Age is just a number, and athletes are functioning at a high level later in their lives, but still, the movers and shakers in boxing are searching hard for the next-generation superstars who will carry the sport, and fuel the revenue stream.
Bob Arum, the Las Vegas-based promoter who was born in Brooklyn and lived most of his life in New York, is betting big that Nonito "The Filipino Flash" Donaire in a short time frame will become a superstar who'll have name recognition to casual sports fans.
The 28-year-old Donaire (26-1 with 18 KOs), who lives in California, will make his New York debut when he fights Omar Narvaez at the Madison Square Garden Theater on Oct. 22.
Arum isn't out there alone on an island in tabbing Donaire as a possible baton-holder for the sweet science; legend Roy Jones, in analyst capacity, gushed profusely about Donaire on HBO's air after he destroyed 44-2 Fernando Montiel (TKO2) in February. "Nobody else comes close to Pacquiao, Mayweather and Donaire," Jones said.
Experienced fightwatchers get a tingle of apprehension when such gushing takes place and the fawned-over fighter gets matched with an unheralded foe, such as Narvaez, who nobody seems to give a chance at winning. On a Thursday conference call to hype the Oct. 22 scrap, it didn't sound like Donaire himself has let the adulation, and possibilities of future lottery-ticket fights render him cocky.
"I don't really take anything lightly," he said on a call in which he was joined by Arum and trainer Robert Garcia. "They have two hands and have opportunity to train. I really do know that I'm ready. My mentality is one hundred percent."
The boxer said this fight, in which his WBC and WBO bantamweight titles will be on the line, will be his last at 118 pounds. He'll be frying bigger fish, at 122 and 126 pounds, he said, in the near future. He has added too much muscle recently, and finds it too draining to shrink down to make 118. "I expect as he rises 122 to 126, maybe above, he will become a major superstar in the sport," Arum said.
Eyes opened on every continent when Donaire took out Montiel. Arum, age 79, found himself mightily impressed. "I've been around a long time, that was one of the most devastating punches I've ever seen. He caved in Montiel's face (with a left hook delivered while Montiel threw a lazy right.) It was scary as s--- and demonstrated to me that not only is he a good boxer who has lethal power in his hands, it will be tough for anyone to beat him."
Donaire always makes sure to stress how thankful he is to be where he is, and certainly sounds as if he's taking nothing for granted. That's wise; the 35-0-2 Argentine Narvaez isn't a boldface name even to the hardcore fan, but he has been a longtime flyweight and super-flyweight titlist, so his resume isn't dreck.
To be sure, Donaire isn't over-the-top with his humility; he talked about how he has the ability to see a few steps ahead of his foes, and boasted that he told any and all how the Montiel fight would go down.
He wouldn't offer specifics on how he thinks he'll handle Narvaez, but did say he wants to end the affair reasonably early, always guns for the KO, and does see flaws in the challengers' stance.
Americans are attracted to supersized attractions, in sports and culture at large, so it's no slam dunk that Donaire grows into a marquee attraction who can command multi-million dollar paydays. But his thirst for stoppage wins does tip the odds a bit in his direction. He summed that desire up nicely when he told the media that he seeks to fight in the style of Mike Tyson, and impress upon all that "the fight can end in one punch."
Top Rank VP Carl Moretti shed some light on what might come next if Donaire gets past Narvaez. "He's going to move to 122 for 2012, and he'd like to go after a champion, maybe the Japanese fighter Toshiaki Nishioka, the WBC champ, or the South African IBF champ Takalani Ndlovu. WBO champ Jorge Arce is a possibility. There are better names and fights at 122 and his body needs to go to 122. But we won't delve into that until Oct 23."