Nonito Donaire has the quickest feet in boxing. He also has some of the quickest hands in boxing. He has superb balance, he can punch from every angle, and he shows occasional flashes of Roy Jones-esque transcendence of style, dancing in and out of a realm that only the most talented boxers in the world can ever hope to experience. But he's not a complete fighter. And though he easily earned a unanimous decision over previously undefeated Argentinian Omar Narvaez (35-1) tonight-- winning every round--his performance will surely go down as a disappointment.
After he dented Fernando Montiel's head like a cantaloupe with one of the sweetest left hooks thrown in a professional boxing ring in years in his last fight, expectations for Donaire (27-1) were high. But within reason. Donaire, skill-wise, is probably the third best pound for pound fighter in the world. If Floyd Mayweather is a staunch, unsolvable defensive riddle and Manny Pacquiao is a tireless offensive perpetual motion machine, Nonito Donaire is a ballet dancer, beautiful to behold, who also happens to have a sweeping hook that can wipe anyone in his weight class off the map.
What he doesn't have is even a rudimentary body punching attack. And that is why he did not manage to knock down the shorter, overmatched Narvaez in a twelve round fight. Narvaez-- understandably-- fought cautiously. He locked his high defensive guard in place and satisfied himself with throwing one or two counterpunches when Donaire missed, then slapping his gloves back onto his head. Donaire, though, never mounted the sustained body attack on Narvaez that would have forced him to lower his gloves and opened his head for a left hook. Donaire is a headhunter. Tonight, it cost him a great opportunity to expand his fan base. His entire body punching arsenal consists of a straight right hand to the gut-- which he landed repeatedly, but followed up with nothing. Narvaez's He-Man abs were reddened, but not punished nearly enough to get him to consider dropping that high guard.
Donaire therefore spent the fight bouncing punches (from all angles, admittedly) off of Narvaez's gloves. In the post-fight interview Donaire complained that his opponent did not come to fight; but why would he? He lasted 12 rounds with one of the most dangerous fighters in boxing, stayed fully conscious, and even managed to touch Donaire's face with just enough jabs to keep his pride intact. On the rare occasions when Narvaez stepped in to trade punches, all it took was a single whipping left hook from Donaire whistling past his eyebrows to convince him to put his defensive helmet back on. Hard to fault a man for not acquiescing to get knocked out.
Even the best pound for pound fighters have off nights. It wasn't too long ago that fellow Filipino Manny Pacquiao spent a dozen rounds whaling uselessly on Joshua Clottey's iron guard in a boring fight that bore a certain resemblance to this one. The difference is that Omar Narvaez's defense was not impregnable; his arms were high, and his body was open. Donaire landed a measly 15% of his punches, because he refused to stop punching directly into Narvaez's gloves. That's a fairly major flaw for a man aspiring to be the world's best fighter. In the twelfth round tonight, a loud, sustained chant of "this is bullshit" echoed throughout the Theater at Madison Square Garden for a solid half minute. That's not the soundtrack of a champion.
Donaire says he will move up to 122 pounds for his next fight. From there he can easily jump up to the talent-laden featherweight division, and create his legacy against truly worthy opposition. Two or three years from now, Nonito Donaire could very well be the best pound for pound fighter in boxing. But first, he'll have to learn body punching.
On the undercard, featherweight super-prospect Mikey Garcia (27-0), brother of trainers Robert and Daniel Garcia, knocked down an overmatched Juan Carlos Martinez (19-13) three times before the ref stopped the fight in the fourth round. Garcia is an extremely patient fighter, waiting a full round and a half to catch onto Martinez's timing before cranking up a barrage of one-twos and powerful left hooks that took their toll. Garcia has knockout power in both hands, but he fights flat-footed and is noticeably not shifty by featherweight standards. Whether he can actually give the division's more polished fighters like Yuriorkis Gamboa problems remains to be seen.