Donaire has the goods

By Chris Mannix

Sports Illustrated

Donaire celebrates after beating Omar Narvaez in his Madison Square Garden debut. Photo by Sports Illustrated)

NEW YORK — Late Saturday night, long after the 4,425 disgruntled fans had emptied out of the Theater at Madison Square Garden, Nonito Donaire was still itching for a fight.

But just like earlier in the evening his opponent — super flyweight titleholder Omar Narvaez, who over 12 eye-rubbing rounds turned in a very Joshua Clottey-like performance — was nowhere to be found.

“The crowd didn’t deserve this,” Donaire said. “I’ll take all the criticism. I thought that putting my face in front of him would open him up. But all he would do is throw a jab and run. It was very frustrating. I was like ‘Come on, hit me, dammit!’ I’m right here. I did it just to piss him off. He didn’t give a s— about it. He didn’t. I was trying to disrespect him. He just came in here to get his paycheck and go home.”

SI.com’s latest pound-for-pound ratings

Donaire’s assessment is spot-on, and it’s backed up by the punch stats. According to CompuBox, Donaire threw an average of 55 punches per round, five short of the bantamweight average. Narvaez, meanwhile, threw just 24 punches a round, a pathetically low number that was evidence of Narvaez’s just-survive strategy.

And as Donaire pointed out, there were opportunities for Narvaez to press the action. Donaire is not considered a defensive-minded fighter but there were several moments during the fight that Donaire exposed his chin in an obvious attempt to get Narvaez to engage.

But Narvaez, who isn’t known for his punching power (19 knockouts in 34 fights at 115 pounds or less), wouldn’t take the bait, seemingly content to flick his jab, put up his guard and take his first professional loss.

“I opened my face up,” Donaire said. “Don’t just hit me with the jab, hit me with something. Your legacy is on the line. He didn’t do that. I wanted a war. I wanted a fight. This is the Garden. It’s where you make a statement.”

Certainly, there will be fans who, unfamiliar with the 118-pound Donaire, won’t be in a rush to see him fight again. That would be a mistake.

Boxing is starved for the next generation of superstars and Donaire has all the tools to be a big-time attraction.

Consider:

• Power? Check. Donaire has 18 knockouts in 27 professional fights and there are no indications that a rise in weight will take anything off the pair of cannons on his shoulders. At 5-foot-7, Donaire is a tall bantamweight — super bantamweight titleholders Jorge Arce (5-foot-4) and Toshiaki Nishioka (5-foot-6) are shorter — and he fills out nicely. Donaire said he rehydrated up to 133 pounds after the weigh-in and walked to the ring around 130. That’s super featherweight territory.

With a thick arsenal and a killer instinct that many Robert Garcia-trained fighters seem to have, Donaire should have the pop to put opponents down in whatever weight class he fights in.

• Crowd-pleasing style? Check. Maybe it’s his Filipino blood, because Donaire’s desire to give the paying customers fireworks sounds a lot like something Manny Pacquiao would say. No question, Donaire could be successful fighting a cautious fight: his long, stinging jab and punishing follow-up right hand are almost indefensible weapons. But Donaire is perfectly willing to take two punches if it means he can deliver three, the kind of throwback mentality that made Jake LaMotta, Sugar Ray Robinson, Pacquiao and others so popular. “I’m willing to take a hit,” Donaire said. “You know I’m willing to make it exciting for the fans. I don’t care if I go down, he goes down; I have that [Arturo] Gatti-like mentality. I want to make it old school.”

• Charisma? Check. Donaire was on fire at the post-fight press gaggle. He sang a few bars of “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” when a television reporter asked him about Narvaez’s effort. He took the Top Rank mic and conducted an impromptu interview with Bob Arum about his own future. He’s smart, well-spoken and has a very quotable FHM model for a wife. When asked about the fight, Rachel Donaire said, “We should have gotten a statue from Central Park. That would have made for a more competitive fight.”

Donaire’s popularity will grow as he does. He plans to vacate his bantamweight titles (side note: more than a little disappointed we won’t get to see Donaire against the winner of the Joseph Agbeko-Abner Mares rematch; that fight would crown the true 118-pound king) and move up to 122 pounds.

Arum says his first call will be to Nishioka’s team, which had previously told Arum that Nishioka (who outpointed Rafael Marquez in a fight Top Rank helped to produce earlier this month) won’t be fighting until May.

Arum plans to offer some extra cash in the hope it will entice Nishioka into fighting in March. If he doesn’t, Arum will turn to Arce and set up what will undoubtedly be a huge action fight in February. Big things are ahead for Donaire.

Yes, Saturday night was a stinker. But give Donaire another shot against an opponent willing to punch back, and it’s almost a lock he won’t disappoint.

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