This Saturday night, WBC/WBO bantamweight titlist Fernando Montiel faces Nonito Donaire in the main event on HBO’s “Boxing After Dark.” For Montiel, it’s not clear what is the bigger achievement for him: facing the “Filipino Flash” in one of the more significant bantam bouts in recent memory or the fact he’s back on the “Network of Champions” after basically being banned by the network after disappointing outings versus Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson in 2003 and Jhonny Gonzalez three years later, his only two professional losses.
But it was the manner in which he lost- where he put up safe, overly-cautious performances- that had him exiled from their airwaves.
At the press conference to officially kick off this event in early January at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, Montiel proudly pointed up at the promotional banner that adorned the HBO logo touting his bout at the Mandalay Bay. After serving five years in the penalty box for boredom, he was back.
"I always took it as a challenge," explained Montiel, through Top Rank publicist, Ricardo Jimenez, "that when they said that, I said, ’This is a challenge to me and I will return.’ And I know that I had some other fights on the undercards of big fights but this is the first time I’m back as the main event that night."
When asked to explain those two rather tepid outings against Johnson and Gonzalez, Montiel said, "I think more than anything, it was just the fact I didn’t train at home. Both fights I went out of town; I went out to train. They said, ’Let’s concentrate; let’s get out of here. These are big fights, important fights,’ and we went out. We went out of the city. We had never done that before; both fights we ended up losing. So I said we were never going to do that again.
"We stay home now," continued Montiel, who hails from Los Mochis, Mexico, an area which produces an abundance of boxers. "I have everything we need here. We got the right sparring; there’s no need to go and I really feel great."
Since that loss to Gonzalez, “Cochulito” (also known as “KO-chulito”) has gone undefeated in 12 outings. During that time, he bounced around from Golden Boy Promotions (which, at that time, did no business with Showtime, therefore limiting his opportunities) to Zanfir Promotions, which has kept him as active as any world-class prizefighter in the world. After the loss to Gonzalez at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, he was derided by the always-tough-to-please Mexican fight fan, who believed he did not fit the description of what a Mexican fighter should be. He was fast and flashy but not tough and durable. A guy more likely to box from the perimeter of the ring but not bang on the inside. Some didn’t like the fact his boxing trunks were shorter than John Stockton’s basketball shorts (like that old Nair commercial, he wore short shorts).
Slowly but surely, Montiel has become the most accomplished fighter from Mexico in the sport today. And that distinction was sealed when he blasted out the respected Hozumi Hasagawa last April in Japan to capture the WBC 118-pound strap.
"It was such an important fight; it was a challenge to go to Japan. To do something big, that’s what motivated me more than anything for the fight and once I got the win, I figured a lot of people would notice it, how important the fight was, how important the win was and I knew people would turn and look and say, ’Y’ know what, we need this guy on HBO again," said Montiel, who sports a record of 44-2-2 with 34 knockouts.
The question was, would HBO bring back Montiel? When a network effectively expunges you from their airwaves, what can you really do? Bob Arum jokes (well, sort of), "I guess you sign a deal with Al Haymon so you get a comeback fight." But seriously, Montiel, through his body of work, earned his way back to HBO. "I think so," agreed Arum, who is promoting this weekend’s bout. "Montiel proved by his subsequent fights what a great fighter he was/is. And the fight that was in demand was Donaire and Montiel and y’ know, he worked his way back where he was a viable TV star. I mean, certainly, that victory in Japan helped make it for him."
What helped matters out is that HBO- which doesn’t do much business below the lightweight division normally- found a suitable dance partner in Donaire and this match-up came relatively cheap to the network.
"You will see because it’s a matter of public record, the amount we’re getting paid for Montiel-Donaire is less than [Sergiy] Dzinziruk is getting to fight Sergio Martinez and it’s like 50-percent of what [Andre] Berto gets for a fight," said Arum. "This fight is going on and I accepted it because we wanted to get it on and Showtime wouldn’t do it because they were doing a tournament. If we went into the tournament, it would’ve been one of those six-man deals and- particularly in the bantamweight division- is ridiculous. An eight-man tournament is fine; a four-man tournament is fine. A six-man tournament- is crazy. It’s crazy. Maybe it works for the super middleweights but it doesn’t work for bantamweights.
"To wait two years to go through this isn’t what my guys wanted. So obviously, Showtime couldn’t buy the fight; HBO bought it, paid very little money. We’re happy it’s on and upward with bigger and better things."
When Montiel got word that HBO had purchased this fight, he said, "I was very happy to hear it. They told me right after I was coming back from running and I got so excited. I said, ’I gotta run some more.’ So I started running again. This is just one of those fights. I always wanted to fight one of those tough guys. I wanted to fight Vic Darchinyan; once he lost to Donaire, that was my main goal- fighting Donaire. That was very important for me. It’s a fight that I wanted and I needed."
A lot is on the line. Not only the claim as the best bantamweight in the world but to open up other opportunities, whether it be the winner of the April 23rd contest between IBF beltholder Joseph Agbeko and Abner Mares or lucrative fights at the junior featherweight class. But Montiel understands more than anyone that it’s not only the result of the fight that’s important, it’s the manner in which he performs that is just as vital.
"For me, it’s an important fight, not only the fact that I want to win the fight; I want to look great and everyone has to enjoy my fights," said Montiel, who has become more crowd-pleasing in recent years and is armed with one of the most lethal left hooks in the business. "It has to be one of those fights people will remember. And to me, it’s just the beginning; now people are noticing me more. A win here, it’s just the beginning to the next level."
In the state of Nevada, welterweights use ten-ounce gloves (most jurisdictions allow for eight-ounces at 147 pounds), unless, like in the case of the 2008 showdown between Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito, both sides decide to go with the smaller gloves. In this weekend’s “Boxing After Dark” co-feature between welters Mike Jones and Jesus Soto-Karass, I’m told that ten-ounce gloves will be utilized at the behest of Jones. Soto-Karass and his camp preferred the eights.
This, to me, is interesting, why would Jones, who is the harder, faster puncher, want to go with the bigger mitts? Could it be that he is having lingering problems with his hands or maybe his camp doesn’t trust his chin? I just find it odd that a fighter who has fought the large majority of time in the eight-ounce gloves would now decide to go with tens.
A Philly fighter deciding to go with bigger gloves?! Say it ain’t so. Bennie Briscoe must be rolling over in his grave.
It was believed that the March 19th bout between WBC heavyweight titlist Vitali Klitschko and Odlanier Solis would be on ESPN3 but I was told by two sources on Tuesday afternoon that the Epix Channel, a relatively new premium cable network would be televising this fight. If you haven’t heard of it, well, you’re not alone. From my understanding, they pay much more than what ESPN usually does and will be throwing their hat into the boxing business. For more information on Epix: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epix_%28TV_channel%29
A major factor here is that entities like DirecTV, Time Warner Cable and Comcast don’t distribute this network but perhaps like HBO and Showtime in the past, maybe their association with boxing will help their subscription numbers. Regardless, it’s never a bad thing when another network decides to get into boxing.
Now, the only problem is actually finding it for now.
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