenge for the 2012 Fighter of the Year (voted by Boxing Writers' Association of America), who will fight only his second featherweight bout, warning "guys at 126 pounds hit harder so I have to do my homework and be smart".
Fully recovered from the injured cheek that required surgery and months of healing, Donaire has something to prove in Macau. Despite his courageous victory over Darchinyan, critics were largely unimpressed. Darchinyan was after all 37 and Donaire's victory wasn't as dominant as fans had come to expect.
"This fight is very important," Donaire stressed. "It will be my fifth weight title shot and I'm still getting used to fighting at 126 [pounds] weight," said Donaire, speaking from the Philippines.
"I believe moving up to featherweight is the best move for my career. I fought the best in bantamweight and super bantamweight [junior featherweight] but I also struggled with the weight.
"I would have to trim my portions [of food] the last three weeks of training and it isn't just physically draining, it's mentally draining, too," said Donaire.
He couldn't have picked a harder opponent. Although a fifth title will put him in the same exclusive club as multi-division champions Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jnr, Thomas Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard, he will be the underdog again in Macau.
"I've always been the underdog," said Donaire, who had to overcome asthma as a youngster.
The 33-year-old Vetyeka (26-2, 16 KOs), will be making the first defence of the title he won from the once-invincible Chris John of Indonesia. A 12-year professional, four of the South African's last five victories have been by knockout.
Donaire might well be past his prime, but he wants to prove he still has the desire to add another world title to his belt.
"I have a new fire to keep my career going. The thing is, I won many fights over 12 years and got complacent. I'm not going to lie about that," said Donaire, who lost his WBC super bantamweight title to Cuban sensation and WBA super bantamweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux in a title unification bout last April. Before that loss - only his second in his pro career - Donaire had built a 12-year, 30-bout winning streak.
"Losing made me reevaluate my goals. I wanted to do more research on how to be better, stronger and smarter. I want to have that long winning streak back again. Also, I have my son [nine-month-old Jarel] and I want to give him all I can. I need to look at my boxing as a career and not just something I do," he said.