By Chris Robinson
Everyone is still soaking in the aftermath of Nonito Donaire's breathtaking victory over Fernando Montiel, which took place on Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada. In one of the more vicious knockouts in recent memory, Donaire leveled his Los Mochis foe with a picturesque counter left hand and finished him off after he rose moments later, capturing the WBC and WBO bantamweight titles in the process.
It was a vintage performance from one of the sport's most dynamic talents and people were left shocked and still abuzz about what the 28-year old was able to accomplish. Veteran HBO analyst Larry Merchant had less than 24 hours to digest what he had just seen but during our Sunday night conversation I could instantly detect how impressed he was with what he had seen.
Starting things off, I asked Merchant what he thought of the counter left from Nonito that all but ended Montiel's night?
"That it was a calculated response," Merchant stated. "That this was a guy who was not only strong but knew what he was doing. And he was fighting with controlled aggression and strength. And that he was figuring out Montiel and waiting for the right moment to deliver a punch that could change the fight."
Boxing is a sport still struggling in several areas and we are always on the lookout for the next big thing. Merchant feels that Donaire has now entered a completely different realm as a professional and he personally can't help but to wonder about how far he can take his skills.
"I think it places him in the top level, in the elite level in the sport," Merchant said of Donaire's victory. "The question is, whether American viewers care about bantamweights. It's very rare that American fight fans have shown much interest in fighters in that weight class. He also showed that he has the kind of skill and strength that he could move up to the featherweight divisions."
Merchant went on to clarify that statement by revealing that before any showdowns with the likes of Yuriorkis Gamboa or Juan Manuel Lopez, both champions at 126 pounds, that he would prefer to see Donaire face another young gun in the bantamweight division and also test the waters at 122 pounds before a move so drastic.
"There is no rush," Larry added.
Given his Filipino roots, Donaire can't help but to raise comparisons to his countryman and fellow superstar Manny Pacquiao. The WBO welterweight king has been on an incredible run in the sport over the past two and a half years and will be again looking to raise his stock with a May 7th clash against Shane Mosley at the nearby MGM Grand.
Merchant is fully aware of how loved Pacquiao has become in the Philippines and feels that Donaire obviously would have to endear himself in a slightly different fashion.
"It's a natural thing to put them in the same narrative," Merchant continued. "I think of Donaire of an American-Filipino fighter. He came to the U.S. I believe when he was a child. Maybe that will help him translate more quickly than Pacquiao did to American fans. I don't know how Filipino fans feel about that. Pacquiao is such an extraordinary cultural figure. They've never had anybody like him as a worldwide figure in popular culture as far as I know."
Merchant went on to tell me that a huge part of Pacquiao's success was because he had a slew of formidable champions around him who he was able to test himself against such as Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez, and Erik Morales. Donaire doesn't have that luxury at the moment and it will be interesting to see what direction he takes in the coming years.
But that's all just speculation. You never know how things are going to play out, especially in the sport of boxing, and Merchant closed our conversation by pointing out that all Donaire can do is look for the best possible challenges around and continue pushing forward.
"Pacquiao didn't get there overnight. Just keep fighting the best guys out there and good things will happen if you are good enough to beat them. The results will speak for themselves."