As Nonito Donaire ascended the dais after knocking out Fernando Montiel, he said, "Three months ago, I was telling everyone, ‘Second round.'" In the future, Donaire may want to place a bet on himself prior to telling the press.
Saturday at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, two nations marshaled around two fighters: Mexico for Fernando Montiel and the Philippines for Nonito Donaire. It is a burgeoning rivalry, only furthered when the Filipino Manny Pacquiao recently demolished Mexican Antonio Margarito. (Ironically, Mexican-American Robert Garcia trains both Margarito and the Filipino Donaire.) Pacquiao flew in by private jet to see the fight, though was running late and Donaire knocked out Montiel before Pacquiao could even make it into the arena.
Both Montiel and Donaire have struggled to rise from their diminutive size and the shadows of their respective countries boxing superstars such as Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, and Manny Pacquiao. (Those names were relevant to Montiel-Donaire, which marked the 10th anniversary of Barrera-Morales.) As does every citizen of the Philippines, Donaire admires Pacquiao, and said of his own status in boxing among Filipinos, "I don't mind being called number two."
While Montiel's unified bantamweight titles were on the line along with supremacy of the bantamweight division, on a deeper level, at stake was a search for a stardom for the 28 year-old Donaire and due recognition for Montiel, who has gone 18-2 in title fights with world titles in three weight divisions. Donaire was the 3-1 favorite, but many experts believed the fight to be up for grabs.
After just over 100 combined punches, Donaire rose from the shadows with a counter left hook that laid Montiel out on the canvas, legs flailing in uncontrolled tremors. Donaire said of the blow, "That was the hardest punch I ever threw in my life. I was really surprised he got back up." Montiel endured two more punches which he likely will never recall before the referee put an end to the fight. Donaire may now also rise in weight.
On April 23, IBF bantamweight champion Abner Mares faces Joseph Agbeko. The winner would produce the only viable opponent for Donaire in his weight class. His promoter Bob Arum, however, does not believe either Mares or Agbeko is at the level of his fighter. Before the press afterwards, Arum said, "Nonito is a star... his speed and punching power is incredible...I don't think any bantamweight stands a chance with Donaire."
Donaire still has his eyes on unifying all the titles of his division, saying, "I want to be undisputed in this division." But he also conceded interest in rising to the challenge of super bantamweight champion Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. When asked if he now considers himself a star, Donaire replied, "I don't know about star yet, but I do believe I belong in the pound to pound list." At this point, unified junior welterweight champion Timothy Bradley put Donaire in the company of Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, shouting to him from the audience, "Number three, baby! Pound for pound!"
Donaire smiled. He said of his future, "I want to go as high as 130, maybe 135." He then paused and said, "I want to see where this little boy who never believed in himself can go," then echoed what so many now believe, "This is just the beginning."