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No. 4 best pound-for-pound boxer in the world Nonito Donaire Jr. displays his championship belts to the Filipino Reporter at his hotel room in New York earlier this week. The champ will face Omar Andres Narvaez at Madison Square Garden’s WaMu Theater on Oct. 22.  (Filipino Reporter exclusive photo by Ryan Songalia)

 

 

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Exclusive to the Filipino Reporter

In his 28 years on this planet, Nonito Donaire Jr. had never been to New York City until Sept. 19, 2011.

The recognized bantamweight world champion and pound-for-pound elite boxer from San Leandro, California was playing the role of tourist in “The Big Apple” in amazement of the bright lights and commotion of the city.

He and wife Rachel shopped on Fifth Avenue and went to the top of the Empire State Building’s observation deck just before its 2 a.m. closing time.

They even dined at a New York City diner that had run out of New York cheesecake, to the Donaires disappointment.

“So far it’s been great,” said Donaire (26-1, 18 KO) from his hotel room in Midtown Manhattan.

“We walked around for an hour-and-a-half, it’s awesome. You see all the hot dog vendors and pizzerias, it’s what you see and hear about. There’s a lot of diversity and a lot of people walking around. It’s a little bit chilly, but I’m having a blast out here.”

Donaire, who held titles at flyweight and super flyweight before, was in town to promote his Oct. 22 bout with former flyweight and current World Boxing Organization (WBO) super flyweight champ Omar Andres Narvaez (35-0-2, 19 KO) of Cordoba, Argentina at Madison Square Garden’s WaMu Theater.

The bout will be aired in America on HBO’s Boxing After Dark series and in the Philippines on ABS/CBN.

Donaire is the first reigning Filipino world champion to fight at Madison Square Garden since Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, then the super featherweight champ, who made a number of appearances at “The Mecca of Boxing.”

That it’s a rarity for Filipino fighters to compete in New York City is surprising, considering that nearly 60,000 Filipino-Americans call the city home with more than half of them concentrated in the borough of Queens.

Just across the Hudson River in Jersey City, a vibrant Filipino community populates Manila and West Side Avenues and other neighborhoods of New Jersey’s second largest city.

There are even Philippine parades in Manhattan, Jersey City and Passaic, N.J. held every year.

With a strong turnout at The Garden, Donaire says he could envision himself coming back again.

The 36-year-old southpaw Narvaez is four inches shorter than Donaire at 5’3” and is not generally considered a big puncher, having gone the distance in his last five fights.

Narvaez won his first world title in 2002 with a decision over Adonis Rivas and successfully moved up in weight to capture his second title with another distance-going effort against Everth Briceno.

Narvaez twice represented his country in the Summer Olympics and will be fighting for the first time in North America.

Donaire sees Narvaez as a much different kind of challenge than his previous fight, when he scored a sensational second round knockout of Fernando Montiel in February.

“I think in terms of power, Montiel has the upper hand,” said Donaire, who was born in the Philippine province of Bohol.

“They both have experience. One thing I think that Narvaez has, he’s a little bit slick and a little bit faster, and that’s going to be a challenge. [Trainer Roberto Garcia and I] will look at the fights and see what advantage we can take.

“He was the only one willing to step into the ring with me,” said Donaire. “We put our challenges out there and we wanted a fight before we move up to 122 and it was an opportunity. Narvaez took the fight and I’m thankful for that because at least I’m fighting a guy who is credible, who is a champion with an incredible record and he knows how to win as well.”


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Nonito Donaire Jr. (center) with boxers Miguel Cotto (left) and Antonio Margarito at the Edison Ballroom in New York on Sept. 20.  (Filipino Reporter photo by Rene Ner)


At a press conference on Tuesday, Sept. 20 at Manhattan’s Edison Ballroom, Donaire endeared himself to the New York media by starting off with an impersonation of favorite son Robert DeNiro.

“You talkin’ to me?” said Donaire to the amusement of those in attendance.

“I always wanted to say that.”

Donaire, who is rated number four on Ring Magazine’s pound-for-pound list, revealed at the press conference that he will be teaming up with the Keep A Breast Foundation for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October and wearing pink boxing gloves for the Narvaez fight to raise awareness.

Donaire says Narvaez will be his final fight at 118 pounds, electing to ascend the scales in search of bigger challenges and relaxed dietary restrictions.

Donaire has been inactive since the Montiel fight, and admits that he let himself go a bit while on sabbatical.

“I didn’t have problems the last two times with [Wladimir] Sidorenko or Montiel, then I took some time off and didn’t go to the gym so I gained a little weight,” said Donaire.

“But I’ve already lost 14 pounds, so I’m there. I gotta make weight in a few days for the 30 days ten pound weight limit. I gotta maintain and I’m trying to cut down that weight right now. It was difficult in the first couple of weeks shedding the weight, but I’ve been gone for a couple of months and I think I’ve paid a price for living the good life.”

Donaire says the plan is to get through Narvaez and then challenge the winner of Japan’s Toshiaki Nishioka and Rafael Marquez on Oct. 1, which will be contested for Nishioka’s World Boxing Council (WBC) super bantamweight title.

Nishioka, 38-4-3 (24), is a southpaw technician not-unlike Narvaez, while Marquez (40-6, 36 KO) is the younger brother of Manny Pacquiao rival Juan Manuel and past his best days.

Top Rank, the promotional company that handles Donaire, as well as Pacquiao and rising Filipino prospect Mercito Gesta, also handles attractive potential Donaire rivals Juan Manuel Lopez, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Jorge Arce.

Discussing the big fights that are feasible in the divisions just above him draws a look of hunger from his eyes.

Or maybe it’s the struggle of making weight.

“We have all these guys in the list,” said Donaire.

“Time will tell, but one thing is for sure: Nonito Donaire will be willing to fight anyone out there.”

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Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News and the Filipino Reporter newspaper in New York City.

He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com

Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia

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