By Jake Donovan
The talent long ago suggested that Nonito Donaire was destined for greatness. All that he needed was the big wins to match the potential.
Saturday night provided that part of the formula, in a very big way.
Making his HBO-televised debut, Donaire confirmed his pound-for-pound credentials with an explosive second round knockout of unified bantamweight titlist Fernando Montiel on Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
Both fighters weighed in at the bantamweight limit of 118 lb.
Donaire was dominant in the early going, providing instant justification to the surprisingly high 2 ½-1 betting odds in his favor. Montiel tried to establish proper distance to land his right hand, but was instead rocked by a counter left hook over the top. Donaire’s precision punching also left the soon-to-be ex-champ with a nick over his eye.
Fortunately for Montiel, the cut would never become a factor.
Unfortunately for Montiel, Donaire’s punching power was a major factor.
The full effect of the Filipino’s punching power was felt late in the second. Montiel appeared to settle down and time Donaire, taking advantage of the rare moments when the Filipino would overcommit on a punch.
Yet it was a clean right hand by Montiel that would set up the fight altering blow. Donaire didn’t even seem to bother to get out of the way of the right hand, taking the shot and immediately firing back with a left hook that connected flush.
Montiel never saw the punch coming, and never regained his legs or senses. The shot caused him to pitch forward before pausing and crashing to the canvas, lying flat on his back as he twitched in pain.
To the surprise of nearly everyone, the Mexican veteran somehow managed to beat referee Russell Mora’s count and was afforded the opportunity to continue.
Donaire quickly took care of that, landing another left hook and a follow-up right hand on a defenseless Montiel. The third man recognized a finished fighter in front of him, jumping in to rescue Montiel from further punishment.
The official time was 2:25 of the second round – or exactly as long as Donaire believed the fight would last from the moment he was presented with the opportunity.
“I just came out there believing in this talent that God had given me. I actually predicted this second round knockout about three months ago,” claims Donaire, who has now won 25 straight dating back to his third pro fight nearly ten years ago.
The Filipino-born, California-raised blue chip talent improves overall to 26-1 (18KO), winning alphabet belts in a third weight class. The win is perhaps the most significant of his career, certainly no worse than right there alongside his breakout performance more than three years ago, when he iced then-unbeaten Vic Darchinyan in similarly frightening fashion.
A rematch between Donaire and Darchinyan was discussed on more than one occasion, but never came to fruition. The reasons for it not occurring depend on whom you ask, though it’s doubtful that Darchinyan will be in a hurry to chase a return bout anytime soon.
One rematch seemingly out of the question would be with Montiel, who loses for the first time in five years as he falls to 44-3-2 (34KO). Amazingly, all three of his losses have coincided with his three HBO appearances, having previously fallen short against Mark Johnson and Jhonny Gonzalez.
Montiel waited more than four years to return to the network, building up a 12-fight unbeaten streak in the process. The fight with Donaire came on the heels of a Fighter of the Year-level campaign in 2010, scoring four knockouts in as many fights, including a highlight reel fourth-round knockout of Hozumi Hasegawa to unify two belts at bantamweight.
All of that goes out of the window, as it’s now Donaire who sits atop the bantamweight division while awaiting his next challenge.
One potential opponent is the winner of the April 23 Showtime Bantamweight Tournament championship between Joseph Agbeko and Abner Mares. Donaire and Montiel were both kept out of the tournament by promoter Bob Arum, who preferred to simply match them head-to-head rather than tie them up in a round robin tournament.
It turned out to be the right move, as Showtime was forced to go to a four-man, knockout format that wraps up this spring, which means plenty of time to push for Donaire to face the winner, just one of the many scenarios he envisions occurring in his immediate future.
“I think that I want to be undisputed in this weight class. If that doesn’t happen, I have my absolute trust in (manager) Cameron Dunkin. If that comes at 122, let’s do it. If that comes at 126, let’s do it.”
Whatever course he takes, it will only add to his pound-for-pound credentials, even if in his mind he has virtually no shot at the top spot – at least not while another famous Filipino remains active inside the squared circle.
“I don’t mind being number two. I have the utmost respect for Manny Pacquiao. I’m happy being number two, if that’s what people want to call me. I’m happy and grateful for the people I have supporting me, that makes me number one with them.”
Eventually, Pacquiao has to retire – or even lose before then. Once either occurs, it’s no stretch to envision Donaire being viewed as number one in the eyes of a lot more than those currently supporting him.
JONES DOES IT BETTER SECOND TIME AROUND
In the televised co-feature, undefeated welterweight contender Mike Jones took care of unfinished business with a decisive unanimous decision over Jesus Soto Karass.
Scores were 115-113, 116-112 and 117-111 in favor of Jones, who advances to 24-0 (18KO).
Their first fight – which came three months ago on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao’s 12-round whitewash of Antonio Margarito – proved near disastrous for Jones, who went for a knockout in the second round but wound up punching himself out in the process. He spent nearly the rest of the fight trying to catch his breath and was considered by many to have been fortunate to escape with a majority decision.
No such drama occurred this time around, as Jones offered a far more disciplined account of himself in the rematch.
The bout was a series of firsts for the Philly welterweight. It was his HBO-televised debut, the first time in his five-plus year career that he fought a rematch and – as the bout went on – the first time he would fight beyond the tenth round.
None of that seemed to faze Jones in the slightest, delivering arguably his finest performance to date. He connected on nearly half of his overall punches, brawling only when he had to while controlling the tempo for most the fight
Soto Karass (24-6-3, 15KO) was game throughout, though that level of bravery came at a heavy price. The Mexican was cut over both eyes, each caused by an accidental clash of heads, and bled profusely to the point of ringside physicians giving serious consideration to stopping the bout.
He was afforded the chance to finish on his feet, but would have to leave the Vegas ring merely with that moral victory in tow.
Meanwhile, Jones eyes the next level of his career, which is securing a future title shot. Co-promoter Bob Arum called to task HBO for funding welterweight titlist Andre Berto’s next fight, which will come in April against career junior welterweight Victor Ortiz.
It was argued by the Hall of Fame promoter that the winner of this bout should be afforded a crack at Berto instead.
Whenever Jones gets the chance to fight for a title, he can turn to this fight as the night when he truly earned that opportunity.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com and an award-winning member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Contact Jake at [email protected] .