By Chris Robinson
It’s been eight long months since Nonito Donaire has displayed his craft for a worldwide audience but the wait will end this weekend as he faces off with Omar Narvaez at the WaMu Theater inside of Madison Square Garden. And just as is the custom for all of HBO’s telecasts, unofficial ringside judge Harold Lederman will have one of the best seats in the house when Donaire defends his WBC and WBO bantamweight titles on a presentation of Boxing After Dark.
Lederman was present at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas this past February when Donaire delivered a stirring 2nd round TKO over Fernando Montiel but what took place afterwards for the Fil-Am fighter was far from glorious as a long, drawn-out legal battle took place over his services between promoters Top Rank and Golden Boy.
Donaire is now back with Top Rank and looking to reenergize his career against the unbeaten Argentinean and Lederman seems thrilled to be seeing him again.
“I love Nonito Donaire,” Lederman told me recently. “I think he’s arguably the third best fighter in the world, pound for pound. If I had to pick my top three, I would go with Manny [Pacquiao], I would go with Floyd [Mayweather], and I would go with Andre Ward as the third best fighter in the world today. But certainly Nonito Donaire is in the top five. I mean, he looks great, he can really crack.”
Donaire brought in Oxnard, Calif.-based trainer Robert Garcia into his camp in February of last year as a chief strategist leading into his bout with Manuel Vargas and he has since become an essential part of the champion’s team. Garcia also makes headlines for his work with the likes of Brandon Rios and Antonio Margarito and Lederman has nothing but praise for the 36-year old coach.
“Listen, I love that camp,” Lederman gushed. “I love the Oxnard gang. Robert Garcia is a great guy, former IBF junior lightweight champion of the world. Robert Garcia is really a terrific trainer, he’s doing a great job with Brandon ‘Bam Bam’ Rios, he’s a terrific prospect at lightweight. I don’t think you can find a better trainer than Robert Garcia. He’s really one of the fine, young trainers in the game. Sometimes the older guys got to step aside.”
It’s highly expected that Donaire will come out of the Garden unscathed on Saturday night, because while Narvaez holds a sterling 35-0-2 record with 19 knockouts, he is a bit of an enigma to many and will be making his first appearance on U.S. soil this weekend. Lederman seems to be intrigued by Narvaez but concedes that he has an uphill battle facing him.
“Narvaez really brings an unknown quantity to Madison Square Garden. After all, he has a sensational record. But he’s never been outside of Argentina, he’s a 115-pounder, and there’s a lot of disadvantages,” Lederman added.
Spend a few minutes around Donaire and you can instantly spot that he’s a youthful 28 years of age, likely with several good years left ahead of him despite being in the lower weight classes. People are already pondering him moving to the featherweight class to tackle some big names but Lederman shows hesitancy at such thoughts and would prefer Nonito to simply take his time.
“I would like to see him first go to 122 before he goes to 126, I’ll be honest with you. There are fighters at 122 that deserve a shot. I’d love to see Nonito go to 122, win a title, then possibly go to 126 to fight Gamboa, Juan Manuel Lopez, and any of the other good guys up there. I’d love to see Nonito go one division at a time instead of jumping two divisions. I just don’t think it’s a smart idea.”
[Reader's note: For Lederman's ringside view of such fighters as Donaire, Pacquiao, Martinez, Marquez, Khan, Mayweather and others, please visit the HBO Fight Gallery ]