It Takes Two to Tango
By Steve Kim, MaxBoxing (Jan 30, 2012) Doghouse Boxing (Photo © Chris Farina / Top Rank)
Nonito Donaire
On the night of October 22nd at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Nonito Donaire was involved in the easiest yet most unfulfilling night of his career against the reluctant (to say the least) Omar Narvaez, whose sole purpose was to get out this contest unscathed and cash his six-figure check. It was an easy victory (120-108 across the board) for the “Filipino Flash” but in many ways, it felt like, if not a loss, a huge letdown, coming on the heels of his spectacular second-round stoppage of Fernando Montiel.
Donaire doesn't disagree.
“Yeah, everything that you said, I mean, it wasn't even sparring,” he said, a week before his bout versus Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, televised by HBO. “It was definitely easy but it was the most frustrating thing I've been through. A win is a win for me but I want to perform well for the fans. I was frustrated for the fans. I wanted to give them a good show but I couldn't get that.” 
Not helping matters was that Donaire himself had some ring rust, not having fought since February after his well-chronicled dispute with Top Rank, which sidelined him for much of 2011. During this stretch, Donaire blew up to well above 140 pounds.
“I think it played into some part of it,” he admitted. “My legs were cramping around the seventh, eighth round but the thing was [Narvaez] just never gave me an intention for me to come up with a different game plan. I wasn't used to the fact that I was the aggressor. Usually I play everything the way it's given to me but to me, there were a lot of things going on. To me, he didn't want to be there. That's the intention that he gave me. So he was willing to do anything and everything [to survive], so I was kinda looking for dirty tactics from him. So that was one of the factors as well, why I wasn't that aggressive because I couldn't read him.”
As the old-timers used to say, one guy was afraid; the other guy was happy for it- because in truth, it seemed like Donaire fell into the malaise set by Narvaez. There is a sense that Argentinean could've done more to bring out the fight in his opponent.
Donaire added, “But definitely, the ring rust and not taking care of myself for those seven, eight months of layoff really had a big effect on my mentality and my physical conditioning. So that's why this time around, I've been taking care of myself really well.”
As the rounds mounted, you figured a proud pro like Narvaez (coming into the fight with a record of 35-0-2 with 19 KOs) who had won world titles at 112 and 115 pounds, would eventually take a chance and open up in the late stages of the bout. “That was my assumption,” said Donaire of the late charge that never came. “I figured that he'd try to tire me out through the first seven, eight rounds and then the last couple of rounds, I thought he'd give it up and go for it. I was definitely wrong about it. I mean, after the fight, he was very happy to survive and he said that, ‘Donaire couldn't knock me out while he's knocking everybody out.’ So that was a big accomplishment on his part but it was very frustrating for me. I figured a guy with that record and that achievement and accomplishment would not go down that easily with letting his pride go down that easily.”
What's that saying, “Pride cometh before the fall”? Well, that certainly wasn't the case here. Narvaez's “effort” was so poor, Top Rank president Todd duBoef spoke of offering bonuses to those who beat Donaire in the future. But really, that in itself can be taken as an indictment on who is selected as an opponent. You get the sense that a billion-dollar bounty could've been offered to the Argentinean and nothing would have changed.
That's the irony of boxing. It's the one sport that actually becomes a bit more difficult if your foe completely capitulates. Donaire states, “I believe there's no one out there in my weight class that can beat me. I work hard and I'm very confident in myself but I'd rather give a good performance and you're right about that- it's so much better to go out there risking even getting knocked out with someone who's willing to fight. It's easier because the fight can go easy but then it can go difficult. It can go the other way around if I make a mistake. But someone who really wants it, who's out there to win, will make it exciting and then it's a lot easier. You'd rather fight those guys rather than the guys who keep it safe and have a different agenda.”
Early on, Doniare’s manager, Cameron Dunkin, could tell when it would be one of those days at the office.
“Just round after round, I could just see him winning every round and I could see the frustration in him. But I was like, ‘Hey, if that's the worst thing that ever happens with Nonito, 12-0,’ I'll take it,” he said. However, at this level, where you're talked about as one of the sport’s rising stars and perhaps an heir apparent to Manny Pacquiao’s throne, it's not just enough to win. Style points matter. “Oh, absolutely, making a great fight and trying to make a good fight is important,” agreed Dunkin. But it takes two to tango. Great fights require willing dance partners. “The sad part is, if you get in there with someone who's not going to engage even though you're trying to engage, you still get criticized. It's very important to have fun fights.”
In the late rounds, loud and derisive chants were heard in the arena. The natives were more than restless- they were bored and angry. It's a good thing none of them had any rotten vegetables readily available.
Bob Arum says of that evening, “I was terribly disappointed, absolutely. It was a horrible fight. [Narvaez] got a lot of money to fight Donaire and he didn't fight. One guy can't make a fight unless it's a horrible, horrible mismatch or is a bum. But if you're fighting an experienced fighter and he decides not to engage you and just runs and runs and runs, it's very hard to do anything other than what Donaire did.”
Narvaez is the type of southpaw cutie who, while lacking the firepower or will to seriously challenge Donaire, is still skilled and crafty enough to survive. The shame of this fight was that the days leading up to it had amounted to a home run for Top Rank and Donaire, who was brought specifically to the Big Apple to meet the press and capitalize on the sizable Filipino-American population in that region. The promotion was a near sell-out, then came the fight- which was a dribbler back to the mound.
“But I don't blame Donaire,” Arum reiterated. “There I blame the fact that...I don't know if I blame anybody. I mean, this guy had nothing in his background to suggest that he was anything else other than a fighter and he just got terrified. That won’t happen with Vazquez because he's a ballsy guy. He fights; that's all he can do- fight. He engages the opponent so it should be a very, very interesting fight, so I think we'll see a completely different type of performance from Donaire.
This fight is for the vacant WBO junior featherweight title but the real emphasis was on matching Donaire in a way that he'll be in a crowd-pleasing affair.
“Are you kidding?!,” asked Arum, equally rhetorically and incredulously, “Of course that was our first thing- let’s find a guy to fight Donaire who's going to fight and then we'll see. Absolutely, absolutely we were mortified. We had done such a great job promoting it. We packed the Theater at the Garden; it was a great night. We got great publicity and we had a great undercard. Fights were all exciting; people were really up and everything and then we ended up with a stinker. Unfortunately, boxing, like everything else, that happens. It happens in football. It happens in basketball; one team doesn't show up.”
Donaire says of his Narvaez win, “[it] was just a weird feeling. So I don't really want to do that all over again. I want to give entertaining fights for my fans and for boxing.” At age 29, he is now in his physical prime. He's done plenty already but the truly great ones do more than just pick up a few belts along the way. They leave us with indelible memories. Donaire seems to comprehend this. “I've accomplished a lot in my career and it's just more of a thank you to my fans now. It's more of how I appreciate them because they appreciate me going in there and working hard and doing my thing. I appreciate them supporting me and I want go give them a good performance. Like you said, it's not enough to just win.”
2012 could be the start of something big.
“God-willing [Donaire] beats Vazquez.We've talked about an [Jorge] Arce fight. We've talked about [Toshiaki] Nishioka and we've got several fights planned and we also talked about Nonito at 126, maybe jumping up there too after a couple of those fights. So he's got a lot of opponents now. He's at a good weight division and moving to 122, 126, to '30 all in that range, there's going to be a lot of action for him. He'll have a lot of guys to choose from,” said Dunkin of the road map laid out for his client.
First things first, Donaire says he's itching for a fight this weekend. Vazquez just might be the guy to provide it.
“He might,” said Donaire, “but once he feels my power, he might go on the defensive but there's a lot of things that he lacks and there's a lot of things I lack as well. But I believe he's one of those guys that wants to prove himself to his father, his country, Puerto Rico. He has the heart and the ability to beat anybody out there and that's why he's going to go out there and prove himself and by trying to beat me.
“I don't see a Narvaez situation with Vazquez.”
I might as well break this out early; I've looked at the menu for the upcoming week in San Antonio (where I'm told I have to try the Tex-Mex) and I'm ordering the “upset special.” I like Marco Antonio Rubio to defeat Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. for the WBC middleweight title on Saturday night.
Honestly, once again, I don't know how well Chavez Jr. is prepared for this bout, physically (as usual). But what I find unusual is that for this camp, he's basically only going to the Wild Card Boxing Club to work with Freddie Roach on the days he spars (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays). The rest of the time, I'm told, is spent with Alex Ariza at another gym in Glendale. Who knows what to make of this?”
I think Rubio is the toughest test to date for Junior and he is an experienced veteran who has faced the likes of Kelly Pavlik and has gone on the road in hostile environments. Rest assured, I think Rubio will be prepared to do the best of his ability for this contest. I'm not so sure about Chavez Jr. Rubio is a well-seasoned veteran, who brings some heat with his right hand. Chavez, in many ways under the safe cocoon of Top Rank, is still relatively untested.
Because of that, I'll take Rubio in this one.
Here's an email I got pertaining to my story from last week ( and a possible rematch between Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto...
Let them fight! Let them fight! Let them fight!...

I don't really support a rematch, but couldn't pass up the opportunity to reference BNB: Breaking Training.

Dubya, I have to say, while nothing is as good as the original “Bad News Bears,” I have to say that the sequel (“The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training”) was pretty damn good in its own right. I thought William Devane did a great job in his role as Kelly Leak's estranged father, who ends up coaching them as they prepare for their game in the Astrodome (It also helped that it looked like Devane could play baseball too). I can't lie; every time this movie comes on, I watch it.
By the time they did “Bad News Bears Go to Japan,” it had jumped the shark.
But yeah, this one is more than OK by me. Here's that famous scene that Warren references:
And here's an email on the documentary “Fight of Their Lives” that I recently gave very high accolades:
Hi Steve,
I found your recent thoughts on 'The Fight of Their Lives' documentary fascinating. My views are quite the opposite and I felt it was poorly executed. Not withstanding your comments on Emanuel Steward being ambushed for a his interview, there were many other things that lessened the quality of the documentary. Most of the interview footage used was actually from a series of interviews with [Nigel] Benn in 2007, the benefit night for Gerald [McClellan] was also in 2007, so it's not clear how up to date some of the interviews are is and what Geralds condition really is now. An important part of the story omitted is that Gerald was actually making good progress with his recovery after the emergency operation to remove the blood-clot and was expected to make a near full recovery (according to the surgeon John Sutcliffe) but his family wanted to fly him back to the US early, ignoring advice, and that was one of main factors in the subsequent complications which left him in the condition he is today. The general tone / angle of the documentary appeared to be trying too hard apportion blame somewhere (the ref, board of control, the corners) when sadly it seems a tragedy was almost inevitable given the choices Gerald made in firing Steward and surrounding himself with people like Stan Johnson.
It would also be interesting to know people like Don King are doing for Gerald today...
Thanks and keep up the good work
ADB, London, England
Gotcha, point taken.
Now, I've gotten more than a few emails on how to get this documentary. Folks, my guy, “Trader Tim” sent me the copy that I viewed. I think a link on YouTube was shut down a while ago. To be honest, I'm not really sure how you guys will be able to view this until someone puts it up for download or the official DVD is released.
He's not great. In fact, he's very flawed but Ji-Hoon Kim (and no, he's not really my cousin) always makes for great TV, doesn't he?...As for Ruslan Provodnikov, if Mike Alvarado is going to lead off the April 14th show on HBO (which might be Brandon Rios vs. Yuriorkis Gamboa at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas), why not a bout between Provodnikov and “Mile High”?..... I thought “Namath” on HBO was outstanding. Before his knees got wrecked, “Broadway Joe” could actually run...The Lakers are just bad but beyond that, they are boring as can be...

More of Steve's recent work below his contact info...
I can be reached at and I tweet at We also have a Facebook fan page at
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