At 28, Nonito Donaire is about to embark down a similar path. On Saturday, Donaire (26-1, 18 KOs) will defend his bantamweight titles against Omar Narvaez at the Theater at Madison Square Garden (10:30 p.m. ET, HBO). At 118 pounds or less, Donaire has been a human wrecking ball. He dropped Vic Darchinyan in the fifth round to win a flyweight (112-pound) title in 2007. He forced Hernan Marquez's corner to throw in the towel in the eighth round of their super flyweight (115-pound) interim title fight in 2010 after a sweeping left uppercut spun Marquez like a top and put him on the floor. And in his biggest win to date, Donaire nearly decapitated Fernando Montiel in the second round of their bantamweight (118-pound) title fight last February.
"I've been around a long time and that was one of the most devastating punches I have ever seen," Donaire's promoter, Bob Arum, said. "He caved in Montiel's face."
But the U.S. is a country that likes Big Gulps, Big Macs and big fighters, and Donaire's rise -- he is No. 4 on SI.com's pound-for-pound list -- has gone largely unnoticed. That's why after Saturday he will leave bantamweight behind and look for bigger challenges.
"This will definitely be my last fight at 118," Donaire said. "Making 118 is difficult. The last two fights it was easy but with my workout routine I have increased my muscle mass. Tests have showed that it has increased from the last fight to the Montiel fight to now. As you know, muscle is more difficult to shed that fat or water. We want to be healthy and be at our best."
How high can Donaire go? At 5-foot-7, he has options. He will likely start at 122 pounds, where Top Rank has titleholders Jorge Arce and Guillermo Rigondeaux on its roster. From there it's a short jump to 126, where big money (and big profile) fights with fellow pound-for-pounders Yuri Gamboa and Juan Manuel Lopez could be waiting.
"The cannon that Nonito has, not even all of the elite fighters have it," Donaire's trainer, Robert Garcia, said. "You can be an elite fighter and not have that cannon. He sees the punches. He studies the opponents inside the ring and feels what's coming and he already knows what he's going to come back with."
Indeed, as talk of Donaire moving up has intensified, Gamboa's name continues to come up. The heavy-handed Cuban has been searching for competitive opponents as he waits on a long-anticipated showdown with Lopez, and Donaire would fit the bill. Donaire would need a few fights under his belt -- Gamboa has designs on moving up to 130 pounds, anyway -- but in a year or two, a matchup with Gamboa could be just the platform Donaire needs to move into the casual boxing conversations.
"If you're a better fighter, you can beat anyone," Donaire said. "When I fought 108 there was no one for me so I went up to 118 or 122 and fought those guys and still beat them. It's all natural ability. Size only matters a little bit. Being bigger has advantages and disadvantages and being smaller the same. It's just the best man wins."
On to the reader mail ...
How you deduced, in less than two full rounds of action where Hopkins landed 11-of-40 to Dawson's 6-of-55 punches, that Bernard would lose 10 out of 10 times is beyond anyone. How Chad Dawson and Gary Shaw can parade around like they just laid an 11-round beatdown on Hopkins is a joke. He was tackled. He rolled up on his shoulder. It's a 3-to-6 week injury, and he'll be back. Could you imagine if both Hopkins/Pascal bouts were stopped after two rounds? We'd all think Pascal was a God. Give me a break, man. When did you start following the sport. Really.-- JB, Miami
C'mon, even you must know how stupid you sound. The fight lasted less then two rounds with Dawson doing absolutely nothing and you're going to formulate that he would win 10 out of 10 times. You're better then that. Hopkins destroyed Pascal. If that fight were to end after a round-and-a-half, you'd be writing the exact same article.-- Joe, Edmonton
Well, touched a nerve there, didn't I? Look, I have no problem with the WBC stripping Dawson and giving the title back to Hopkins. I expect that sometime in December, the California commission will declare the fight to be a no-contest and the loss will come off Hopkins's resume. But I must have watched those two rounds 20 times in the last week and every time I come to the same conclusion: Had the fight continued, Dawson would have won easily.
I don't want it to sound like I'm criticizing Hopkins, because at 46, he's an absolute freak of nature. I just believe at this point in his career, there is only a certain type of opponent he can beat. Against Pascal or Kelly Pavlik, I'll take Hopkins. They are younger and stronger but Hopkins is light years smarter. Dawson is different. He's a brilliant technical boxer, a fact that I think has been lost in all the rhetoric. He has walked over some very good fighters in Tomasz Adamek, Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson. And I think had that fight gone the distance -- and it probably would have -- Dawson would have done the same to Hopkins, too.
As for Hopkins retiring, well you tell me: Who should he face? Hopkins took to Twitter on Thursday and said he wanted a rematch with Dawson, but he is the first person associated with the fight, which I've been told did between 50,000 and 75,000 pay-per-view buys, who has said that. What other fights matter? Andre Ward, Carl Froch or Lucian Bute? They are not coming up to 175 pounds, not yet anyway. Truthfully, Hopkins' best bet is to lay low for awhile and let Pascal, Dawson, Tavoris Cloud and a couple of young stars like Nathan Cleverly and Ismayl Sillakh duke it out until one emerges as the division's top dog. Then Hopkins, at 47 or 48, could come back for one last big moment -- and big payday.
Chris, how on God's green earth do you have Tim Bradley at No. 8 on the pound-for-pound list? You're telling me he's better than Vitali!? Khan!? Cotto!? all three of those guys have faced better competition than Bradley. Please explain.--Otis, Toronto
Bradley isn't the most popular guy in the world lately, Otis, but that should not take away from the fact that a year ago he was universally viewed as an elite fighter. He blew out Lamont Peterson in 2009 (the same Peterson that Khan is fighting in December) and beat Alexander, who at the time was considered a top three or four junior welterweight, in January. Passing on the Khan fight hurt him, though if it eventually leads to a multi-million dollar shot at Manny Pacquiao there will be a method to his madness. I agree, he's going to have to step up his game -- his upcoming fight against Joel Casamayor is an embarrassment -- but for now I think he's ranked right.
Anything new with Kelly Pavlik?-- Mike, Cleveland
I spoke to a few people at Top Rank about Pavlik, Mike, and as you would expect, they are uneasy about dealing with him again. Pavlik has cost them a lot of money -- canceling the show in Youngstown set them back about $50,000 -- and there are people in the company that think even booking him on a smaller Top Rank Live show is a risk. They are going to have to, though, because neither HBO or Showtime is going to come near him right now. He's radioactive.
Pavlik is expected to be in New York this weekend and Bob Arum told me he and his staff plan to sit down with Kelly and talk about the future. Everything they are hearing is that he is focused and wants to fight. But everything is still on his terms. He won't leave Youngstown. He'll consider bringing in another trainer but won't cut Jack Loew out completely. It's a tough situation for Top Rank because Pavlik is still somewhat marketable. Rebuilding him, however, won't be easy.