By Keith Idec
Three-and-a-half years have passed since the night Nonito Donaire’s devastating left hook knocked Vic Darchinyan silly.
He has won each of his seven fights since scoring that huge upset in Bridegport, Conn. Six of those victories have come by knockout and Donaire has secured a spot in the top 10 on virtually every pound-for-pound list.
Donaire has even earned a reputation as a “Mini-Manny,” a fighter whose popularity has grown in his native Philippines as he has developed into one of the most polished prizefighters in the world. Yet even “The Filipino Flash” feels as though he hasn’t capitalized enough on the Darchinyan win, largely because he spent so much time trying to arrange a rematch with Darchinyan that seemingly wasn’t meant to be.
Even without fighting Darchinyan again, Donaire (25-1, 17 KOs) feels as though there should’ve been bigger fights and more noteworthy wins on his resume over the past couple years. That’s what makes fighting Fernando Montiel a week from tonight in Las Vegas so important for the 28-year-old Donaire’s career.
If he overcomes Montiel (44-2-2, 34 KOs) in his first HBO main event, Donaire knows he’ll have recorded his biggest victory since he won Darchinyan’s IBF flyweight title.
“My marketability will skyrocket,” said Donaire, a San Leandro, Calif., resident who moved from the Philippines when he was 10. “My name will get bigger and I will get bigger fights. People will come after me because that’s what happens when you’re on top. My name is in the top pound-for-pound lists and no one can that take away from me after I beat Montiel.”
Still, Donaire doesn’t think he is in for anything resembling an easy fight against a determined Mexican champion who hasn’t lost a fight since Jhonny Gonazalez beat him by split decision in May 2006.
“I think Montiel is the most complete fighter I will have faced,” Donaire said. “This is the biggest fight of my career.”
Donaire has heard that Montiel, 31, is past his prime because he has had 48 fights since he made his pro debut 14 years ago in Los Mochis, Mexico. He doesn’t understand what people are watching, especially since Montiel is just nine months removed from the biggest win of his career, a fourth-round technical knockout of favored Hozumi Hasegawa (29-3, 12 KOs) in Hasegawa’s native Japan.
“Montiel has been there for quite a while,” said Donaire, who’ll fight for Montiel’s WBC and WBO bantamweight titles. “People say he may be shot because he has been fighting for such a long time, but no, he has been fighting guys at the top of his weight class. I know he is up there and capable of anything. I am training as hard as I can to see how I can take advantage of Montiel. He has a lot to offer in this fight.
“This is going to be more a strategic fight. He’s the smartest guy I have ever faced. I have faced tougher guys than that. As far as the smartest, I would say he is the most strategic overall fighter I will have faced. It’s going to be a long fight. One mistake from me or one mistake from him, and it’s going to be over.”
Though he had to move up just three pounds from super flyweight to compete at bantamweight, Donaire’s fight against Montiel will be just his second at 118 pounds. He knocked out Ukraine’s Volodymyr Sydorenko (22-3-2, 7 KOs) in the fourth round of his bantamweight debut Dec. 4 in Anaheim, Calif.
“I think he is a good fighter, but I think he was better at either 112 or 115,” Montiel said. “We’ll see how good he is at 118.”
Montiel has been tremendous at 118. He is 6-0-1 since the former WBO super flyweight champion moved up from 115 pounds late in 2008.
“[Donaire] looked really great against Sydorenko, but I’m not Sydorenko,” Montiel said. “Sydorenko just stood there in front of him, and I think you have to take that into consideration, too. I’m not going to be standing in front of him. I’m going to be moving around and I’ll be doing my job, too. I think our styles match real well and it’s going to be a good fight.”
Promoter Bob Arum and fight fans starved for the first highly entertaining bout of 2011 hope that it’s better than good, especially after the Timothy Bradley-Devon Alexander fight left most observers disappointed two weeks ago. Donaire and Montiel are both big punchers, and although neither fighter has been knocked out, neither expects this fight at Mandalay Bay Events Center to go the distance.
“You have to fight smart, but I am here to entertain, too,” Montiel said. “I want people to go in there and say that is a fight that they will remember for a long time. If we need to break into a war, let’s do a war, if that’s what needs to be done. But it is certainly not going to be a boring fight.”
Donaire hasn’t lost since dropping a five-round unanimous decision in his second professional fight nearly 10 years ago. Extending his winning streak would leave him with numerous options, either at bantamweight or at 122 pounds, a division he has already expressed interest in exploring.
Pacquiao has encouraged Donaire to continue moving up in weight, a path Pacquiao has traveled toward becoming a superstar and the most transcendent boxer in the world. Donaire is inspired by his fellow Filipino and Arum is eager to see just how big a star he can help Donaire become if he beats Montiel.
“A promoter’s dream is that you get a fighter to be as successful as someone that has now become the face of boxing — Manny Pacquiao,” said Arum, whose Top Rank Inc. represents Donaire and Montiel. “I will be very happy if Nonito Donaire continues to win and beats all the top fighters and reaches the prominent position he is capable of.
“You couldn’t duplicate Ali and you couldn’t duplicate ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard. You can’t duplicate, but you can forge your own story and that’s what Nonito is in the process of doing. Whether it resonates as much as Pacquiao or Leonard or one of these other guys, that remains to be seen. He is trying to create a great story for himself and his career.”
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, NJ., and BoxingScene.com.