By Jake Donovan
When one fighter takes all of the risks and the other fighter comes with a defensive-minded game plan, the result is almost always going to be a slow moving affair that winds up becoming more intriguing than appealing.
So went the New York City debut of bantamweight champion and pound-for-pound entrant Nonito Donaire, who provided all of the offense in a whitewash of Omar Narvaez in their 12-round title fight Saturday evening at The Theatre in Madison Square Garden.
Scores were 120-108 across the board in their HBO-televised main event.
The expectations were for Donaire – Philippines-born but raised in San Leandro, California – to endure a stiff challenge from a long-unbeaten titlist before eventually picking him apart in his usual crowd-pleasing manner. It wasn’t unlike the scouting report heading into his highly anticipated bantamweight title fight with then-champion Fernando Montiel earlier this year.
Donaire used that particular fight as his coming out party, scoring a sensational second round knockout that left Montiel twitching and stunned and the boxing world abuzz. He quickly raced up towards the top of most pound-for-pound lists as he added the bantamweight championship to a trophy case that included title stints at flyweight and super flyweight.
Narvaez made sure that he wouldn’t follow suit. The crafty Argentinean changed that script very early, smartly slipping the incoming and even connecting with a few left hands from his squat southpaw stance.
The closest there came to any drama in the fight occurred towards the end of opening round. Narvaez caught a shot on his chin at the bell, then wedged his shoulder underneath Donaire’s armpit and lifted him off of his feet.
It was a poor man’s version of what took place in last weekend’s pay-per-view headliner between Chad Dawson and Bernard Hopkins. Unlike the sequence of events that took place in that bout, no body slam or takedown followed her as things otherwise remained civil for the rest of the evening – perhaps much to the dismay of the audience, who would’ve gladly settled for an early ending had they known what would follow.
Whatever offensive success Narvaez enjoyed came early in the fight, particularly in the second round when he was able to score with a straight left and utilized perfect footwork to just slip beyond Donaire’s punching range.
Once Donaire managed to close the gap, Narvaez ceased offering any sort of attack. The Argentinean southpaw spent most the rest of the night fighting behind a high guard while all too content with making Donaire miss rather than making him pay for his mistakes.
Donaire woke up the crowd in the fourth, landing a right hand that rocked the normally undentable Narvaez. The sequence came midway through the round and Donaire followed up with a flurry, but was unable to provide further damage.
Unfortunately, the action didn’t spill over to the following rounds, with Narvaez going into a defensive shell and offering next to nothing in the way of an offensive attack. Donaire stood his ground and kept pumping jabs and right hands, but was catching mostly glove while forced to contend with a chorus of boos beginning to develop among the unsatisfied live audience.
As the fight went deeper into the evening, the crowd grew increasingly restless. Donaire caught wind of what was happening and decided to let his hands go even if little to nothing was getting through Narvaez’ guard. It was the best the charismatic Filipino-American could offer in the way of crowd pleasing action, considering the strict defensive strategy being carried out by Narvaez.
His efforts were enough to please head trainer Robert Garcia, who encouraged his fighter to stay the course. “Just keep doing what you’re doing,” was the advice offered by the former titlist-turned-ace-cornerman. “If he didn’t come here to win, that’s his problem.”
Donaire obliged, save for the part where he wasn’t supposed to get careless. A flurry of headshots caused further reddening on Narvaez’ forehead, but also left him open for a straight left hand in a rare moment of offense from his smaller foe.
Not even the sight of the final three minutes ticking down was enough to please the crowd, who exchanged boos for a chant of “This is bull****!” to the same “Let’s go, Rangers” mating call normally heard when the New York Rangers hockey team plays the main room. Donaire continued to dance as hard as he could, but managed to hurt himself when landing into the ropes after overcommitting on a right hand just before the bell.
Donaire improves to 27-1 (18KO) in what he insists is his last fight of a bantamweight bang but ends with a whimper – but nevertheless a win.
“I did my best,” insists Donaire, acknowledging the fact that his opponent simply didn’t come to win but rather to last 12 rounds. “I’m sorry that it didn’t come out the way we wanted.”
What Donaire hoped for was something in the mold of his past several fights, particularly the balance of his bantamweight run. Back-to-back knockouts of Wladimir Sidirenko and Fernando Montiel – the latter a contender for 2011 Knockout of the Year – announced his arrival in grand fashion, but he exits the decision with simply just a win.
A trophy of sorts to be taken from the evening comes in his being the first to hang a loss on the career of Narvaez, now 35-1-1 (19KO). A two-time member of the Argentina Olympic boxing squad, Narvaez entered the fight with a record of 21-0-1 in title fights spanning two divisions and nine years.
Where Donaire – and most of the boxing world – is left puzzled is how an unbeaten fighter can come to the United States for the first time while in the biggest fight of his career and merely be content to last the distance, giving away virtually every round in the process..
“I have a lot of respect for Narvaez, but you have guys like (lineal middleweight king Sergio) Martinez and (super lightweight contender Marcos) Maidana, who come to fight,” Donaire states, making mention of Narvaez’ more action-minded countrymen who have risen to great heights since gaining notoriety in the United States. “As great as he is maybe in Argentina, he didn’t come to fight. Maybe when I hurt him in the third round, he decided to shut down.”
Realizing that his heritage would lead to the inevitable comparison to his Manny Pacquiao, Donaire likened his experience to a less-than-exciting entry in the career of his far more popular countryman.
“I know how Pacquiao felt with Clottey. He (Narvaez) just had that shell,” Donaire notes, referencing Pacquiao’s relatively dull points win over Joshua Clottey last March.
The aforementioned bout was a rare hiccup in the career of Pacquiao, whose rise to pound-for-pound supremacy came on the strength of making boxing history in racking up titles and big wins as he continued to rise in weight.
While not following suit for that particular reason, the plan is clearly for Donaire to continue to rise in weight and hopefully enjoying similar success. Even though it had zero impact on the outcome here, losing nearly two divisions worth of weight in the past week took its toll on Donaire in this fight.
Potential super fights with the likes of Toshiaki Nishioka, Jorge Arce, Juan Manuel Lopez (who was in atrendance) and perhaps even rising unbeaten featherweight Yuriorkis Gamboa currently await Donaire, whose win streak now extends to 26 straight spanning more than 10 years.
If any of those aforementioned fights isn’t enough motivation to move up in weight, a good of a reason as any would be four less pounds to lose during his next training camp.
“I began cramping up after the eighth round,” Donaire admitted at the end of the night. “This is definitely my last fight at 118 lb.”
Given the list of challenges awaiting him, chances are it will most likely also serve as the last time he’ll have to worry about the crowd not getting its money’s worth.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to JakeNDaBox@gmail.com .