Nonito Donaire to defend title Oct. 22
Unified bantamweight champion Nonito Donaire will make his first -- and only -- title defense against junior bantamweight titleholder Omar Narvaez on Oct. 22 in New York, Top Rank promoter Todd duBoef told ESPN.com on Thursday.
For the past few weeks, Narvaez had been atop the list of leading candidates to challenge Donaire, but duBoef said the deal with Narvaez had been agreed to. He also said he is finalizing a deal for the HBO headliner to take place at New York's Madison Square Garden Theater.
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"We're finalizing stuff with the Garden now," duBoef said. "It's where stars are born. If you can play New York, you can play anywhere. It doesn't matter what sphere of entertainment you are in -- music, theater, athletics -- to play that city is a big steppingstone for anybody."
Donaire (26-1, 18 KOs), a native of the Philippines living in Northern California, won a pair of bantamweight belts in February when he scored a mammoth second-round knockout of Fernando Montiel in his HBO debut in Las Vegas. Shortly after the most significant win of his career, Donaire tried to leave Top Rank and signed with rival Golden Boy. The deal was put on hold when an arbitrator upheld Top Rank's contract and enjoined Golden Boy from promoting Donaire. Eventually, Donaire worked out his differences with Top Rank, which signed him to a contract extension in mid-July.
The fight with Narvaez will be Donaire's first under the deal; it will also be his last bout at 118 pounds. He plans to move up to the 122-pound junior featherweight division -- where Top Rank has several top opponents it can offer him -- and eventually to featherweight.
Argentina's Narvaez (35-0-2, 23 KOs) is a former Olympian and, like Donaire, a former flyweight titlist. Narvaez held a flyweight belt from 2002 until 2009, making 16 defenses, before vacating to move up in weight. He won a vacant junior bantamweight belt in 2010 and has made three defenses in somewhat dominant fashion.
"Stylistically, it's a good match and his record speaks for itself," duBoef said. "Narvaez made an incredible amount of defenses (at flyweight). He is a pressure fighter who will come to Nonito, and you couldn't ask for anything else. He will put pressure on him and be there all night. We felt that from a television and fan point of view this could be a very crowd-pleasing fight."
The one rap on Narvaez, 36, at least compared to Donaire, 28, is that he is considerably older and much smaller. Donaire is 5-foot-7 with designs on the featherweight division while Narvaez, who has a reputation for having a solid chin, is 5-3 and not considered big for a junior bantamweight.
"Narvaez is, by far, the most popular fighter in Argentina and I believe one of the most popular fighters in South America," Top Rank's Carl Moretti said. "He's small, but Donaire is going to be bigger than any bantamweight because you are basically looking at a featherweight fighting at bantamweight. Donaire is going to grow into the featherweight division, so the size factor will be there no matter who he fights. He has freakish size, like Thomas Hearns when he was at welterweight. So you have to come up with the toughest style and toughest guy to challenge him.
"Look, Narvaez is an undefeated southpaw, clearly experienced and a champion in his own right. He brings tremendous credentials to the ring."
Although Narvaez has fought most of his career in Argentina, he has gone outside of his comfort zone in previous title bouts. He made three flyweight title defenses in France, two in Italy and one in Spain. Clearly, going on the road is not an issue.
There is a challenge, however, for Top Rank to promote the fight in New York, where Donaire has never fought, especially in the heat of the baseball playoffs that could involve the Yankees.
"The fact that Donaire, a top three pound-for-pound fighter in the world, gets to display his talents to the East Coast fans and media at the mecca of boxing is a plus for everybody," Moretti said. "We are aware of a large Filipino contingent in the tri-state area, which we will directly market to as well as making sure we have a lot of local flavor on the undercard. We love these types of opportunities and challenges in promoting. It's so much better than going to a stale casino atmosphere, and better for the sport overall."
Top Rank plans to include top featherweight contender Miguel Angel "Mikey" Garcia (26-0, 22 KOs) on the undercard against an opponent to be determined. Although HBO does not have plans to televise his bout, Moretti said the network would probably show a highlight package.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.
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