Nonito Donaire has his dream. Now he has to be careful it doesn’t become his nightmare.On Feb. 19, the 28-year-old miniature Manny from General Santos City will step into the ring against unified bantamweight champion Fernando Montiel in a fight Donaire has chased for some time. That it has finally come to pass is a reflection of economics more than anything else but for fight fans it is a long-awaited confrontation between two guys who are going to decide who is the best bantamweight in the world – at least until the SHOWTIME bantamweight tournament is finished and a new challenger emerges.
Until then the issue is to be decided between the hard punching Donaire and the supremely intellectual Montiel, who knocks people out as much with his plan as he does with his hand.
Donaire (25-1, 17 KO) on the other hand is all about aggression and speed, a clone of his countryman, Pacquiao. If Donaire supplants Montiel as the WBO/WBC bantamweight title holder it will be his third world championship at a different weight (IBF flyweight, WBA super flyweight), a far cry from Pacquiao’s six (forget about that eight nonsense) but enough to remind the world that among the little men he stands tall.
Of course, so does the quick handed and sly Montiel (44-2-2, 34 KO), which is where living your dream can become a problem. Less than a year ago Hozumi Hasegawa thought he was living his dream when he had the opportunity to add Montiel’s WBO title to the WBA bantamweight championship he’d worn for five years.
That dream went south in less than five rounds as Montiel outwit and outhit Hasegawa. What that should mean to Donaire is simply this: beware what you ask for because you might get it and it might hit you…repeatedly.
“This is an all-or-nothing fight,’’ Donaire said last week. “This is a fight that is not going to last the whole 12 rounds. This is the biggest fight of my career.’’
More importantly, it figures to be the most difficult one as well. Although some feel that at 31 Montiel is on the shady side of the street there seems little reason to look at him that way.
He has beaten some of the best bantamweights in the world and he’s done it in a style that is as much about planning and execution as it is raw skill and nerve. Although Montiel has plenty of the latter, he has so much of the former young Donaire seems to sense that this night will be different than all the others he has known in boxing.
“Montiel is the most complete fighter I have faced,’’ Donaire conceded. “He’s been there for quite a while. People say he may be shot because he’s been fighting for such a long time but he’s been fighting guys at the top of his weight class. He’s capable of anything.
“He’s the smartest guy I’ve ever faced. I’ve faced tougher guys than that but as far as smarter I would say he’s the most strategic overall fighter I will have faced.
“He knows the ring well. His advantage is height and speed. I think I’m a better strategist than Montiel. His strength is experience but I also have my strengths.
“His other strength is his ability to adapt to styles. He can be versatile. He has a tremendous punch, a good body punch, but in terms of strength I have it. In terms of experience, he does but I’ve fought enough guys to say I do also. It’s going to be a long fight.’’
If it is it will be a tactical one decided as much by who will be the thinking man in the ring that night. But, truth be told, the same is true if it’s a short night because if that’s the case it will be because someone was lured down a dark alley he thought was well lit until he got hit.
“One mistake from me or one mistake from him and it’s going to be over,’’ Donaire said. “He may come out of there unscratched but it won’t last 12 rounds.’’
It may not. Fact of the matter is most of Montiel’s fights don’t and most of the reason why is Montiel out-quicks his opponents, landing two and three punch combinations and then disappearing until his opponent implodes.
It is something Montiel is confident about because he’s done it time and again. Done it to bigger men than Donaire and to more experienced ones.
“Obviously, he’s a fighter with a lot of speed,’’ Montiel said. “He moves around the ring and is an intelligent fighter. The question to me is what is going to happen when he fights a guy that is just as intelligent, just as strong, just as good as he is?
“That is the question – when he fights someone that is equal to him (what happens). I think it’s the first time he will find a fighter (in front of him) that is just as good as he is.’’
For Donaire, it is a scenario somewhat like the night he faced then undefeated Vic Darchinyan. He was a 7-1 underdog then, a kid who was not supposed to survive that night but ended up starching Darchinyan with a shot so powerful it became RING magazine’s Knockout of the Year.
The likelihood of delivering the same kind of punch to Montiel is slim both because he is far better defensively than Darchinyan and much bigger. At 5-7 Montiel is taller than Donaire and, more importantly, not a novice to the bantamweight division as Donaire really is.
Yet when last seen at 118 pounds Donaire was standing over a thrice fallen former WBA champion named Wladimir Sidorenko, becoming the first man to stop him when they squared off last December. Sidorenko is no Montiel to be sure but he was a true bantamweight, a fact that seems to have left Donaire at ease at least with the idea of successfully moving up in weight from flyweight and super fly, a walk Pacquiao made so successfully it has inspired Donaire to do the same.
“In the last fight (vs. Sidorenko) I felt stronger and faster,’’ Donaire claimed. “In the last two weeks of camp I’m usually cutting down (weight), actually three weeks, but this time I was focusing on strategic moves and not having to worry about the weight too much. It’s like Manny Pacquiao going up – he feels very comfortable. I feel strong. I look bigger and the speed is still there.
“I think I can fight as heavy as 130, 135 because of how much bigger I have become. I’m naturally strong and naturally fast. Manny is an inspiration in my career. I’m inspired to see no impossibility. That’s what he wants me to do, keep moving my feet to see how far I can go.’’
Come Saturday, moving his feet would be a good idea for Nonito Donaire. A better one would be to move his head because if he doesn’t a wise old underdog named Fernando Montiel could turn a young man’s dream into a long nightmare at the office.