It took 12 stupefying rounds, but Nonito Donaire whitewashed Omar Narvaez last night at the WaMu Theater in New York City, scoring a monotonous shutout over an opponent who turned out to be a wallflower in the ring.
With a high guard that might have doubled as barding, Narvaez succeeded in neutralizing one of the most potent offenses in boxing, but he did so at the expense of the sport, the fans, and, perhaps, of his dignity. According to Compubox, Narvaez landed roughly six punches per round, as good an indicator as any for his lack of ambition.
After a layoff of eight months, Donaire, now 27-1, did not look particularly sharp, but a world-class pro who wants to play defense is no easy mark in the ring. It is a point of professional pride for a prizefighter to last the distance under adverse circumstances, but Narvaez seemed to have made up his mind about the outcome of this fight within minutes of signing a contract to face Donaire.
Entering the ring with a 35-0-2 record and titles in two divisions, Narvaez brought a pragmatic outlook to his first fight in the United States and little else. To be fair, Narvaez looked like he stepped out of an episode of “Little People, Big World” compared to Donaire. Only 5’3 and with arms that can be described alternately as “stubby,” “stunted” or “stumpy,” Narvaez, moving up from 115 pounds, was physically overmatched and may have realized just how limited his options were.
It was as dull a fight as has been seen since the last time David Haye ducked between the ropes, and Narvaez, it seems, would not have had it any other way. Between rounds, Donaire looked frustrated, complained about cramps, and even admitted to boredom. Of course, Donaire could not have been nearly as bored as the live crowd or the audience watching on HBO. Boos, catcalls, and an obscene chant—a Big Apple specialty—could be heard throughout 36 minutes of nothingness. When the final bell rang, Narvaez was paraded around the ring on the shoulders of one of his seconds and he absurdly basked in the jeers of the audience. The judges were no more merciful to Narvaez than the fans were, scoring the bout in favor of Donaire 120-108 across the board.
Donaire, who will be moving up to the junior featherweight division for his next fight, fought only twice in 2011, and will probably be looking to make more noise next year, especially in light of the Narvaez farce. Bob Arum has already mentioned Jorge Arce, a Top Rank fighter, and Toshiaki Nishioka as possible opponents for Donaire. From Dan Rafael at ESPN: “Arum said Donaire would be back in the first quarter of next year. Nishioka has said he would not be available until the early summer to fight Donaire, but Arum said he will call his promoter and ‘offer Nishioka a little extra money to fight in March.’”
Arce, now 32 and as weathered as a tar paper shack in tornado alley, has proven that his zest for combat—as well as blood—has not diminished over the years. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about his skills. Since losing to Cristian Mijares in 2007, Arce has been in one grueling shootout after another, including a brutal stoppage loss to Vic Darchinyan in 2009. An upset TKO over untested Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. in May put Arce back in the spotlight again, but Vazquez Jr.is nowhere near a world-class fighter, despite his DNA.
A violent KO over a marketable (not to mention willing) opponent is what Top Rank is banking on here for Donaire, and Arce is likely to comply in gory fashion. Like Navarez, Arce is simply too small to threaten Donaire. Unlike Navarez, however, Arce would rather risk a KO loss and possible exsanguination than the ire of the fans. This is why Arce, 58-6-2, has been a crowd favorite for years—he embodies the unique, if somewhat grim, reckless pride of a real prizefighter.
A fight with Japanese veteran Toshiaki Nishioka should be as easy to make as a potential Arce scrap. With a healthy gate somewhere on the West Coast and the addition of a third broadcast rights fee—from Japan—there should be enough cash to satisfy all parties concerned.
Against a ringworn Rafael Marquez three weeks ago, Nishioka showed caginess, stamina, and a steady jab. He also showed enough deficiencies to make sure Donaire backers rest easy for the most part. First, Nishioka relies primarily on his jab and a straight left. He rarely throws hooks or uppercuts, and a fairly predictable offense might not be enough to keep Donaire honest. Second, Noshioka, unusual for a southpaw, circled mostly to his left in his fight against the orthodox Marquez. It took three full rounds for Nishioka to switch directions. Until then, he moved almost exclusively into the path of right hands. Marquez no longer had the speed to catch Noshiaka consistently over 12 rounds, but Donaire is more than quick enough to drop the hammer if Noshioka puts a nail—in this case, his jaw—right in front of him. Finally, Nishioka tends to reach with some of his shots—an error Narvaez, who barely threw punches at all, did not allow himself to commit—which would leave him open for counterpunches from the quick-fisted “Filipino Flash.”
Even so, Noshioka is the real challenge to Donaire, not Arce, and if Top Rank can get this fight made it would go a long way to extinguishing the memory of the WaMu Theater Fiasco.