Big ol’ knockouts are usually a good way to start these Weekend Afterthoughts, but this one is less fun for what a mismatch it was to put top cruiserweight Marco Huck in against someone like Rogelio Rossi. Maybe you can enjoy it now, knowing later that if Huck goes through with his plan to move to heavyweight, he’ll be getting the “knocked out cold” against a Klitschko brother rather than giving it. Cruiserweights moving up to heavyweight is so passe.
Because like anyone who makes predictions for fights, my prediction record is terrible this year, I’d like to take this moment to say that, yeah, I was wrong to think Nonito Donaire would knock out out Omar Narvaez this weekend in short order. But I was more right about the comparison to Sergio Martinez-Darren Barker than I could’ve imagined. Same 20/1ish favorite. Approximately the same attendance (although there were surely more giveaways for Martinez-Barker). A foreigner with no domestic U.S. profile who helped the promotion not at all. And a B-side who fought defensively, throwing punches like each one cost him $100 and helping the A-side turn monochromatic compared to the splendid peacock previously seen.
Obviously Nonito figures into this edition of the column, if you can read headlines or anything I just wrote, but there’s more on him besides, plus the other things in the headlines, plus plus a look at the first episode of 24/7 Pacquiao/Marquez.
- Donaire’s performance. Let’s be perfectly clear: Donaire isn’t anywhere near as worthy of blame for the extended sigh that was his win over Narvaez as was Narvaez. He was the one trying to make the fight, he was the aggressor by far, he threw far more punches and he won all but, at most, a couple rounds on anyone’s scorecard. If Narvaez engages, we end up with a good scrap. But Donaire could’ve done more, and he could’ve done better. The most common complaint is that he neglected the body, an open target because of Narvaez’ high guard. This is true. He said afterward that he’d been warned for low blows, which is true, something he said made him reluctant to throw to the body, while HBO’s team pointed out that taller fighters are usually made more vulnerable by going at the bodies of smaller opponents, also true. Less noted is that he was following the directions of his trainer, Robert Garcia, who implored patience and caution until the final two rounds, when he finally suggested ever-so-gently that Donaire pick it up — but by then, Donaire was complaining of cramps, which he later connected to having trouble making weight. While some aspects of Donaire’s imperfect performance can be justified, then, there are legitimate issues raised by this performance: He doesn’t have a body attack of note (even if he could’ve employed it), his trainer needs to recognize when his opponent has no chance of hurting Donaire and encourage him to go for it (I’m not going to suggest Donaire ignore Garcia’s advise, because he’s a good trainer, I just disagreed with his approach in this fight after a while), Donaire needs to not gain so much weight between fights (he had to lose a reported 27 pounds), etc. The wrong conclusion to jump to is that Donaire is overrated. Boxers who take on well-schooled opponents who are determined to fight conservatively tend to struggle to look astounding against them. I don’t think Manny Pacquiao is overrated because he wasn’t as astounding as usual against Joshua Clottey or Shane Mosley; I don’t think Martinez is overrated because he wasn’t as astounding as usual against Barker; and I don’t think Donaire is overrated because he wasn’t as astounding as usual against Narvaez. That doesn’t mean we didn’t learn something from this fight about where Donaire can improve, because we did.
- Narvaez’ performance. A difference between Martinez-Barker and Donaire-Narvaez is that Narvaez seemed to give up on the idea of winning after the 4th round. I know some people thought Barker was trying to survive, but early on, I thought he was implementing a specific strategy. And later in the fight, he very clearly began to open up when that strategy wasn’t getting it done, and it cost him in the other direction because he got knocked out. You can question either approach, but I don’t think Barker fought anywhere near as scared as Narvaez did. Competitive through three rounds, Narvaez effectively threw in the towel after getting caught with some clean shots in the 4th. Defend as rational this survival impulse if you like; there is indeed something rational about it. HBO’s Roy Jones explained Narvaez’ mentality thusly: “I’m not going to be stupid, I’ll try to make it the distance with him.” But it’s not what boxing fans expect of their athletes, and he’ll pay the price with almost all of them but the most generous-minded. As HBO’s commentators kept saying, Narvaez took this fight to open up possibilities for himself on U.S. soil after fighting so often in his native Argentina. Nothing he did opened that market up. Quite the opposite. I can’t speak for everyone, but in this extended comparison, I am more interested in seeing the guy who opened up and got knocked out — Barker — than I am Narvaez, who never opened up but ended the fight on his feet. He can go back to Argentina and have a bunch more crappy defenses of his junior bantamweight belt and I don’t care to ever see him here again.
- Next for Donaire. Despite the cramping, I don’t think Donaire NEEDS to move up from bantamweight — he just needs to stay in better shape between fights. He’s tall, but he’s lanky and not exactly muscle-bound, so making 118 shouldn’t be as hard as it was this time. One of the most important, desirable fights in boxing is Donaire against the winner of Abner Mares-Joseph Agbeko II for the lineal 118-pound championship of the world. But it doesn’t look like Donaire or Top Rank has much interest in that bout, which is as confusing as it is sad. Do they really think that a fight with Toshiaki Nishioka at junior featherweight does more for Donaire than the winner of Mares-Agbeko? And that’s the idea of what’s next for Donaire, is Nishioka in March, if he can be convinced with some cash to take the fight that he’d prefer to take in the summer. If that doesn’t happen, next up is Jorge Arce, a fight that I can’t deny probably does some things for Donaire’s marketability even if it’s not as likely to be competitive as the other two options. No matter what he does, we probably won’t see Donaire truly challenged until he goes to featherweight, where his size won’t be so extraordinary and there’s a better class of fighter like YURIORKIS GAMBOA!
- Donaire-Narvaez tidbits. HBO’s commentary team was off Saturday, particularly with some comments about Narvaez. Example A: Jones said, “This guy, he’s not going to take stupid chances. He’s not a loser, he’s a winner.” Uh, Roy, not taking chances made Narvaez a loser. Example B: Max Kellerman said, “If you’re a purist, Narvaez is actually a lot of fun to watch, even though he’s not an action fighter.” Uh, Max, that gives purists bad names, and as something of a purist, I take offense. Yeah, his defense was impressive, but there was nothing fun to watch about what he did. And so on… The between-rounds commentary from the two fighters’ corners had two moments heading into the 12th that I’ve not heard before. Example A: Donaire declared that he was “bored.” So were we, Nonito. Example B: Narvaez’ corner called Donaire a “fag.” I’ll spare you my usual lecture on homophobic remarks and respond instead by recommending that when your fighter is cowering from harm, you shouldn’t be using insults aimed at questioning the masculinity of the other guy…. At least there were some good post-fight remarks from the Donaire camp. Donaire told HBO’s commentators after the fight that he agreed with the fans chanting “bullshit.” He quipped that he knew what Filipino countryman Pacquiao felt like after the Clottey fight. And his wife, Rachel, provided this bon mot: “We should have gotten a statue from Central Park. That would have made for a more competitive fight.”
- Mikey Garcia is for real. It was only just around the beginning of 2011 when Garcia was in line for a shot at Gamboa’s title and no one — myself included — thought he was ready. But Garcia has taken on the air of “ready” in a short time. I’d caution that he’s acquired that air against two middling opponents, this weekend Juan Carlos Martinez and before him Rafael Guzman, and that the Gamboa we saw recently against Daniel Ponce De Leon was not in “phenom” mode, so this could be at least partially an illusion. But Garcia is a very rare breed: He’s a patient offensive machine. Most offensive machines are brawlers. But Garcia is so precise, so smart with what he does and when, that it’s a joy to watch him break down his man and take him out with authority, the way he did against Martinez. You beat speed with timing, so Garcia is now a credible Gamboa opponent, one who has an avenue to victory, even if it’s one I consider unlikely to get him to the destination. It doesn’t appear to be the next fight for Garcia: That instead could be Jhonny Gonzalez or Celestino Caballero, according to Garcia’s manager Cameron Dunkin. Those are both very nice match-ups — Caballero has dropped off considerably, but he’s still by far the best opponent Garcia would have ever faced, while Gonzalez is both a veteran and a power broker who would be a real test for Garcia in what could be a tremendous action fight. If Garcia beat either of those men, Gamboa-Garcia becomes not just a viable fight but a mouth-watering one.
- Edwin Rodriguez vs. Will Rosinsky. The big cards tend to consume most of the attention in these round-ups, which is too bad, because what happened Friday night in ShoBox’s main event was the best and worst of boxing all wrapped up in one. Rodriguez and Rosinsky waged quite a super middleweight battle in a fight where every single round was close, repeatedly tagging one another with clean, hard blows. Rodriguez was working with new trainer Ronnie Shields, who improved Rodriguez’ defense somewhat but not the sloppiness of his punches, and Rosinsky both capitalized with straighter blows and withstood Rodriguez’ superior power. It was the kind of fight that should have been celebrated by fans, with Rodriguez and Rosinsky combining to produce a wonderful fight and Rosinsky emerging as something of a minor find in the ring and not just a good story. Instead, a fight I scored a draw and that all of the Showtime commentators scored a draw and that everyone I can find saw it as a draw or close win for either man ended up with three scorecards that read 100-90. After a year that also has given us the horrendous Paul Williams-Erislandy Lara decision, it’s the kind of thing that leaves you numb, unless you have reserves of exasperation that run on generators. Lou DiBella, prone to throwing volcanic fits of rage over bad decisions involving fighters not in his stable, offered only a mild critique of the scorecards. At least DiBella and manager Larry Army recognized in a way that the admirably impatient Rodriguez didn’t that their charge needs more work before he’s ready for the likes of Kelly Pavlik. It increasingly looks like without major technique surgery that takes deep hold that Rodriguez is going to fall under the category of “borderline contender/action fighter” rather than true contender, not that I’d complain about that outcome too much. But man, those scorecards… ick.
- 24/7 Pacquiao/Marquez, first episode. I expected worse from this based on the criticisms I’d seen of the episode. It really will be a challenge to make Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez super-interesting for this edition of 24/7, but I enjoyed the opening bid, perhaps because I came in with low expectations when I clicked “play” on my DVR. I liked the sparring footage from both camps, including Pacquiao-Jorge Linares and the low-level farce of two of his camp members going at it; I liked the line where Marquez trainer called Pacquiao “a bundle of dynamite that looked like a Filipino guy”; and for a skeptic of Pacquiao-Marquez III like myself or someone who isn’t familiar with the rivalry, it would be hard to whet the appetite any better for a rubber match than showing extended footage of the first two classics, as the episode did.