Fernando Montiel will be looking for a second straight upset win when he faces Nonito Donaire on Saturday. (Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)
Bantamweights, 12 Rounds
Fernando Montiel v. Nonito Donaire
TV: HBO, 9:45pm EST
For those who didn't much fancy the January fight between Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander despite its matching of two top talents in a hot division, maybe Saturday night's HBO fight will flick your switch. In just the second major American TV fight of 2011, bantamweight stars Fernando Montiel and Nonito Donaire will collide in a fight that, unlike Bradley-Alexander, promises fireworks alongside relevance.
Montiel (44-2-2, 34 KO) is coming in riding a career-best wave thanks to his 2010 upset of Hozumi Hasegawa, which netted him the WBC trinket to go along with his WBO paper belt. Most have him ranked No. 1 in the white-hot 118-pound class these days due to the upset of Hasegawa. Since that win, he's beaten also-rans Rafael Concepcion and Jovanny Soto, a tactic not unfamiliar for many lower weight class titleholders. They stay busy, they keep their belts, they wait for the right fight to come along.
Finally, that right fight is here. For nearly two years, Montiel and Donaire (25-1, 17 KO) have danced around one another. Donaire gained his fame for a shockingly dominant 2007 knockout of Vic Darchinyan. Since then, his resume has been ridiculed, though I think in some respects, a bit unfairly. Before he left for the promised land of Top Rank Inc., Donaire's schedule was forgiven and blamed mostly on promoter issues with Gary Shaw. But truth is, it hasn't really gotten better since singing with Top Rank, as the company has used him largely as a lead on their secondary pay-per-view series, "Pinoy Power."
That said, Donaire does have some quality wins since Darchinyan. Moruti Mthalane and Raul Martinez are both good fighters, and Donaire topped both of them with relative ease, stopping Mthalane in six and Martinez in four. Moving up to 115 from flyweight, Donaire did face a trio of lesser foes in Rafael Concepcion, Manuel "Chango" Vargas and the totally overmatched Hernan Marquez. In his last fight, Donaire thrashed the solid long-time bantamweight contender Wladimir Sidorenko over three-plus rounds, a bloody and totally one-sided affair where he decimated a more than competent opponent.
Grading the Fighters
I don't think either of these guys have a true weakness. Neither are stellar defensively, but they don't get creamed in there due to incompetence, either. Montiel is not the fastest bantamweight, but he throws with conviction and his heavy hands are, of course, his calling card. Donaire, on the other hand, combines great speed with very good power, which could be the real key to the fight. Donaire appears to have a pretty significant edge in hand speed to me.
If anyone does have a weakness, it could be Donaire mentally, but I wouldn't actually expect that to pop up, and that could be a B+ or maybe even higher. The truth about Donaire's focus and ring IQ , I believe, is he legitimately got bored along the way, especially in that Hernan Marquez fight when he spent half the bout fighting southpaw just to entertain himself. When Donaire fought his natural orthodox, he made Marquez look like the undercooked meal that he was signed up to be in the first place. When he went southpaw, he had some problems. But he showed against Sidorenko in December that when he's locked in, he's tough to overcome. He put the beatdown on Martinez and Mthalane, too, as well as Luis Concepcion, who came in as a fairly good challenger (though was past his best by that time). And in his biggest fight to date, he was calm, cool, collected and vicious in taking apart Darchinyan. When he's faced his best opponents, Donaire has looked his best. And I'm pretty certain he does know that Montiel isn't someone to mess with.
I think it probably simplifies it too much to do the "thunder and lightning" hype here and talk about Montiel's power versus Donaire's speed. One thing I particularly like about Montiel is he seems to not waste a lot of motion, so to speak. He looks for the shots that are going to count. What I really worry about with Donaire, actually, is the fact that he doesn't move his head much in recent fights. If he becomes a stationary target for Montiel, he could get himself in real trouble against a banger of this quality.
If they aren't your personal 1-2 division, they're not far from that, most likely, and the fact is that bantamweight is so good that a 1 versus 5 right now could probably get a five-star on the relevance scale. Really, for my money, this is currently the best division in boxing. It has overtaken everything else. The talent is phenomenal, and all of the top guys produce exciting fights. That's very rare. We've got a special class at 118 right now, so enjoy it while it lasts.
Good Fight Potential:
I won't go so far as to guarantee a Fight of the Year contender (although if some better fights don't get made for the second half of the year than what we've got for the first half, who knows?), but the ingredients are there for that sort of fight. Both guys have always taken shots well, but both guys also hit hard and are offense-first fighters. It's a renewal of the new great rivalry in boxing (Mexico v. Philippines), too.
Overall Pre-Fight Score:
There will be few fights that I look forward to watching more than this one in 2011. I will get more excited for whatever big event fights we have, but that's the difference in big event fights and fights that are just great fights. The big event fights have the great video packages and Liev Schreiber (or whoever CBS/Showtime get) and the wonderful hype and the grand stages that give a fight fan the goosebumps when the show goes live. But a fight like this one? I'm calm and ready for it, because I just go in assuming I'm going to sit down and see a good fight.
Like I said before -- and I'll put more emphasis on it now -- Donaire's ability to avoid the big blows is what really worries me going into this fight, as far as looking at how each man could be beaten. If I were the guy in Donaire's camp, that would have been a lot of my focus for this fight. He seems to have lost a lot of his defensive instincts, and Montiel is the sort of guy who can capitalize on that.
From Montiel's side, I think he's going to have to get the knockout or a good amount of knockdowns along the way. I don't think he has the overall package to beat Donaire on points over 12 rounds. A lot of rounds could wind up being fairly one-sided in Donaire's favor, I think. In a way, without the extremes or the bad chin of Amir Khan, the fight reminds me a bit of Khan-Maidana. I really think this is a great fight that will live up to expectations, and I think there's a reasonable argument that both can win this fight, but the clear favorite has to be Nonito Donaire, as it was Khan, because i think there's that level of difference in speed, and well-utilized speed more importantly.
Expect both fighters to be up big-time for this one. For my money, this is the first REAL superfight of 2011. Two terrific fighters, riding momentum into the fight, and the sort of potential style mesh that could really produce something special, and at the very least should be highly entertaining. I'm going with Donaire because when he's on, his skills are among the best in the sport. But don't count out Fernando Montiel scoring another big upset. A lot of us thought he was clearly on the downside going into the Hasegawa fight, and now look where we are. Donaire UD-12
ALSO ON THE CARD: Mike Jones v. Jesus Soto Karass II (Welterweights, 12 Rounds)
I really don't expect this fight to be particularly good or competitive. Like Brick said the other day, Jones is simply too skilled for JSK. I think he learned last time that this guy isn't easy to stop, he's a cut above most of the guys that Mike had faced before then, and that throwing all your eggs into the KO basket too early is a poor strategy. JSK is a tough customer and a fine fighter. He's got a lot of grit. But if Jones fights smarter, and he almost can't fight dumber than he did last time, he'll get a wide win in this one. If he plays his cards right, a late stoppage is hardly out of the question. Jones UD-12