Doug Fischer

Soto, Donaire give fans fights to look forward to in 2011

Urbano Antillon (left) and Humberto Soto landed a combined total of 646 punches, according to CompuBox stats, Saturday in Anaheim, Calif. Photo / Naoki Fukuda

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The co-featured bouts here Saturday delivered a thrilling lightweight slugfest and a breathtaking bantamweight blowout to the 3,253 fans Honda Center and gave hardcore fans everywhere two fights to look forward to in early 2011.

Humberto Soto, who retained a lightweight title via a razor-thin unanimous decision in the grueling main event, is tentatively scheduled to face popular contender Brandon Rios on February 26.

Nonito Donaire, who dropped Wladimir Sidorenko three times en route to stopping the sturdy former titleholder in the fourth round of a one-sided bantamweight bout, will fight Fernando Montiel in an anticipated 118-pound showdown on Feb. 19.

If Soto-Rios, which is supposed to take place at The Palms casino in Las Vegas on Showtime, is anywhere near as heated as Soto-Antillon, fans can expect the boxer-pressure fighter matchup to produce an early fight-of-the-year candidate.

Soto (54-7-2, 32 knockouts), a versatile boxer-puncher from Los Mochis, Mexico, and Antillon (28-2, 20 KOs), a hard-charging body puncher from Maywood, Calif., combined to make a barnburner that featured sustained action and more than a few changes in momentum.

Soto, who won by scores of 115-112 and 114-113 (twice), controlled the majority of rounds with brilliant combination punching, a busy, accurate jab, periodic lateral movement, and beautiful pivots and angles inside. But Antillon’s relentless pressure, punishing body attack and immeasurable courage made the brutal 12-round bout competitive.

“My game plan was to stay close to his body and not let him get distance,” said Antillon, whose face was a bloody, swollen mess by the end the fight. “That’s exactly what I did. We did what we could. I thought the fight was close.”

Soto thought the fight was very difficult but a definite victory.

“I thought I won more clearly than the judges had it,” Soto said through a translator afterward, “but without a doubt it was the toughest fight of my career. Antillon was in great condition. He was ready to put on a great performance tonight. There was a lot of rough tactics from him. I expected that, which is why I never became frustrated by it.”

Antillon, who was docked a point by referee Ray Corona in the sixth round for low blows, roughed Soto up whenever he was in close.

The fight was so punishing that the 30-year-old veteran was not immediately keen on facing Rios, a young unbeaten slugger from Oxnard, Calif., as early as next February. He said during his post-fight interview on the pay-per-view broadcast that he might want to push that fight back to March.

About half an hour later he didn’t want to comment about the Rios fight to ringside reporters.

“All I can think about right now is resting,” Soto said. “Urbano said he wanted a rematch in the ring after the fight and I think he deserves it. Brandon can wait.”

Bob Arum, who promotes all three lightweights, has another idea. The hall-of-fame promoter proposed that Antillon get a crack at another Top Rank-promoted 135-pound beltholder, Miguel Vazquez, in the co-feature to Soto-Rios and the winners face each other. Arum said Soto-Rios could take place in March or April if the titleholder needed more time to recover from Saturday’s fight.

Whenever Soto-Rios takes place, it promises to be an all-action scrap. Rios (26-0-1, 19 KOs) is every bit as game and tough as Antillon, but he's bigger than the Southern Californian and possesses tighter technique.

Antillon brought out the best in Soto, who turned in his most-complete fight since he out-pointed then-undefeated Rocky Juarez at featherweight in 2005. Hardcore fans are salivating at the thought of what Rios will bring out of the hardnosed Mexican technician.

Those same fans can’t wait to see Donaire (25-1, 17 KOs) square off against Montiel, THE RING’s No. 1-rated bantamweight. Both 118 pounders are ranked in THE RING’s Pound-For-Pound ratings. Donaire is No. 5, Montiel No. 7.

Some (including the fighter himself) believe Donaire’s pound-for-pound ranking is too high, but the San Francisco-based Filipino certainly lived up to his vast potential in dispatching Sidorenko (22-3-2, 7 KOs), a 35-year-old veteran who had faced top bantamweight fighters and had never been stopped or dropped before Saturday’s fight.

Simply put, Donaire was too fast, too big, too strong and too powerful for the game but over-matched Ukrainian fighter.

He repeatedly rocked Sidorenko with left hooks and lead right hands in the opening round before putting the tough former beltholder down with a left uppercut-right cross combination just before the bell.

Donaire controlled the second round with his jab, reducing Sidorenko’s face to a bloody mask and probably breaking his nose in the process. A lighting-fast lead hook put Sidorenko down in the third round before a blistering one-two combination knocked the veteran on his back in the fourth. Referee Marcos Rosales did the right thing by waving the fight off at 1:48 of the round.

Donaire, a former flyweight titleholder who was fighting at bantamweight for the first time, wanted to make a statement against Sidorneko, and he did.

“I feel great,” Donaire said after the fight. “This where I want to be (118 pounds). I never questioned my power. I’m motivated and this is what you get from the Filipino Flash when he’s motivated, confident, and not afraid to get hit.”

It was arguably Donaire’s best performance since he scored THE RING’s KO and Upset of the Year by knocking then-undefeated Vic Darchinyan cold in 2007. The 28-year-old boxer-puncher says the Sidorenko fight is definitely his best showing.

“The Darchinyan fight was one punch,” he said. “This was by far my best performance.”

Donaire’s co-trainer Robert Garcia agrees.

“His power, his reflexes, his footwork, everything he did was perfect,” Garcia said. “It was a great performance.”

Fans want to see this version of Donaire pit his speed, reflexes and power against Montiel, a three-division titleholder who is also a quick-thinking, fast-punching and hard-hitting marvel in the ring.

“I’m excited about that fight,” Donaire said. “He has a lot of power, but if you can’t hit your target, it’s useless. All I can say is it’s going to be a tremendous fight.”

And one more reason to look forward to 2011.

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