Omar Narvaez makes his North American debut on Saturday against Nonito Donaire. Narvaez represents a credible opponent for Donaire and HBO, but make no mistake, he is there to lose. Unfortunately, most boxing fans have had little exposure to Narvaez, a current junior bantamweight titlist and former flyweight champion who has made 19 title defenses. Narvaez, already 36, hasn't lost in 37 professional fights. He is one of the most popular boxers in his native country of Argentina and has fought there 31 times.
Win or lose against Donaire, Narvaez has had a significant career in boxing. As an amateur, he beat such notables as Joan Guzman, Steve Molitor and Jose Navarro and represented Argentina in the Olympics in 1996 and 2000.
As a professional, his ledger has been filled with several good victories, but he doesn't have the signature wins that garner larger international fanfare. His best victories have come against Cesar Seda, Rayonta Whitfield, Brahim Asloum and Luis Lazarte. None of these fighters is or was a household name, but in totality, Narvaez has built a solid body of work by beating a number of "A-" and "B+" fighters.
However, Narvaez's resume is missing several of the best names in his surrounding weight classes, such as Vic Darchinyan, Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, Hugo Cazares, Koki and Daiki Kameda and Cristian Mijares. Many of these fighters are cash cows in their respective countries (the Kamedas in Japan, Wonjongkam in Thailand and Narvaez in Argentina) and it made more sense for their handlers to keep them in their native territories; the failure to make many of these matches should get spread around to the various boxers and their teams.
Belatedly, Narvaez faces his toughest match of his career against Donaire. He has a four-inch height disadvantage and can't come close to matching Donaire's power. Additionally, for the first time in his career, he is moving up to bantamweight, where Donaire is enormous at that weight class. Narvaez has a solid chin and excellent boxing ability but it seems difficult to envision him having a clear path to victory over Donaire. Nevertheless, Narvaez will make a solid payday. Even with a bad loss, he can return to junior bantamweight and defend his title.
Fortunately, American boxing networks have become more receptive to broadcasting fights in the lower weight classes. Both Showtime (the bantamweight tournament featuring Mares, Agbeko, Darchinyan and Perez) and HBO (Donaire-Montiel and Donaire-Narvaez) have aired bouts with fighters in the smaller weights, from countries as diverse as the U.S., Australia, Colombia, Mexico, Ghana and Argentina.
Most boxing enthusiasts haven't been able to watch Narvaez's fights with any type of regularity, missing the opportunity to follow a significant talent. However, perhaps boxing networks will help find and broadcast the next Omar Narvaez. That the networks have realized, however belatedly, that quality fights can come from all weight divisions is a net positive for the sport.
Denis Lebedev is a legitimate cruiserweight contender from Russia who lost a split decision to longtime titleholder Marco Huck in 2010. The fight was close and opinions were split on who deserved the victory. Perhaps if the fight took place in Russia, Lebedev would now be a champion.
Lebedev has spent 2011 licking his wounds and making defenses against washed up American legends. In May, he knocked Roy Jones, Jr. unconscious. Next month, he takes on 43-year-old James Toney, who hasn't made cruiserweight in eight years. Toney last fought in February of this year and weighed in at 257 lbs. The fact that he has to drop at least 57 lbs. to face Lebedev doesn't bode well for his competitiveness in the fight.
It's an odd career choice for Lebedev, a fighter who is in the prime of his career. Sure, the money he gets from beating the "names" is nice, but he risks marginalizing himself by following the Danny Green career path.
The cruiserweight division has a lot of interesting boxers right now but, for whatever reason, Lebedev (and his team) have chosen to go after the easy money. Instead of fighting Ola Afolabi, Troy Ross or Lateef Kayode (fighters who might pose a threat), Lebedev has decided to follow a path that offers far less resistance.
The main money man in the division right now is Huck, whom both Steve Cunningham and Lebedev would love to fight in respective rematches (Cunningham for the financial rewards and Lebedev to avenge his lone loss). Even though a Huck fight is not on the immediate horizon for Lebedev, there are still numerous quality opponents that he could be fighting; instead, he has opted to face another member of boxing's geriatric club.
It's certainly disappointing that Lebedev has agreed to fight such a mediocre level of opposition at this point in his career. 2011 will be viewed as a wasted year for him.
Vanes Martirosyan spent the last 18 months of his career calling out any and every fighter around 154 pounds. Using Twitter, media interviews and official press releases, Martirosyan blasted those who refused to get in the ring with him. In a rich bit of irony, Martirosyan was recently offered a career-high payday and an HBO Main Event slot to fight Alfredo Angulo in Mexico; he turned it down.
The fallout was swift. Martirosyan had a management shakeup. His promoter, Top Rank, was upset with his rejection of the fight. Martirosyan became the butt of jokes in boxing chat rooms and on various social media platforms. Whatever widespread support he was starting to gain was jeopardized by his decision to turn down the fight.
It was left to Martirosyan's new management team to pick up the pieces. Essentially, Team Martirosyan claimed that its fighter wouldn't be able to win a decision in Mexico. They offered to fight Angulo in America, knowing full well that Angulo's immigration problems prohibited him from entering the U.S. at this time.
Instead, Martirosyan will fight cannon-fodder Richard Gutierrez next week at a small Indian casino in Oklahoma (on a much smaller TV card). Gutierrez has lost six of his last nine fights and is far removed from his days as a competitive gatekeeper at welterweight and junior middleweight. For Martirosyan, this fight is nothing more than marking time.
Even with Top Rank as his promoter, Freddie Roach as his trainer and a spot on the U.S. Olympic team as his pedigree, American premium cable wasn't knocking down Martirosyan's door to get him on their networks. To this point, he appeared on HBO once on the undercard of the Miguel Cotto-Yuri Foreman fight, notching a rather pedestrian win over Joe Greene. Needless to say, HBO didn't rush to get Martirosyan on its airwaves for a return performance.
On one level, Martirosyan was correct: it would have been difficult to win a decision in Mexico. However, even if he looked good in a loss, opportunities would have opened up for him. Instead, by standing on ceremony, he declined the opportunity for additional visibility and momentum for his career, hurt his reputation for fighting all comers and gave up significant remuneration. At a certain point, fighters have to fight. Martirosyan was unwilling to take a necessary risk, and, as a result, various parties are punishing him accordingly.
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