I have to confess that prior to Nonito Donaire’s championship defense against Omar Narvaez on Saturday night in New York City, I was at least halfway onto the Donaire bandwagon. His string of explosive knockouts had gotten my attention; as had the praise that was being lavished on him by the likes of Hall of Fame trainer and HBO analyst Emmanuel Steward, who called Donaire “One of the best fighters I’ve seen come along in a long, long time.” So it was with a great deal of anticipation that I pulled up a chair and watched as an obviously larger and more powerful Donaire squared off against the smaller but undefeated Narvaez. What followed was, in a word, disappointing. I don’t know whether I was more disappointed that Narvaez wasn’t willing to take chances, or that Donaire couldn’t quite seem to solve the riddle of Narvaez’ defense.
It was somewhere around the 5th round that the thought ocurred — this is Pacquiao-Clottey all over again. Narvaez was there to survive, not win, and he was not about to take the kind of chances that would be necessary for him to have a chance at actual victory. But unlike Clottey who’s preternaturally long arms resulted in a tortoise like coverup — Narvaez had a good defense, but you had the sense that Donaire could, and would — and indeed should — break through. But it didn’t happen. Donaire just couldn’t seem to break through the high guard of Narvaez, who seemed crafty and capable – but uninterested in actually atempting to win the fight. Instead, it became increasingly apparent that simply surviving the 12 round bout was all that Narvaez had in mind, and he would do little if anything that would cause him to become vulnerable to Donaire’s vaunted punching power.
The end result: all three judges gave Donaire every round — and the crowd booed lustily, and justifiably, from the fourth round on.
Donaire was mightily frustrated and said so, after the fight. “I didn’t even want to look at him. I was so frustrated,” said Donaire after the fight. “I wanted to apologize to the fans, because the fans didn’t deserve this. This was my first time on the East Coast and in Madison Square Garden, and I wanted to give them a better fight.”
Asked by HBO’s Max Kellerman how it felt to fight a skilled fighter who refused to engage, Donaire replied: “I know what Manny Pacquiao felt like against Clottey.”
Well, let’s examine that.
What did Manny Pacquaio do when confronted with the shell-like defense of Joshua Clottey?
First of all, the threw an astonishing 1,231 punches — more than 100 punches per round — this in a division where the average is 58 punches per round. The sheer volume of effort that Pacquiao put forward in that fight kept the boo-birds at bay. Clottey threw 399 punches. Pacquiao exceeded 100 punches per round 7 times, including the last 5 rounds — a fact which itself is evidence of the intensity with which Paquiao pursued his unwilling opponent.
What about Donaire?
He threw 666 punches — less than 60 per round in a division where 60 is the average. Narvaez threw 299. Donaire landed 99 punches compared to 246 landed by Pacquiao against Clottey.
What are we to take from this?
First of all, the ferocity of Paquiao’s assault against Clottey puts Donaire’s somewhat milder effort in perspective. Yes – Donaire certainly did try to solve the riddle that Narvaez’ defense presented, and it is not as if he was inactive. But facing an opponent who offered virtually no resistance, he still didn’t manage to generate a per round punch output that even met the average in the division in which he fights. Whereas Pacquiao, faced with the same challenge, not only doubled Donaire’s punch output, but doubled the average for his division on a punch per round basis.
I still have high hopes for Donaire. Manny Pacquiao, thanks to his money difficultlies, will probably be around for more years than we expected — but the bottom line is that a Filipino heir apparent is needed for those of us who care about such things, and Donaire is that guy.
He’s got a ways to go.