LAS VEGAS – Manny Pacquiao has had many accomplishments in his career. One, according to Fernando Montiel, is single handedly creating a rivalry between two countries.
Pacquiaio, the pride of the Philippines, has been called “The Mexicutioner.” He hates the nickname but it’s apt.
The No. 1 fighter in the world has beaten a string of top Mexican fighters, from Marco Antonio Barrera to Juan Manuel Marquez to Erik Morales and most recently to Antonio Margarito.
And don’t think the Mexicans haven’t noticed. We think of Mexico vs. Puerto Rico as perhaps the most-passionate and most-enduring rivalry in the sport but, evidently, Mexico vs. The Philippines a is growing rivalry.
“With Pacquiao beating so many Mexicans, he created one,” Montiel said through a translator.
Montiel will have a chance to exact some revenge for his countrymen on Saturday, when he defends his bantamweight titles against Philippines-born Nonito Donaire at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino on HBO (9:45 p.m. PT / ET).
The native of boxing hotbed Los Mochis has already beaten a good Filipino fighter, Z Gorres in 2007. And Donaire has beaten a number of Mexican fighters, which is natural given that he is based in California.
National pride will be particularly thick on Saturday, though, because of the magnitude of the fight.
These are two of the best fighters in the world – Donaire rated No. 5 pound for pound by THE RING, Montiel No. 7 – in the prime of their careers.
They’re also probably the second best fighters from their respective countries, Donaire behind Pacquiao and Montiel second to Juan Manual Marquez at the moment.
That adds to Montiel’s motivation.
“I want to get even for all the ones Pacquiao has beaten, to get a win for us,” he said at the final news conference before the fight.
Donaire feels the same way.
“We definitely take pride with us when we go into the ring,” said Donaire, who has a growing fan base in his native country. “The pride of him being Mexican and me being Filipino brings motivation. It gives us more heart, makes us fight harder.
“And it’s not only for the fighters. I think it’s for everybody who supports the fight. It’s nation vs. nation. I think it’s just healthy for the sport.”
Breaking through: Montiel, 31, has been an elite fighter for more than 10 years, with titles in three weight classes and only two close decision losses on his impressive record (44-2-2, 34 knockouts).
Still, he has been largely overlooked as he has fought in the shadows of the Barreras, Marquezes and Moraleses.
“I’ve fought some real tough guys, just not big-name guys. That’s changing now, first with the Japanese fighter and now Donaire,” Montiel said.
The Japanese fighter was then WBC 118-pound titleholder Hozumi Hasegawa, one of the most-respected fighters in the world who faced Montiel on his home turf last April.
The fact Montiel, a heavy underdog, scored a stunning fourth-round knockout was the kind of breakthrough victory he had been waiting for, one that caught the attention of Mexican fans.
And now he has a chance to take another big step toward the stardom that has eluded him.
A veteran boxing writer from Mexico, part of a good-sized contingent in Las Vegas, was asked how Montiel is perceived south of the border. Is he a popular figure in his boxing-crazy native country.
“He is now,” she said.
Even stronger? Donaire (25-1, 17 KOs) already is known as a physical freak, a fighter who seems somehow bigger than he should be at his weight.
He and Wladimir Sidorenko weighed within a half pound of one another in their most-recent fight but, in the ring, Donaire seemed to be a weight class or two ahead of the accomplished Russian fighter.
The result? A brutal fourth-round knockout for Donaire.
And he says he’ll be even stronger for this fight. He received a phone call Thursday from infamous nutritionist Victor Conte, who oversees his supplement program, and was told he has 11 percent more muscle mass than he did against Sidorenko.
“I think I’m more right for the bantamweight division compared to the last fight,” said Donaire, who had been fighting at 115 pounds before Sidorenko. “I’m physically strong. My muscles are bigger. Victor Conte called me and told me, ‘You’re a monster. You’re red blood cells have increased in size, meaning you can take in more oxygen.’
“He said, ‘You’re in tremendous shape. And your muscle mass will give you more speed and power as well.’”
Donaire acknowledged that it has been somewhat more difficult to make the weight limit because he is bigger, but he’s not concerned.
“Last time, it was pretty easy to get down (to 118),” he said. “This time, it has taken a little more effort. Everything is good, though. I feel great.”
Home sweet home: Donaire and his wife, Rachel, recently bought a condo in Las Vegas, meaning he has been able to enjoy the comforts of home after his workouts in the days leading up to the fight as opposed to going to a hotel room.
Is that a good thing?
“It’s a good thing because you want to be as relaxed as possible,” he said. “… I think this is an advantage for me. It’s the first time I’m doing it for the first time this fight and I’m very relaxed. I’m just ready.”
KO predictions: Montiel said he will knock out Donaire within 10 rounds. Donaire said he’ll stop Montiel inside six.
So I’ll say someone will get knocked out in eight.
Photos: Chris Cozzone / FightWireImages