Donaire has power, crowd-pleasing style to become major attraction
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."
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.
It has been over a month since Floyd Mayweather knocked out Victor Ortiz at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas. Yet curiously, HBO, Golden Boy and Team Mayweather have been silent on the official pay-per-view numbers. Here they are: According to a source with direct knowledge of the Mayweather-Ortiz number, the fight did approximately 1.15 million buys. That's roughly 150,000 fewer buys than Pacquiao-Mosley, which, according to a source with direct knowledge of Showtime's numbers, did 1.3 million buys.
Maybe the most compelling part of an unremarkable show on Saturday night was the presence of Pavlik, last seen blowing off Showtime, Top Rank and Darryl Cunningham when he pulled out of a scheduled fight with Cunningham less than a week before the fight. In the aftermath, Pavlik went on a bizarre local press tour, during which he declared he wasn't making enough money ($50,000) to fight Cunningham and wouldn't accept a pre-negotiated purse of $1.35 million to fight Lucian Bute in November. Pavlik's wildest defense was that when Mikkel Kessler was negotiating a fight with Bute, his purse would have been close to $3 million, a statement that is completely untrue.
Pavlik was ringside on Saturday, a day after meeting with Top Rank officials about his future. In that meeting, Arum made the company's position crystal clear: train somewhere other than Youngstown or we are done working with you. In an interview with SI.com, Pavlik said he agreed that moving his camp was the right idea.
"There are a lot of distractions [in Youngstown]," Pavlik said. "A lot of negativity. When you are down, people like to keep you down. I don't need that, especially in training camp."
Whatever Pavlik's reasons, training outside of Youngstown is the right call. And Top Rank and his manager, Cameron Dunkin, plan to support him every step of the way. The company plans to rent him a home in southern California so he can transplant his entire family and provide him with a van for his family to use. Pavlik will also be working with Victor Conte, the infamous BALCO founder who has carved out a niche in the boxing world as a nutritionist for, among others, Donaire and Andre Ward.
The plot thickened, however, later in the evening. ESPN.com reported that Jack Loew, Pavlik's longtime trainer, was out, and would be replaced by Robert Garcia, who works out of Oxnard, Calif. Pavlik, however, denied he was leaving Loew, telling SI.com "Right now we're staying with Jack. That's guaranteed. There's no reason not to." Garcia later told reporters he knew nothing of any deal to train Pavlik.
The Pavlik-Loew dynamic is interesting. Pavlik has been loyal to Loew for years, a task that has been challenging lately as Pavlik has struggled in high-profile fights with Bernard Hopkins and Sergio Martinez. Critics say Pavlik is too much of a brawler, that he doesn't attempt to use any boxing skills -- specifically a jab -- that his rangy, 6-foot-1 frame suggests he would be good at.
Loew has said frequently that he would step aside if he believed another trainer could do the job better, and this may be that moment. Garcia is a rising star among trainers, with an impressive stable that includes Donaire, Brandon Rios and Antonio Margarito. He comes from a family of trainers. It's very likely he could have a positive effect on Pavlik's career.
Still, the uncertainty surrounding this proposed change is bizarre. What I believe is that there are people on Pavlik's team that want Loew out. But Pavlik is not convinced. One source told me Pavlik might push for Loew to stay on as a co-trainer. Certainly Loew doesn't think he is out. I ran into Loew at Foxwoods on Friday, where he was working the corner of Darnell Boone. Loew told me he was ready and willing to get back to work with Pavlik whenever he was. On Sunday, Loew told a local TV station that he spoke with Pavlik on Saturday and that Pavlik told him he was still his trainer.
This story will probably have a few more twists and turns before it is finished. And so will Pavlik. One of the questions I asked Pavlik was if he had accepted the fact that he was no longer a headliner, that after proving to be so unreliable recently he would have to rebuild his career from the ground up. That means no HBO, no Showtime, not for a while anyway.
"I have accepted that," Pavlik said. "If I want to fight again, I have to do what I have to do. I have to do what Top Rank tells me and go with the only other choices out there. I have no problem fighting in small shows right now. A couple more fights and we will be right back at the top."
Indeed, Pavlik still believes he is a commodity.
"Boxing-wise, I still should be in the rankings," Pavlik said. "People still talk about me being in the big fights with the Bute's or the [Carl] Froch's and everyone else. I miss being on top, both for my own satisfaction and for my fans. I miss the fight game overall. I miss being in there, throwing gloves."
One other thing Pavlik wanted to make clear: Alcohol is not a problem. Pavlik says that while he has occasionally been tempted, he has not drank since coming out of a second stint in rehab last November.
"Everything is going good right now." Pavlik said. "The home life is great. I'm not drinking. I know there were rumors out there. If I say the F-word on TV, I'm drunk. I'm in good shape right now. I'm working out a little bit here and there. Nothing hard until we find out what is going on. Once we do, I'll need about 10 or 11 weeks to really get in shape and be ready to fight."
Thankfully, the boxing weekend wasn't a total loss. On Friday, promoter Lou DiBella put on a terrific card at Foxwoods televised by Showtime on its "ShoBox: The New Generation" series that was headlined by an action-packed war between rising super middleweight prospect Edwin Rodriguez and a rugged Will Rosinsky. The untelevised undercard was strong, too. One of the more promising prospects on the card was Danny O'Connor, a 26-year old junior welterweight who won a lopsided decision over Bryan Abraham.
O'Connor has an interesting story. Six months ago, the Framingham, Mass., native faced his stiffest test when he stepped in against unbeaten Gabriel Bracero in another Showtime-televised fight. It was supposed to be a competitive fight. It wasn't. Bracero boxed circles around O'Connor, who appeared sluggish the entire fight.
Here's why: according to O'Connor, five minutes before the Showtime crew came to get him for the ring walk, he started to cough up blood. During the fight, O'Connor says he felt listless, like his body simply wouldn't respond. After weeks of testing ("At one point, they were sticking stuff in every hole I had," O'Connor said) doctors diagnosed O'Connor with ulcers. They also told O'Connor he was anemic and would need to start taking medication to combat the decrease in red blood cells in his system. To top it off, O'Connor needed surgery to repair the broken nose he suffered in the fight.
"It was lowest point that I have ever been at in my life," O'Connor said.
When O'Connor recovered, he faced another decision. Respected trainer Ronnie Shields had agreed to take him on. The catch: O'Connor had to move to Houston. The problem: O'Connor had a girlfriend, Diane, and a newborn baby, Liam, to support and very little money to do it and afford to live in Houston full time. So O'Connor gave Diane all the money he had and flew to Houston with little more than his boxing gear and the shirt on his back.
"I pulled a Rudy Ruettiger," O'Connor said. "I knew I didn't have any money and nowhere to stay. Talked to Diane, and we talked about how this was going to be a risk. But I couldn't pass this opportunity up. I hoped once I got there, stuff would fall into place for me."
And it did. O'Connor moved in with Rodriguez ("We had nothing," O'Connor said. "No furniture. No silverware, nothing.") and started to work with Shields. In their first fight together, O'Connor knocked out Jamie Del Cid in the first round. On Friday, O'Connor, showing a stiff jab and a patient, disciplined style, outboxed the heavy-handed Abraham.
"Ronnie is so much more than a coach," O'Connor said. "Every second around Ronnie you are learning. Before I knew how to fight. Now I know how to box. I'm using my hips, getting more power. I'm working on the inside. I'm being intelligent in the ring. He really stripped me down and built all the way back up. Sometimes you lose that love, that passion you had when you were an amateur. Sometimes it gets lost along the way. I found it again."
When O'Connor resumes training he will do it with an expanded support system. Sometime this week he will make the drive back to Houston -- with Diane and Liam with him.
"It's been tough because I've basically been watching him grow up via text message," O'Connor said. "I'm blessed to have a second chance. I want to fight all the time. I'll fight tomorrow. Everything is going so well, and now I will have my family with me. This is my second chance. If I had the money, I would ask Diane to marry me in a second."
Five fighters not named Kelly Pavlik who could use a shakeup in their corner:
10. I'm glad Alexander Povetkin won't be facing Evander Holyfield in December. But Cedric Boswell isn't much better. Boswell is 42 and has not won a significant fight, well, ever. Sauerland Event has made no secret of its desire to avoid the Klitschkos, er, bring Povetkin along slowly. But Boswell is a pathetic choice.
9. Keep an eye on Edwin Rodriguez. Yes, he gets hit too much -- if a top super middleweight hit him as often as Will Rosinsky did last Friday, Rodriguez would be in a lot of trouble. But he's tall (6-foot) and active with good power. A little more time working with Ronnie Shields and Rodriguez could be ready for a big time fight.
8. I've been told that with the departure of Ken Hershman, Showtime's boxing schedule is being put together by a committee spearheaded by vice president Gordon Hall.
7. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. will never fight Sergio Martinez. That's the impression I got from Bob Arum during a lunch in Los Angeles last week.
6. Speaking of my recent trip to L.A., it still cracks me up watching Freddie Roach collect $5 bills at the front door of his Wild Card gym every day. Roach is truly a workaholic. He is around to work with average Joe's who wander into his gym in the morning before spending the afternoon training titleholders Amir Khan, Manny Pacquiao and Julie Cesar Chavez. He rarely says no to an interview request and always offers up a thoughtful response. Former journalist turned HBO exec Peter Nelson is writing a book on Roach, and I will be one of the first people to snap it up.
5. I like the idea of a card co-headlined by rematches between Erik Morales and Marcos Maidana and Jorge Linares and Tony DeMarco. I just hope it doesn't land on pay-per-view.
4. Call me crazy, but I'll be watching James Toney's cruiserweight fight against Denis Lebedev on Nov. 4. As a heavyweight, Toney is a joke but if -- and this is a big if -- he can make the 200-pound cruiserweight limit (he tipped the scales at 257 pounds in his last boxing match against Damon Reed last February) I think he still has the ring savvy to win a couple of fights.
3. So cruiserweight champ Marco Huck wants to move up to heavyweight and fight a Klitschko? Haven't we been down this road before?
2. Pacquiao told the
1. Can Top Rank please get featherweight Mikey Garcia a title fight? Garcia destroyed Juan Carlos Martinez in four rounds Saturday in a fight that, in hindsight, HBO should have televised. Garcia, 23, now has 23 knockouts in his 27 fights and has looked nearly invincible in most of them. It's about time to find him a slot against one of the top dogs at 130 pounds.