Nonito Donaire: I don’t want to compare Donaire to countryman Manny Pacquiao, which might be the inclination of many after his breathtaking second-round knockout of Fernando Montiel on Saturday in Las Vegas. It wouldn’t be fair to Donaire. Pacquiao’s accomplishments are unparalleled among this generation of fighters. I want to say two things, though. One, I had the same feeling seeing Donaire destroy Montiel with that left hook as I did when Pacquiao did the same to Ricky Hatton. I sensed I was seeing not just a brutal knockout but the work of a very special athlete. And, two, I see a lot of Pacquiao in Donaire. His combination of ability, speed (both hand and foot), power and utter confidence is virtually insurmountable. He also has something Pacquiao doesn’t: He’s tall for his weight, which he also uses to his advantage. And if all that wasn’t enough, consider what friend Andre Ward said: “He’s not as good as he can be. You’ll see.” Scary thought.
Fernando Montiel: The accomplished Mexican can bounce back from this, even at 31. He had never endured anything like his fate on Saturday, having lost only two close decisions. He can always go with the canned excuse: “Hey, it could happen to anyone.” And, hey, he fell victim to one of the hottest fighters on the planet. No great shame in that. He’ll almost certainly move immediately up to the junior featherweight division, where I believe he’ll still have a chance to become the first Mexican to win major titles in four weight divisions. And he obviously belongs in a higher weight class. He weighed a surprising 134 pounds (16 over the weight limit) on the night of the fight. That’s extremely heavy for a bantamweight. Donaire is considered a big 118-pounder but he weighed only 126 on Saturday. I believe Montiel will be very comfortable – and effective – at 122.
Donaire’s immediate future: Donaire said after his victory that he “definitely” wants to unify the 118-pound titles, meaning he wants to face the winner of the fight between IBF titleholder Joseph Agbeko and Abner Mares on April 23. There is a potential problem, though. Mares is promoted by Golden Boy Promotions, with which Bob Arum of Top Rank doesn’t do business. Agbeko is promoted by Don King, with whom Arum would work. The wild card is that Donaire’s contract with Top Rank expires in May. If he elects to go with a different promoter, then he presumably could fight either Mares or Agbeko. A less likely option would be to pursue WBA titleholder Anselmo Moreno or move immediately into the 122-pound division, which isn’t particularly rich in big-name fighters. The hope here is that he maintains his remarkable momentum regardless of who he faces.
MOST UNCERTAIN II
Donaire fighting for RING title: Donaire had the WBC belt on one shoulder and the WBO belt on the other when he said to me: “I want to fight for your belt [against either Agbeko or Mares],” referring to THE RING bantamweight championship. I said, “Well, the problem is that Anselo Moreno is rated No. 2 at the moment.” He said with a smile, “C’mon, no one knows who Anselmo Moreno is.” Of course, we have to see how things shake out. The ratings at this moment are, in order: Montiel, Moreno, Agbeko, Mares and Donaire. Donaire could jump to No. 1 while Montiel drops down and Agbeko and Mares remain in place. Then we’d have to see whether the Agbeko-Mares winner leapfrogs over Moreno into the No. 2 spot, which would set up a championship match. And, again, Donaire is unlikely to pursue a fight with Moreno because the Panamanian’s lack of name recognition.
BIGGEST WINNER II
Mike Jones: I’m not sure what to make of Jones. I was impressed with his performance in his rematch with Jesus Soto-Karass on the Donaire-Montiel undercard Saturday. He paced himself well, corrected an error he made in their first meeting, and clearly outboxed a solid opponent to win a unanimous decision. He obviously is a terrific athlete with good boxing skills who also is willing to mix it up at times, which makes for a good fighter. He controlled the fight with his jab but also landed effective combinations and was an elusive target because of his quick feet. That said, to quote my co-editor Doug Fischer and respected writer Steve Kim: “Something is missing.” Maybe he’s still gaining polish. Or maybe he just isn’t going to be the star some have predicted he would be. I want to see how he does against a next-level opponent before making a judgment.
Jesus Soto-Karass The tough-as-they-come Mexican was cut above both eyes, very badly above the left, and blood streamed down his face in the third round. As he bled, with fire in his eyes, he smiled and summoned Jones to him as if saying, “C’mon, man, let’s fight.” And that he did. Jones used his superior skills to win a unanimous decision but Soto-Karass did what he always does, fight his heart out for every second of every round to make it competitive. Several of those on press row said the same thing during the fight: “Man, that guy is a real fighter.” And that isn’t lost on the fans. He has failed to win each of his past four fights, three losses and a no contest, and hasn’t won a fight since 2009. Still, he probably has made more fans in two losses to Jones than most fighters make in a career. People love a true warrior. And don’t be surprised if he wins a title yet. That’s what happens to good fighters who never give up.
Bob Arum: Boxing people often have a lot of nerve. And, of course, blustery promoters are often the worst offenders. Take Arum’s criticism of Andre Berto’s apparent choice to fight Victor Ortiz, saying that “you people should be getting tired of seeing Andre Berto fight busboys and junior welters whose only distinction is quitting,” a reference to Ortiz’s weight class and decision to bail out of his fight against Marcos Maidana. Arum said Berto should fight someone like Jones, who he co-promotes. Well, first of all, Ortiz has a much bigger name than Jones. Marketability is something Arum always preaches. And, second, Arum is the same promoter who has paired Pacquiao with a series of questionable opponents (with the exception of Miguel Cotto). Obviously, Arum is doing two things: Taking a shot at arch rival Golden Boy (Ortiz’s promoter) and doing his job by promoting Jones. Can’t blame him for the latter.
Junior Witter: The fortunes of a fighter can chance quickly. Montiel knows that now. And so does Witter. The talented Britton was on top of the boxing world in the spring of 2008. He was riding a 21-fight winning streak and held the WBC junior welterweight title, which he successfully defended twice. It was all downhill after that. He lost a split decision and his title to Timothy Bradley in May 2008 in the UK. Then, after stopping little-known Argentine Victor Hugo Castro, he retired claiming an elbow injury in a bid to regain his title against Devon Alexander. And, on Saturday, it got worse. He lost a unanimous decision to Toronto-based Victor Puiu in a comeback fight in Ontario. Witter reportedly acquitted himself well for much of the fight but faded down the stretch. Now we must wonder whether the once-bright boxer will soon fade from the scene.
MOST FINISHED II?
Rocky Juarez: The 2000 U.S. Olympian from Houston seemed destined to win at least one major title in his career. He had that good amateur pedigree, he boxed well and he could punch. However, when the opportunities presented themselves, he could never get it done. Five times he fought for major titles and five times he failed to leave with a belt. And now it appears that his time has run out. Juarez lost a unanimous decision to solid fringe contender Alejandro Sanabria on Saturday in Mexico, his fourth consecutive loss and eighth setback in his last 14 fights. If Juarez has proved anything, it’s that he never gives up. And he probably won’t give up now. It’s hard to imagine him getting any more major opportunities, though. And if that’s still possible, it could be a long road getting there.
Felix Sturm: The veteran middleweight titleholder from Germany probably wouldn’t have fared well against Thomas Hearns. Not many did. But Ronald Hearns? Not a problem. Sturm, rated No. 1 by THE RING, stopped the legend’s son in seven rounds on Saturday in his home country. That was his ninth successful defense of the WBA title he won in 2007, an impressive run of consistency. OK, he hasn’t fought any world beaters during his streak. But we know he can fight. He proved it by giving Oscar De La Hoya all he could handle in a disputed loss in 2004 and then rolling over solid opposition during the subsequent seven years, going 15-1-1 in 17 fights since De La Hoya. He deserves recognition as one of the more successful fighters of the current era.
Urbano Antillon: Fighters don’t like to show vulnerability in or out of the ring. That’s what made Urbano Antillon’s comments on the morning of the Donaire-Montiel fight particularly refreshing. He was speaking about his memorable war against Humberto Soto in December. “I’m gonna be honest with you guys … I haven’t told many people this … but this was the first fight … and I never thought I’d question myself in the ring … that I questioned whether I wanted to continue or not. In the seventh or eighth round, I was hoping the doctor would (stop it because of) the cut or something.” The fact he didn’t quit says a lot about him, though. When the doctor did ask whether he could continue, he said, “Yeah, I’m ready to go.” Antillon is always ready to go, which is why he’s one of the more-entertaining fighters in the world. He faces Soto in a rematch on the Pacquiao-Shane Mosley card on May 7.
Fernando Montiel: “I knew we both had the punching power to knock each other out. I made the first mistake and I paid for it.”
Donaire-Montiel photo / Naoki Fukuda; Jones-Soto-Karass photo / Chris Farina-Top Rank