In less than six minutes, Nonito Donaire not only added the WBC and WBO bantamweight straps to his ever-expanding trophy case, he turned what was supposed to be one of the most anticipated fights of the New Year into a breathtaking one-sided blowout in dispatching the respected Fernando Montiel in two rounds. This business, more than ever, needs stars and exciting performers willing to take risks in the ring. In an era when more and more fighters play it safe and lean on HBO insurance policies, Donaire dared to be great- and that’s exactly what he was this past weekend at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
A legitimate star was born. The “Filipino Flash” has arrived.
"I don’t know about [being] the star, yet," said a rather modest Donaire at the post-fight presser, "but I definitely believe I belong in that top pound-for-pound. I believe I’m the best bantamweight right now and this is just the beginning of it."
Donaire was bestowed mythical pound-for-pound status over a year ago and as he gave rather inconsistent performances on “Pinoy Power,” you always got the sense that the rating was, if not, premature, grossly exaggerated. Well, right now, no matter how much you value pound-for-pound rankings, Donaire is undoubtedly among the top echelon of prizefighters in the world, alongside the likes of Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, Sergio Martinez, Juan Manuel Marquez and Tim Bradley.
Later as he thought about his placement in the game’s elite, Donaire stated, "Superstar? I don’t know; that’s up to the people to decide. That’s really not my decision to make. I can say I’m a superstar but if everybody feels that I’m not, then that’ll be [the case]. I honestly say I do belong in that pound-for-pound right now. It could be top ten or whatever it is but I believe I’m the best bantamweight right now."
His promoter, an ebullient Bob Arum has no doubts. "Nonito," he said to the gathered media, "is a star. I mean, there’s no question about it. I’ve been around a long, long time and his speed and punching power is incredible, absolutely incredible. So he has- because he’s still in his 20s- a very, very long, sensational career ahead of him."
It wasn’t so much that Donaire won. After all, there was a reason why he was listed as high as a 4-1 favorite, according to the local bookies, but it’s the manner in which he did so that opened eyes. Donaire, because of his Fil-Am status, has had a bit of a peculiar relationship with the Filipino boxing fan who has never fully embraced him either because he committed the cardinal sin of not being the “Pac-Man” or he is perceived as being the disrespectful son in what has been an all-too-public soap opera involving his stormy relationship with his estranged father. Donaire, in his HBO debut, didn’t have to just win; he needed a victory that was akin to what Pacquiao did to Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003 in San Antonio, which truly began the process of Pacquiao being just another good little foreign fighter to a global icon.
"You saw it; he didn’t just fight another bantamweight. He fought, next to him, the best bantamweight in the world. And look how he handled him," said Arum. "Fernando Montiel has beaten everybody in the bantamweight division and look how Nonito matched up against him. So he is a superstar. I always felt like he had the ability to do what he did tonight but now you’re going to see a lot of things we saw with Manny Pacquiao. Somebody who started at 112 pounds, now 118 and he’ll be fighting at 122, 126 and 130."
With a body that is sculpted and honed by Victor Conte and Remi Korchemny and skills that have been sharpened by Robert Garcia and Jonathan Penalosa, Donaire is seemingly headed to the zenith of his fistic powers. His handlers believe that his best days, believe it or not, are ahead of him at the junior featherweight and featherweight class. With his long, wiry, 5’6” frame, he has room to grow. Versus Montiel, while Donaire was supposedly the fighter moving up in weight, it was very apparent from the onset that he was the bigger, stronger man in that ring. And in the first round, he stunned the classy Mexican with a series of hard punches that had him backing up for much of the opening stanza. Just as it seemed that Montiel had regained some traction in the second, he was hit by a bolt of lightning in the form of a left hook from Donaire.
"That second round, it seemed like I was losing that round but I was just being attentive, where he’s going to be, his movement, his body and where his head’s going to be after he punches and when I figured exactly where he’s going to be, I knew, regardless, if I close my eyes, he was going to be there as long as my punches were in that direction, in that coordinate, and that’s exactly what happened," explained the young man who had hooked with a hooker and more than just gotten away with it.
That punch is the kind that will be a YouTube sensation, the kind that was replayed over and over again on TiVo. This will surely end up as avatars on people’s message board handles. It was that kind of shot. It actually left Montiel convulsing on the canvas for a few seconds. Donaire says it’s the best punch he has ever landed. "That [Vic] Darchinyan punch was pretty sweet. That one was perfectly timed too. But this is the hardest one compared to the other one. Because the other one was set up, this one, I was so surprised he got up because I put everything in that punch."
There were differing reports floating around as to the severity of Montiel’s injuries (understandably, he did not show up to the press conference on Saturday night as he was taken to the local hospital for observation). It’s a safe assumption to make that he won’t be in the ring anytime soon but as it relates to Donaire, the future is unlimited.
"We’ll have to see," said Arum. "People say, ’Is he going to fight the winner of that bantamweight tournament?’ and for me, I must be honest; I don’t think it’s a competitive fight. But again, if people want to pay me money to do it, I’m not going to argue." While there is a lot of talk of Donaire moving up and facing 122-pound beltholders like Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. and Steve Molitor (who are now both under the Top Rank banner), the fighter himself seems to want the winner of the April 23rd bout between Abner Mares and Joseph Agbeko. "I want to be undisputed in this division," he said. "If they don’t want to make it happen, I have my full trust in Cameron Dunkin to make it happen for me."
Regardless, you just get the sense that something special happened. A pretty good fighter has become a dominant one.
"We thought he could be special," said his manager, Dunkin. "I remember telling him when he was like 6-1, ’I’ve had Mark Johnson, Danny Romero, Johnny Tapia,Eric Morel- you can be as good as any of them.’ He’s terrific."
Donaire’s trainer, Robert Garcia, states, "He’s already as talented as the best in the world. I truly believe as good as Manny Pacquiao is, talent-wise, but he’s got a lot to do, move up in weight like Manny has done and win so many different titles to be able to compare him to Manny. Maybe it’s something we won’t be able to do because Manny has just done so much but his talent is as good or better than Manny’s."
There will most likely never be another Manny Pacquiao, just like there will never be another Babe Ruth or Michael Jordan. But what Donaire clearly demonstrated on this particular night is that if there is an heir apparent, it shall be him. While no Filipino boxer may ever get out from under Pacquiao’s considerable shadow, Donaire has created his own niche. Being a bookend to Pacquiao certainly isn’t the worst thing in the world.
"To my guys, I’m number one," said Donaire, who, like Pacquiao, hails from General Santos City, when asked about his placement in the Filipino hierarchy, "but to people out there, if they tell me I’m number two, it’s such an honor and blessing for me."
I’m still not sure what was the more remarkable act: Donaire’s blistering left hook late in the second round or the fact that Montiel actually got up from it. Now, it’s certainly debatable if referee Russell Mora should’ve let Montiel continue on but it doesn’t take anything away from the fact that Montiel showed a great deal of courage in even attempting to fight on.
Much has been made of the spectacular performance of Donaire but what shouldn’t be forgotten is the resolve of Montiel in a losing effort. While he didn’t come out victorious on this night, he showed every bit the championship form of Donaire, in many respects.
HBO executives Ross Greenburg and Kery Davis were both at the fights and in town for the screening of their documentary on the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels during the Jerry Tarkanian era (everything I’ve heard is that it’s an outstanding production). It was interesting to see them working the room after the fight and making sure that Donaire knew what they thought of his performance. It was almost as if to say, “We lost Pacquiao; we’re not losing another one.” They seemed to be playing awfully nice to Arum, who recently consummated a union with rival Showtime.
The funniest moment of the post-fight presser was when Arum started haranguing HBO for continuing to overpay Andre Berto and how a fighter who quit in his biggest fight (Victor Ortiz) is his next opponent and how fighters who lose are still guaranteed return engagements on the network going into those fights. All Greenburg and Davis could do was…well, not necessarily grin but bear it. What other choice did they have? But what had everyone laughing was that Arum wrapped up his commentary by saying, "That’s just my opinion; I don’t want to be antagonistic or anything."
Yeah, sure you didn’t.
Mike Jones boxed in a much more controlled and composed manner in outpointing Jesus Soto-Karass, even much more decisively this time around. Arum says he will return on June 4th...No surprise to anyone that WBA middleweight champion Felix Sturm took out Ronald Hearns, right?...OK, with this loss, is Junior Witter officially out of the running for any Amir Khan fight for now and forever?...Where does Blake Griffin’s performance rank among all-time dunk contests? I still say Vince Carter of 2000 is the best ever...And thanks to Natasha and Gloria for perhaps the greatest birthday gift I have ever received: http://twitpic.com/41lnu1. I never knew Snoopy boxed as a southpaw....