"The fight can change in a second," says Donaire's manager, Cameron Dunkin. "Both are tremendous punchers. This is a matchup I really didn't want to make. I was scared to death of Montiel. You make one mistake with him, and it's bye, bye, see ya."
Unlike many fighters with padded power records, Montiel (43-2-2, 33 KOs) pounded his out at the highest levels of boxing. He is 17-2 in championship fights and has won 13 of them by knockout. It's a virtual given that if he tags you, it's lights out, as the 5'4 Montiel, one of the best "finishers" in boxing, demonstrated last year. He travelled to Japan, a 3-1 underdog against reigning champion Hozumi Hasegawa, who had won 25 straight over a nine-year span. The Japanese fighter was slightly ahead on all three cards with just nine seconds left in the fourth round when Montiel clobbered him with a left hook. The blow sent him staggering across the ring into the ropes. Montiel sprinted after him and peppered him with punches before the ref stopped it.
Donaire (25-1, 17 KOs) showed he also has that kind of one-and-done power in his fight with Darchinyan. Midway through the fifth round Darchinyan lunged in with a straight left. Donaire, an excellent counterpuncher with great hand speed, connected with a left hook that sent the Australian down to the canvas. So devastating was the punch that when Darchinyan bravely got to his feet he staggered like a drunk across the ring into the ropes. The fight was quickly waved off before Donaire could inflict more damage.
Donaire, who has knocked out eight of his last nine opponents, has no illusions that Montiel will be as easy to hit as the reckless Darchinyan. "Fernando Montiel is the best fighter I've ever faced and certainly the toughest challenge of my professional career. I'm taking on a great champion. I have power, he has power. I want to win by knockout. He wants to win by knockout."
Just who will do that could be determined by the vast difference in experience between Donaire and Montiel. The 31-year-old Montiel won his first championship in December of 2000, two months before Donaire even made his professional debut. For the better part of the next 10 years, Montiel has remained a champion. Widely considered a future Hall of Famer, Montiel is one of only five Mexican fighters who've won titles in three different weight divisions, including all-time greats Julio Cesar Chavez, Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez and Marco Barrera. Montiel's only losses have been a majority decision to Mark Johnson in 2003 and a split decision in an ill-advised fight with a bigger Jhonny Gonzalez in 2006. In his 15-year career Montiel has fought in 140 championship rounds, which is nine more than Donaire's entire ring experience.
The stakes are somewhat different for each. Win or lose, Montiel's place in boxing history is assured. "If Montiel loses he can go home to Mexico and win another title and be right back in," Dunkin says. "At 28, Nonito is not a spring chicken. If he loses he will be forgotten. Everything is on the line here for him. It is all or nothing. If he doesn't get by this he won't get a second chance. He has to show he belongs."
It looked like Donaire had arrived when he knocked out the heavily-favored Darchinyan. But in seven fights since Donaire hasn't tangled again with an elite boxer. Dunkin says it's not been for lack of trying. "I couldn't get anybody to go into the ring with him. So now people say, 'who has he beaten? He beat one guy. What has he done since to prove it wasn't a fluke?' That's why this fight is so important. He will either lose and just be a small division fighter, or win and become a real big star."
The fight may come down to which boxer is able to impose his style. Montiel is a very smart, patient fighter who throws precision punches. Despite having heavy hands, he doesn't get careless and try to take you out early. In this fight, though, he has promised to be the aggressor. Donaire says that's fine with him. He plans to neutralize Montiel with fast counterpunches. "Montiel is going to try to come in and work Nonito's body," Dunkin says. "He has a great liver punch. So Nonito is going to have to keep him at arm's length and catch him at the end of his punches. If Montiel gets hit with some big shots and gets hurt, he's apt not to come back in. If he succeeds in getting inside, Nonito will have big problems."