CAN OMAR NARVAEZ AFFORD TO KEEP FIGHTING? — On a long-enough timeline, every former fighter sees his finances fall into disarray – just like any of us. But very few successful, long-time champions end their careers with barely enough money to make it through their training camp for their last bout.
This appears to be the case with Argentina’s Omar Narvaez, a former WBO world flyweight and super flyweight champion who has recently indicated that he does not believe he has enough money to afford the rest of his training expenses for his impending fight against Manny Rodriguez, a bout that was scheduled to take place in Puerto Madryn, Argentina, in late January but which was postponed for March 4th as part of the undercard of the Thurman-Garcia bout in New York.
“I cannot ensure that I will be there, even though there is a contract signed,” said Narvaez, 41, in a radio interview with FM Tiempoin in his hometown of Trelew. “If I don’t go, they’ll drop me from the rankings, which is terrible at my age. But honestly I am assuming debts with (promoter Osvaldo) Rivero to pay for my vitamins, I cannot bring quality sparring partners. I am in a tight spot, and I am disappointed.”
A former two-time Olympian in Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000, Narvaez (46-2-2, 24 KOs) was crowned champion in his 12th bout in the legendary Luna Park in Buenos Aires back in 2002, a mere two years after his failed Olympic bid and thus becoming the first fighter in his entire Olympic class to grab a major title. Since then, he has amassed a 28-2-1 (12 KO) record in title bouts, with most of those fights contested in his homeland.
This unusual amount of home-brewed defenses is, to some, the reason behind his current financial woes. The widespread suspicion is that Narvaez allowed Rivero to put hometown advantage above economic sense. Since those suspicions would not be independently confirmed by Narvaez (who has remained loyal to Rivero through thick and thin, even in spite of advice from other fellow boxers about the promoter’s questionable accounting practices) and since no wrongdoing has ever been denounced, the issue has remained an “open secret” among the local connoisseurs.
But the numbers are quite clear. Narvaez’s rematch against Mexico’s Felipe Orucuta back in mid-2014, for example, was the subject of a revealing purse bid that shed some light into these practices. The minimum bid for that title bout was $100,000 as per the WBO, and there were two offers. Felix Zabala’s All Star Boxing, offered a respectable $300,001, but Rivero’s O.R. Promotions outbid him with a whopping $401,500, a hefty sum for a super flyweight mandatory title bout.
The winning offer implies that Narvaez would have pocketed at least $300,000 minus all expenses, deductions and fees, which still places his earnings in the low six figures. But the suspicion is that those numbers were later renegotiated with Narvaez in order to keep him fighting within the protective confines of Argentina, as opposed to getting the full 75% of a competing winning bid ($200,000 in the case of Zabala) and end up fighting abroad, where Narvaez’s ultra-defensive and counterpunching style would have made it difficult for him to earn a victory – and with it, a title defense that would keep the profit (however meager) machine churning for both fighter and promoter.
Today, Narvaez breeds and sells dogs in his own backyard to survive, even though he is still an active fighter who has (at least nominally) made over $1 million US dollars in purses throughout his career. He is not known for any extravagant expenses or vices, and only his taste for “semi-legal” motorcycle racing could be seen as a significant drain on his resources.
His disbursements, however, do not appear to be the issue, but rather the real amounts of money that ended up in his hands after each bout. Rumor has it that Sergio Martinez warned him about problems in his personal situation when Martinez personally saw a contract for Narvaez to face Ivan Pozo in Spain for only $10,000 back in 2008, and Narvaez himself has been known to complain vocally about his low purses often enough.
But the assertions that he is currently unable to even sustain his training expenses and that he would be in debt with his promoter even after cashing in on his $75,000 purse for his fight against Rodriguez in March are even more revealing.
“I’ve been thinking about it lately, because the numbers don’t add up when it comes to staying at this level,” said Narvaez, who has been seen in social media training with Lucas Matthysse and members of both of their families, tied through the marriage of Omar’s brother Mario and Lucas’ sister Soledad. “I keep talking about this with my family and the people who support me. If I have to get up in the ring and break even after the fight, I’d rather do something else. I need to live, my kids have to be better than this and I have to think about what to do next,” said Narvaez, who said that he ended up in debt with Rivero after several of his latest fights and that he has already spent all of his training expenses for the postponed Rodriguez bout.
If he does indeed face and subsequently defeats Rodriguez in March, Narvaez would be in line for a title shot in a third division (against IBF bantamweight titlist Lee Haskins), and should he succeed he would be the first Argentine male boxer to capture titles in three weight classes. If he does fight Haskins, he will also tie Bernard Hopkins as the second fighter with the most title bouts in history (33), and they’d both be trailing only the great Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. (37).
In spite of his numerous defenses, however, Narvaez became a target for derogatory remarks by press and fans alike for years due to his unwillingness to defend his title abroad, and is better remembered by US audiences for his disappointing performance against Nonito Donaire in October of 2011. At his best, however, he was a masterful boxer with an uncanny defensive talent who defeated a handful of the best fighters of his era, some of whom would later become champions in their own right.
The scope of Narvaez’s financial troubles is truly unknown, but his story nevertheless remains a cautionary tale about the lack of basic negotiating and financial knowledge in fighters and trainers alike, and has revived open questions into Rivero’s dealings as well as renewed calls to make “basic business” a mandatory class to be studied and approved in order to earn a professional license.
As recently as last year, top-ten ranked fighters such as Diego Chaves, Jorge Sebastian Heiland and others began abandoning Rivero’s company after several claims of unclear dealings and sub-par performances in the negotiating table. Other fighters such as former champions Raul Balbi and Hector Velazco have claimed to have recently earned legal mandates to have Rivero’s books opened and scrutinized for possible irregularities in their old contracts.
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