By Kieran Mulvaney
Four years ago, Vic Darchinyan was an unbeaten, trash-talking Armenian-Australian flyweight with an unorthodox style and wrecking balls for fists. He strode crab-like across the ring, hands held low, until he caught up to his opponent and almost invariably bludgeoned him to defeat inside the distance. Nonito Donaire, a relatively unknown US-based Flipino with one loss in 18 career outings, seemed unlikely to be the one to slay the man they called the Raging Bull.
Indeed, in October 2006, Nonito's brother Glenn had suffered a battering at Darchinyan's hands; nine months later, it was widely expected that the younger sibling would suffer a similar fate.
Instead, Donaire boxed masterfully, using Darchinyan's aggression against him by walking him into a stiff jab and then, as the Armenian moved forward to try and land a southpaw left, cracking him with a hook that dropped him for the count in the fifth round.
"The Darchinyan win, for me, stood out not so much for the spectacular one-shot finish, but the way Donaire coolly fought on equal terms with a fighter who was supposed to be much too mature and powerful for him," observes Graham Houston, North American correspondent for Boxing Monthly and editor of the FightWriter blog. "There was the same sort of assurance, as say, Clay (as he then was) showed in the first fight with Liston, like Donaire KNEW he belonged."
Two years after defeating Darchinyan, Donaire moved up to 115 lbs; by the end of 2010, he was fighting as a bantamweight. Last February, in only his second contest at 118 lbs., Donaire tore into bantamweight champion Fernando Montiel, turning what had been expected to be an exciting contest into a brief but explosive mismatch, stopping his foe in the second round and launching himself into the upper reaches of virtually every observer's pound-for-pound list.
"The way he pulled away from [Montiel's] right hand and landed a left hook that knocked him cold, it was tremendous," marvels Hall of Fame trainer and HBO Boxing analyst Emanuel Steward, who agrees Donaire is now among the very best in the sport.
"From what I've seen of him, he is just about perfect, one of the best fighters I've ever seen," Steward says. "His balance is incredible, and he has so much punching power, especially for a little guy."
With fellow pound-for-pounders Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather and Sergio Martinez the wrong side of 30, there is a sense that Donaire could prove to be next in line for the pound-for-pound crown. Ascending to that throne, however, requires not just skill, but also the opportunity to take on and defeat the best available opposition. Junior featherweight champion Toshiaki Nishioka, recent conqueror of Rafael Marquez, looms large, ready to welcome Donaire to yet another weight division. Should that challenge be made and overcome, yet more daunting battles may lie ahead, and a featherweight clash with exciting Cuban Yuriorkis Gamboa is an especially mouth-watering prospect.
Before any of these predictions can come to pass, there is the matter of Omar Narvaez. Undefeated in 37 professional contests, the Argentine fighter is no slouch. He won a flyweight belt back in 2002 after less than two years as a professional, making him the first member of the 2000 Olympic class to capture a major world title. He defended that title 16 times over eight years before claiming a vacant strap at 115 lbs. But he is 36 years old, has rarely fought outside Argentina and has never boxed in the United States. And although his ledger contains 19 knockouts, he has not stopped any opponent since moving up from flyweight, yet now he must ascend three more pounds, to take on a skillful knockout artist who is already outgrowing the bantamweight division.
Consequently, and notwithstanding his pedigree, the odds against him are long.
"Narvaez's only hope is to box the perfect fight that we all talk about, darting in to score with quick punches and getting out fast, fighting in short bursts, staying constantly alert," predicts Houston. "The problem is, Narvaez has never faced anyone with Donaire's size, length, punch-speed and power. Narvaez is a very good fighter but Donaire is going to tower over him."
Asked how he would prepare Narvaez - or indeed any opponent - for the daunting challenge of facing the Filipino, Steward demurs.
"I'd have to study a lot of tape, watch him very, very closely," he says. "But from what I've seen, it would be one of the most difficult challenges I've ever had."
The inevitable does not always come to pass, and the underdog can easily derail the champion. Those who doubt need only ask Vic Darchinyan. But Steward for one is in no doubt that Donaire's hand will be raised in victory on Saturday night and on many more Saturday nights yet.
"I can't see anyone beating him right now," he says. "As a former boxer, as a manager, as a trainer, I just love to see him fight. He's a beautiful fighter."
Nonito Donaire vs Omar Narvaez: Fight Overview
Oct 14, 2011
By Kieran Mulvaney