By Ryan Maquiñana
Junior featherweight world champion Nonito Donaire is accustomed to fans screaming his name during his fights, but in a role reversal, he’ll be the one losing his voice this weekend.
The fun starts on Saturday night when pal Mikey Garcia, younger brother of his trainer Robert Garcia, challenges for his first world title against featherweight incumbent Orlando Salido (HBO, 9:45 p.m. ET/PT).
“Robert’s definitely going to have Mikey ready,” Donaire told BoxingScene.com. “I’ll be watching.”
At only 25, Garcia (30-0, 26 KOs) has already been pegged as a future pound-for-pound talent under the tutelage of his father Eduardo and brother Robert. With his poise in the pocket and steely poker face, the Police Academy graduate from Oxnard, Calif., has a potent and varied arsenal.
“The jabs and the feints are important when you need to outbox a guy like Salido,” Donaire said. “Mikey’s got all that. He’s cold and calculated. He just has that intensity, and he knows his surroundings no matter where he is in the ring.”
Meanwhile, Salido (39-11-2, 27 KOs), from Ciudad Obregon, Mex., is an irresistible battering ram. Built from granite and blessed with the punching power of a mule, the 31-year-old “Siri,” owns two stoppage wins over Juan Manuel Lopez and is the toughest foe Garcia has faced.
“Salido’s a guy who goes in there and just doesn’t stop,” Donaire said. “He has a good overhand right, good bodywork, good hooks, but I don’t think he has the speed to pressure Mikey effectively.” Donaire said. “I think of when Ricky Hatton pressured Kostya Tszyu, that was a fast type of pressure. With Salido, he’s the type of guy who breaks you down, but I think Mikey can outbox him.”
Ultimately, Donaire thinks Garcia will emerge the better man at the Madison Square Garden Theater.
“I think using your jab and lateral movement is important with someone who constantly moves forward,” he said. “When he throws an overhand right, you can move to your left side, slip shots, and use your jab, combinations, whatever. I think Mikey can take advantage of that, but again, you can analyze all you want, but what makes things exciting is that you still have to do it in the ring.
“Salido’s a tough guy, but I think Mikey’s too smart and too talented. I think Mikey wins by unanimous decision.”
The following day, Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree of the San Francisco 49ers will face off against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game (FOX, 3 p.m. ET/12 p.m. PT). Both football stars trained alongside the champ at the Undisputed Boxing Gym in San Carlos, Calif., during the preseason.
“Those guys are hard workers,” Donaire said. “They’re determined, and you saw that last week [against Green Bay]. Gore’s not a big guy, but he pushes the pile around, and Crabtree’s fast. He’s definitely talented.”
When prodded for his 49ers-Falcons pick, Donaire was unequivocal with his choice—one more akin to a knockout blow than split decision.
“They’re going to kick butt,” he said. “I’m not good at predicting scores, but I’m just going to say the 49ers are going to win by at least 14 points.”
Ryan Maquiñana was the boxing producer for NBCOlympics.com during London 2012 and writes a weekly column for CSNBayArea.com. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Ratings Panel for Ring Magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, check out his blog at Norcalboxing.net, or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.