by Cliff Rold
Double belted bantamweight titlist Nonito Donaire (26-1, 18 KO) is, to most eyes, the leader of his division. It is the third in which he has won some manner of title in since 2007. There is talk of a fourth, fifth, even sixth division. His challenger this Saturday night is an echo from the first class, a unification bout that wasn’t.
While Donaire was defending the IBF 112 lb. title he won with a knockout of Vic Darchinyan, Omar Narvaez (35-0-2, 19 KO) was in the middle of a 16-defense WBO reign in the same division. Narvaez has since also capture a WBO belt at 115 lbs., a division where Donaire was an interim titlist before moving to 118 lbs. in 2010. Now they square off in a bout where what appears to be a relatively light rise in weight is considered a heavy advantage for Donaire.
Of course, everything inside the squared circle appears to be advantage Donaire these days. One could argue Donaire still lacks in terms of the volume of quality wins on his ledger. Maybe he does. The nature of those knockout wins, notably Darchinyan, former bantamweight beltholder Wladimir Sidorenko, and February 2011’s second round obliteration of Fernando Montiel, makes up for it.
Despite his reputation for solid whiskers, Narvaez will give up four inches in height this weekend along with the edge in speed and power. The chance to see another highlight reel performance is there against a man who would be a serious threat to most other fighters between flyweight and bantamweight.
That doesn’t mean, granting Donaire wins this weekend, that bantamweight is cleared of challenges. While there is already speculation about a clash in 2012 with outstanding WBC Jr. Featherweight titlist Toshiaki Nishioka, it’s worth asking:
What’s the hurry for Donaire?
The climb is inevitable, but why climb now?
Jr. Featherweight, for more than a decade, was one of boxing’s best divisions. Names like Barerra, Pacquiao, Morales, McKinney, Vazquez, (Rafael) Marquez, Monshipour, and Jones gave fans a stack of classics worthy of any desert island existence. There has been a severe drop off in recent vintage. Nishioka is a rare standout in a sea of mediocrities, retreads, and new faces not quite arrived at prime time.
If the purpose is to go up, try to win Nishioka’s belt at 122 lbs. and move on immediately, then it makes sense. If 122 lbs. will be home for more than just a fight, Donaire would be moving from a weight class with an argument as boxing’s current best to one of its current least. Bigger isn’t better here.
Consider the difference in depth of competition present in class. Let’s assume a rematch with Darchinyan, at 118 or any other weight, is finally a dead issue. That still leaves long reigning WBA titlist Anselmo Moreno, who will face Darchinyan in December and was bandied about as a Donaire opponent previously, and the winner the rematch between Joseph Agbeko and IBF champ Abner Mares (also in December on the same card as Moreno-Darchinyan).
Donaire would likely be a solid favorite over anyone at bantamweight. Heck, Donaire is probably the favorite over anyone below 135 lbs. However, none of the top bantamweights could be considered easy money. Even if Darchinyan springs the upset on Moreno, there still remains a stellar match or two at 118. If their second bout is as close as the first, Agbeko and Mares could both be options.
Bantamweight is at a high crest right now of excellent fighters, proven in their willingness to face each other. If business couldn’t get done for the reasons business sometimes doesn’t, so be it. But purely from the perspective of seeing the best boxing matches possible, one would hope business could be more kind.
One could look to claims that Donaire is struggling with weight as a rationale to move up now, but less time off between fights probably means better weight maintenance. He came in well under a pound below the Bantamweight limit for Narvaez as it is. The evidence suggests he is still a bantamweight when in top condition.
Beat one or two more of the best men at 118 and Donaire could claim to have cleaned out, for the moment, a genuine bright spot on the sports crowded scale. His tenure at bantamweight would still have been short, but the mark left could be so much more indelible. It would be a shame to see him exit without even so much as a unification contest after winning the WBC and WBO belts from Montiel.
122, in contrast, has one serious competitive option at the moment. Nishioka is certainly a strong foe, right on par in terms of fistic quality with the best at bantamweight and physically bigger. Beyond the Japanese veteran, the money foe appears to be a Jorge Arce who shares a promoter with Donaire in Top Rank. An Arce contest might raise Donaire’s profile a bit, but probably not much more than the Montiel fight already did.
And, let’s be frank: Donaire-Arce is probably less competitive than Floyd Mayweather’s 2005 contest with the late Arturo Gatti. Arce has always been a fighter with a ceiling in terms of whom he could beat. Donaire is a couple floors above that.
Beyond the talent (Nishioka) and the name (Arce), the most intrigue might come from former amateur lord Guillermo Rigondeaux, but with only eight pro fights to his credit so far how serious would such a bout truly be taken? Rigondeaux will be a bigger part of conversation after he shares a ring with titlist Rico Ramos and gets a non-interim belt for the first time.
And, yes, Ramos-Rigondeaux is that easy a pick.
There are some other guys at 122 who can be tough outs, but few who really stand out as the sort of upper echelon talent at bantamweight right now.
Assuming no more of the backstage battling with promoters that has sometimes sidetracked Donaire, and that indeed kept him out of the ring for more than half a year already in 2011, a Donaire who goes to scratch three times in 2012 is not unfathomable. As one of the best fighters alive under 30, he’s got the youth to handle what would be considered an active schedule by modern standards…
Brief aside…and chalk that absurdity up as a hard mark against arguments favoring modernity. That three fights in a year would be considered active for a top fighter says a lot for what is wrong with boxing…End aside.
...and the WBC ratings don’t feature anyone Nishioka has to fear in the foreseeable future. A Nishioka fight would be welcome anytime, and it’s in no danger of running out of time. Finishing matters at bantamweight and facing Nishioka are not mutually exclusive and it would only serve to enhance Donaire’s stature if he successfully handled both sides of the equation.
It would also make something like a glorified ritual slaughter of Arce more digestible should that occur down the road.
Narvaez could make any conversation of future titles and divisions obsolete this weekend. The 36-year old could surprise the world, moving into a third weight class of to redefine his entire career. Those chances remain a long shot. So does a longer stay at bantamweight for Donaire.
It’s worth lobbying for deeper consideration.
The Weekly Ledger
But wait, there’s more…
Dawson Fall Out: http://www.boxingscene.com/chad-champion-not-fast-review-ratings-update--45061
Sweet Pick on Wonjongkam-Sosa: http://www.boxingscene.com/pongsaklek-wonjongkam-edgar-sosa-pre-report-card--45163
Latest Divisional Ratings: http://www.boxingscene.com/forums/view.php?pg=boxing-ratings
Picks of the Week: http://www.boxingscene.com/boxingscenecoms-television-picks-week--44797
Cliff’s Notes… Strong disagreement is warranted with Ring Magazine’s decision not to recognize Chad Dawson as Light Heavyweight Champion pending the appeal of Saturday’s controversial technical stoppage of future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins. The decision will clearly open Ring to new rounds of criticism given their being owned by a subsidiary of Golden Boy Promotions (Hopkins is a prominent part of Golden Boy). That might not be fair, but it’s happening, including in comments sections on their website.
Having spoken with Ring Editor Mike Rosenthal, I understand the reasoning at work. This is a unique situation and outcome. Almost everyone expects this decision to be overturned when the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) meets and hears the appeal on December 13th. This scribe is among that number. Ring is waiting to see what happens.
Let’s be clear: the decision should be overturned. The ending, where Dawson retaliated to a foul in progress, and a series of early fouls from Hopkins that began with a fairly blatant butt in the first minute of the fight, should have been a “No Contest.”
If Ring had opted to just declare the title void until the appeal decision was rendered, that would have made more sense than leaving Hopkins atop the ratings. It would have made more sense than the WBC decision to give their belt back to Hopkins before the outcome of the contest is fully adjudicated.
It also still would have been wrong. There is only one right thing to do.
Until the decision is reversed, “Dawson TKO2 Hopkins” is a controversy, a talking point…and a matter of fact. One can assume when Ring updates their divisional ratings this week, the records of both Dawson and Hopkins will include one more win for the former, one more loss for the latter. That’s because the official verdict, for now, still stands. If Ring doesn’t want to commission a new belt likely to be voided, that makes sense.
However, their standings on paper should reflect what is, not what might be.
The official verdict should be all that matters. Ring has agreed with that over the years. Everyone, including Ring, knew Jose Armando Santa Cruz won the lineal/Ring Lightweight crown from Joel Casamayor in 2007. Ring recognized the verdict. In 2002, Ring’s scorer thought Jose Luis Castillo beat Floyd Mayweather in their first fight. A lot of the press and fans agreed with them. Mayweather got their Lightweight belt.
The official verdict says Chad Dawson is the Light Heavyweight Champion. Until the CSAC says different, that’s exactly what he is.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]