Donaire-Narvaez: Boxing’s Designated Driver

By Robert Ecksel on October 22, 2011
Donaire-Narvaez: Boxing’s Designated Driver
Nonito Donaire had been anointed boxing’s designated driver (Chris Farina/Top Rank)

Donaire kept the sport from veering into a ditch and catching fire, but that’s all he did, as he hugged the inside lane and kept well below the speed limit…

Maybe too much was expected of Nonito Donaire.

Boxing has been so scandal-plagued of late, with controversial fight following controversial fight, that a legitimate contest between two men who came to win without resorting to whatever they could get away with seemed long overdue.

Unfortunately, that’s not what occurred at the Madison Square Garden Theater Saturday night.

Sorely in need of someone to keep the sport from stalling or crashing into a tree, Donaire had been anointed boxing’s designated driver. He kept the sport from veering into a ditch and catching fire, but that’s all he did, as he hugged the inside lane and kept well below the speed limit.

Being extolled as one of the top five pound-for-pound fighters in the sport may have been too much weight for the 118-pound Donaire to bear. Although Donaire (27-1, 18 KOs) won a lopsided unanimous decision by the incomprehensible scores of 120-108 over previously undefeated Omar Narvaez (35-1-2, 19 KOs), no one in the end was satisfied with the performance, least of all Donaire himself.

The pattern of the fight was well established in the first few rounds, Narvaez boxed expertly with a superb defense that thwarted Donaire’s attempts to land a definitive shot. The bigger Donaire was occasionally able to bull Narvaez into the ropes and catch him with lefts and rights, but the canny Narvaez was able to counter. It looked like he had no intention of folding.

At the end of round three, Donaire’s trainer Robert Garcia was telling him to “Calm down.” Donaire was growing anxious and it showed. The fight wasn’t going as planned. Narvaez wasn’t going to be the walk in the park everyone expected.

At the start of round four, Donaire bolted from his corner looking to land a game-changing punch in the belief that one shot could change the fight. His jab, however, which might have set that up, was nowhere to be seen, and Narvaez, who had obviously studied tapes of Donaire, wasn’t giving an inch. He wasn’t firing back as much as the crowd would have liked, but he was in the fight. As the round drew a close, Donaire finally landed some heavy artillery. He caught Narvaez with an explosive right that rocked him, and followed up with a five-punch combination.

Donaire dominated the action in round five. Narvaez was selectively picking his shots from behind a peek-a-boo defense. The Argentinean is an experienced if unexciting fighter, and wasn’t about to let Donaire catch him if he could help it.

Round six was more of the same, except that Donaire was growing more and more aggravated. Narvaez was more than he had bargained for. As the round progressed and then drew to a close, it was beginning to look as though the fight was as likely to go the distance as end with Donaire scoring a knockout.

Between rounds Garcia continued to try to calm Donaire down. “Don’t try too hard,” he said. “He (Narvaez) wants to catch you on your mistakes.”

Donaire’s frustration was palpable in round number seven. Here he was in New York City, at Madison Square Garden no less, the KO king of lighter weight divisions, and impressing absolutely no one. Donaire was winning most, if not all, of the rounds. But the action, such as it was, was sporadic. Narvaez wasn’t firing or landing many punches at this point. He knew, however, how to defend himself, and that, and that alone, got Donaire off his game plan.

The fight fans in the MSG Theater began growing restless in rounds eight and nine. They wanted action, a blowout even, not some glorified sparring session. Narvaez has settled for surviving, and Donaire didn’t have an answer. He couldn’t penetrate his opponent’s guard, even though Narvaez had all but given up trying to win, assuming he hadn’t given up when he signed on to the fight.

By the 10th round Donaire appeared to have completely lost interest in trying to KO Narvaez. His punches were halfhearted, soulless. It looked as though he had decided to embrace Narvaez’s strategy of “let’s just get through this, collect our checks, and go the hell home.” The crowd in The Garden began booing lustily. That’s not what one expects from a fighter, even less from a fighter of Donaire’s stature.

Garcia knew that this was not his fighter’s night when he said to Donaire, “It’s all right. F*** it! He came out here not even trying to win a title. He came here just trying to survive.”

The crowd was growing hostile. Chants of “boring, boring, boring” were loud enough to reach Donaire and discourage him still further. He even told Garcia at the end of the 11th, “I’m bored,” which is never a good sign, not even in a not good fight.

In the 12th and final round the New York fight crowd began crowding the exits. They had seen enough. Those filing out of The Garden knew that Donaire had won the fight. Narvaez didn’t do nearly enough to keep it competitive, and Donaire, to the dismay of many, was far from spectacular.

The stragglers who hung around to await the decision were chanting “This is bullshit. This is bullshit. This is bullshit.”

It was not what one would call an auspicious New York debut.

There were no fouls, no cheap shots, no broken toes to mar the contest. But there was also very little action to speak of.

Narvaez didn’t come to fight, but Nonito Donaire, the preordained savior of boxing, may not, it’s sad to say, be all he’s been cracked up to be.

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  1. mikecasey 08:17am, 10/23/2011

    If Donaire is the real McCoy, then this fight will stand him in good stead and sharpen his tools. These awkward bouts used to be called ‘educational’ back in saner times. I just hope the poor guy’s next bout isn’t termed a ‘crossroads’ fight.

  2. paok 07:22am, 10/23/2011

    if nonito match up with a good fighter well, expect for a good fight. but it just happen that he meets “mr. clottey the second…”

  3. The Thresher 06:39am, 10/23/2011

    Though I could make a case for one of the Klits.

  4. The Thresher 06:38am, 10/23/2011

    This means Donaire’s chances for Fighter of the Year have become slim to none. If JJM wins, he gets it. If Manny blows away JMM, he gets it. IMO Donaire must wait until next year.

  5. "Old Yank" Schneider 05:31am, 10/23/2011

    Narvaez is a 36-year-old, crafty veteran.  He built a career out of defense first while scoring just enough to win more rounds than his opponents.  I don’t have a clue why any fan would have expected excitement from this bout.  Does anyone have a tape of an exciting fight Narvaez has been in to post?  There’s never been anything exciting about a blue-collar worker showing up who refuses to get dirt on his overalls.  It ain’t Donaire’s fault—it is the fault of his matchmakers.  Let’s chalk it up to getting Donaire some experience in patience in dealing with a fighter who showed up to avoid a fight.

  6. bergmuff 12:41am, 10/23/2011

    just glad this fight did not turn out to be an MMA type of fight coming from the brothus, the cheap shot artist or the bitch hop types.

  7. niel 11:28pm, 10/22/2011

    why does it have to be Donaire’s fault?..the guy tried his best…even Michael Jordan has off night…but the fight would not happen the way it did if narvaez did not came with the “try to survive” gameplan…donaire wanted to fight…but narvaez refused…match up a fighter with a ducker and you will get disappointed…i believe nonito is an honorable boxer…and deserves respect..as his actions tell…he knew it was a bummer of a fight and he walked away shaking his head…not celebrating..and acknowledging the fact that the fans were not satisfied..not because he came up short..but that he was matched up to some guy who’s not interested to fight.

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