By Chris Robinson
Nonito Donaire wanted to deliver a scintillating performance last Saturday night in his first appearance at the famed Madison Square Garden in New York, but he simply had a dance partner in front of him who wouldn’t let that happen. For twelve frustrating and tepid rounds, Donaire tried to figure out a way to crack through the shell of tough Argentinean Omar Narvaez but instead had to settle for a unanimous decision verdict that saw him win all twelve rounds on all three judges’ cards while defending his WBC and WBO bantamweight titles.
Subpar action aside, the 28-year old Donaire is still one of the most intriguing and physically-blessed fighters in the game. His future endeavors will be charted with a microscope, as is the custom with the best fighters in the sport, and it’s without question that opponents far more willing and dangerous than Narvaez will rise to the surface.
Veteran analyst Larry Merchant, a staple on HBO’s airwaves for over thirty years, has seen just about every scenario imaginable play out inside of the squared circle and gave his take on Narvaez’s actions, or lack thereof, last night.
“If he’s not trying to win, if he’s just there to survive, he can survive,” Merchant stated during out conversation moments after the fight. “That’s unfortunate but the best fighters, the most exciting fighters in history, have gone up against guys whose instinct for self-preservation kicked in for the fight and they decide to survive. It’s like when a pitcher wants to walk a slugger, you’re not going to see him slug.”
Donaire had been inactive since his February thrashing of Fernando Montiel in Las Vegas and was aching to return with an electrifying performance. And while it didn’t happen, Merchant can sympathize with how Donaire feels and casts no blame towards him.
“The fighters understand what happens,” Merchant stated. “Does it affect them? Yeah, they’re human. And a guy goes out there and he’s not trying to play the game, he’s just trying to get to the end of the fight without being knocked out and is willing to think that surviving looks good on his resume or feels good that he was able to do it against a superior fight. We’ve seen if before. It’s not a new movie.”
The next move for Donaire is a trek up to the junior featherweight class, where it seems that either WBO champion Jorge Arce or WBC boss Toshiaki Nishioka will be awaiting him next, and Merchant will be watching eagerly.
“This is what happens when there’s no serious competition [in his weight class],” Merchant added. “He’s going to go up in weight and you want to see what happens, whether he takes his punch with him or whether fighting bigger guys, maybe they will be more willing to engage him. Hopefully he gets the opportunity to show what he’s got at 122 and eventually featherweight.”
Donaire was born in the city of Bohol in the Philippines before relocating to San Leandro, California as a youth and there have been some who like to compare him to his countryman Manny Pacquiao, even though Donaire is a completely different fighter. Merchant recognizes the potential in Nonito and you can sense his enthusiasm coming through when eyeing what the future holds for him.
“I like Donaire. There’s nothing not to like. Anytime you see an explosive, exciting fighter and it’s good for boxing, you want to see him progress. It’s obvious, the connection to Pacquiao and how Pacquiao grew and got better and we want to see what this kid is capable of. Basically he’s Filipino and he has that connection but he’s also an American kid who grew up here. You can’t get enough of these kind of guys in boxing.”
Reader's note: Visit the following slideshow for the latest images from the boxing world: A ringside view of Donaire vs. Narvaez / Images from the first 24/7 Pacquiao-Marquez episode