Fernando Montiel, THE RING‘s No. 1-rated bantamweight, isn‘t concerned about being the underdog in his showdown with Nonito Donaire on Feb. 19. The bantamweight titleholder sees similarities between Donaire and Hozumi Hasegawa, who was also favored to beat him last April. Montiel stopped Hasegawa in four rounds. Photo / Chris Farina-Top Rank
LOS ANGELES — Fernando Montiel wasn’t concerned or offended upon learning that odds makers had listed him as a 2-to-1 underdog against Nonito Donaire in their highly anticipated bantamweight showdown Feb. 19 in Las Vegas.
Although Montiel is the defending titleholder (the 14-year veteran holds two major alphabet belts) and is vastly more experienced than the challenger, he expected Donaire to be the favorite.
The reason? Donaire’s last fight. Donaire, a former flyweight beltholder who had been campaigning at 115 pounds in recent years, looked like a juggernaut bludgeoning respected veteran Wladimir Sidorenko to a brutal fourth-round KO in a bantamweight bout on Dec. 4.
The one-sided performance was a sensational manner for Donaire, who had agreed to fight Montiel before taking on Sidorenko, to announce his move to the 118-pound division and a very high note on which to end the year.
Montiel also had an excellent 2010. The 31-year-old boxer-puncher from Los Mochis, Mexico, defeated Hozumi Hasegawa in the highly regarded bantamweight titleholder’s native Japan last April.
Montiel is a gifted former flyweight and junior bantamweight titleholder who also held a bantamweight belt but he was a 3-to-1 underdog against Hasegawa, who had successfully defended his 118-pound belt 11 times against quality opposition, which earned him THE RING’s No. 1 rating in the division. Montiel knocked the Japanese favorite out in the fourth round.
He says he was unfazed by his underdog status then and he’s unfazed by it now.
“I’m comfortable with it,” Montiel said following a news conference Tuesday. “In fact, being the underdog motivates me. I love a challenge. I love winning when people think I can’t win and proving everyone wrong. I think the most important fights in a fighter’s career are the most-risky ones.”
Montiel acknowledges that his fight with Donaire, which takes place at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino and will be televised on HBO, is dangerous.
“Donaire is the most-talented fighter I’ve ever faced,” Montiel said through interpreter Ricardo Jimenez. “He has a very difficult style that is all his own, but I’m not sure he’s the best I’ve faced.”
That distinction, he says, goes to Hasegawa, who won a featherweight title immediately after losing to Montiel.
Montiel sees many similarities between Hasegawa and Donaire.
He noted that both scored a string of impressive knockouts going into their fights with him. He pointed out that the last time either man had lost was back in 2001. And he says both fighters are essentially lightening-quick counter-punchers with KO power.
“The only real difference in their styles is that Hasegawa is a southpaw and Donaire switch hits [alternates between an orthodox and left-handed stance],” he said. “Other than that, they are very similar.”
Montiel expects a result similar to the Hasegawa fight when he meets Donaire.
“With our speed and power, and our styles, the fight should end in a knockout, maybe an early one,” he said. “I might get knocked down. I expect to be. I think we will both get knocked down.”
Why does he believe he will be able to get up from his knockdown and prevail?
“Experience,” said Montiel (44-2-2, 34 knockouts). “That’s my advantage. I almost have as many title bouts (20) as he has fights (26). I have the experience and intelligence to dissect his style and make him fight my fight. I think I’ve shown over the years that I’m a smart fighter.
“I’m going to put it all together to beat Donaire because this fight will put me at that level of being the best fighter in Mexico and one of the best Mexican bantamweights of all time. I think a win against Donaire will put me on the same level as Ruben Olivares, Carlos Zarate and Lupe Pintor.”
But how does one put it all together against the invincible-looking version of Donaire that appeared to effortlessly bloody the face of Sidorenko and twice drop the former 115-pound titleholder who had never been knocked down or out previously?
“Wait and see,” Montiel said with a sly grin. “The Sidorenko fight was a good win for Nonito but it wasn’t that impressive. You have to consider the level of his opponent. He had a guy in front of him who didn’t do much. Sidorenko was literally walking into Donaire’s punches.
“If Donaire had done that to a fighter who was at Hasegawa’s level, I would have really been impressed. But he didn’t beat a top-level fighter. Sidorenko was at the level of two fighters Donaire and I have both faced, Rafael Concepcion and Luis Maldonado. I knocked out Concepcion in three rounds. Donaire had to go 12 rounds with Concepcion and win by decision. I knocked out Maldonado in three rounds. Donaire took eight rounds to stop him.
“So ask yourself what I would have done to a stationary fighter like Sidorenko, and then ask yourself what will happen when Donaire and I fight. When you really think about it, the odds don‘t matter.”