LAS VEGAS – Ask an expert who he believes will win the Fernando Montiel-Nonito Donaire fight on Saturday and he or she will probably sigh before serving up an answer with minimal conviction. Donaire is a 3-1 betting favorite but most believe it’s a pick-‘em fight.
And why not? This is a rare matchup of two complete, hard-punching fighters on most pound-for-pound lists — Donaire No. 5, Montiel No. 7, according to THE RING — who are at the peak of their abilities.
Montiel (44-2-2, 34 knockouts) has flown under the radar for much of his career, the victim of his diminutive size and the overwhelming popularity of such Mexican icons as Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez.
But his credentials are impeccable. He has won titles in three weight divisions. Twenty of his last 27 fights were for major titles and his record was 18-2 in those fights, both setbacks being close decisions. He’s on a roll, having last lost in 2006.
And, perhaps most important to fans, he has one-punch knockout power. He has stopped nine of his last 11 opponents, all of them good fighters.
He also is beginning to get the attention at 31 that has eluded him, particularly after a stunning fourth-round knockout of Japanese star Hozumi Hasegawa last April in Tokyo that gave him the WBC bantamweight title to go with his WBO belt.
“I always believed that I was that level type of fighter,” he said. “One of the elite fighters, but I never had the opportunity to fight one of those type fighters. …That opportunity was there and I took it. I showed the level that I was at. It was one of those wins that puts you at another level.”
Robert Garcia, Donaire’s trainer and a Mexican-American, has followed Montiel’s career closely.
“I’ve always admired him,” Garcia said when asked how tough this fight is. “He’s a very good fighter, a tough, tough guy. This is very tough fight.”
Tough for Montiel, too.
Donaire (25-1, 17 KOs) is another fighter who has campaigned in relative anonymity much of his career, coming into his own just as Manny Pacquiao was opening doors for Filipino and Filipino-born fighters in the mid-2000s.
The San Francisco Bay-area product isn’t as accomplished as Montiel but he also has an impressive resume, having last lost in his second fight and going 4-0 in title bouts.
And he punches at least as hard as Montiel. He has stopped eight of his last nine opponents, all but one of whom has had at least solid credentials.
The San Francisco Bay product appeared to have his break-through moment when he stopped then-unbeaten Vic Darchinyan in fifth-round of their 2007 fight to win a 112-pound title. But the triumph led only to more low-profile fights.
Donaire, 28, served notice in his most-recent fight that remains a force, though, dominating and then stopping former bantamweight titleholder Wladimir Sidorenko in four rounds in December. He looked superhuman.
Clearly, neither fighter has been better than he is at this very moment.
And that leads us to Saturday, as well as many questions.
Will Montiel’s experience, combined with is all-around ability, turn out to be the deciding factor? Or will Donaire’s unusual combination of ability, strength and speed turn out to be too much for the smaller Mexican?
Or, in spite of all of the above, will the winner simply be the one lands the big punch first?
“If I make a mistake, I know what could happen. And if he makes a mistake, it’s over,” Donaire said.
And what will be the fate of both the winner and loser?
Of course, that depends on how the fight goes. A close, entertaining fight – one in which there is no obvious winner or loser – could lead to a rematch. They both said they’d be open to a second fight, probably at 122 pounds.
A one-sided fight could send the participants in opposite directions. The winner will continue his recent ascent. Montiel has said he plans to move up to junior featherweight in an attempt to become the first Mexican to win titles in four weight classes. Donaire has expressed interest in facing the winner of the Abner Mares-Joseph Agbeko fight on April 23 to determine the best 118-pounder on the planet.
The loser of a one-sided fight? Start rebuilding.
“This is an all-or-nothing fight that no one can miss,” Donaire fight.
The latter is something with which everyone agrees. It’s a little-man dream matchup.
“I want people to go in there and say that is a fight that they will remember for a long time,” Montiel said. “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.”
Photos / Naoki Fukuda
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