Commentary

Fernando Montiel gets shot at next level

Updated: February 11, 2011, 3:40 PM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

MontielKazugiro Nogi/AFP/Getty ImagesFernando Montiel's knockout of Hozumi Hasegawa put him in place for the biggest fight of his career Feb. 19 versus Nonito Donaire.

Quick, name the five Mexican fighters who have won world titles in three weight classes. The first four probably come easily to mind for fight fans. The small, select group includes boxing royalty: Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., Juan Manuel Marquez, Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera.

Those four are Mexican legends. And the fifth? It's Fernando Montiel, lesser known and not nearly as revered as the others.

Yet Montiel, who turned pro in 1996 at age 17, has -- as quietly as a fighter can -- won belts in three weight divisions, flyweight, junior bantamweight (two reigns) and bantamweight, where he has unified two belts and is widely regarded as the world's No. 1 fighter at 118 pounds.

Not all that long ago, Montiel, 31, looked like he might be winding down a career filled with rough, tough fights. In September 2009, in a nontitle bout, Montiel was knocked down, hurt and cut by Alejandro Valdez.

Only a blown call by the referee kept Montiel from having a loss added to his record. A clean punch opened a bad cut over Montiel's left eye that forced the fight to be stopped in the third round. The cut was ruled to be from an accidental head butt even though video replays showed it clearly was caused by a punch.

Montiel had been repeatedly rocked in the fight and looked like he was on his last legs.

But in the four fights since Montiel has looked tremendous, notching three title defenses and one nontitle victory.

Montiel's signature win, the one that put him back on many pound-for-pound lists, came last April, when, as the underdog, he traveled to Japan to face Hozumi Hasegawa, one of Asia's most respected fighters, in a unification fight.

Hasegawa was leading on all three scorecards going into the fourth round when Montiel suddenly turned things around, catching Hasegawa and badly staggering him moments before the round ended, causing the referee to stop the fight.

With that victory, plus an impressive third-round knockout of Rafael Concepcion in a July encore, Montiel earned the biggest fight of his career, a return to HBO to face former flyweight titlist and top-10 pound-for-pound fighter Nonito Donaire (25-1, 17 KOs), of the Philippines.

They'll meet in the much-anticipated main event of a "Boxing After Dark" doubleheader on Feb. 19 (HBO, 9:45 p.m. ET/PT) at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

Montiel knows it was the knockout of Hasegawa that put him in position to return to HBO for the first time in five years.

"I always believed that I was that level of fighter, one of the elite fighters, but I never had the opportunity to fight one of those type fighters," Montiel said of Hasegawa through translator Ricardo Jimenez, a publicist for promoter Top Rank. "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.

"When the name came up, Hasegawa, and I beat him, the fight against Donaire became very real. Before that there were some doubts about whether I could get that fight, which for me is great. I do want these kinds of fights, I do want to be known and I do want to be the best."

When he last appeared on HBO, Montiel (43-2-2, 33 KOs) owned a junior bantamweight title and moved up to challenge then-bantamweight beltholder Jhonny Gonzalez. Montiel lost a split decision in a dreadful fight. HBO executives didn't want to hear his name after the performance he turned in. It has taken him all these years to earn a return invitation.

"That fight against Gonzalez, I think was a question of styles," Montiel said. "We just couldn't get together. His style and my style could never match that night. It was a difficult fight for both of us and we each wanted to show something and it wasn't possible. After the fight I heard the criticism and thought I needed to do something about it and I did.

"I changed my style and became more aggressive. I wanted to give people a better show, a better fight. I think I have done that. My style is better and it has shown in my fights. Now I get another opportunity on HBO and I'm not going to mess it up. I'm going to do real well."

Jones adds helping hand

Philadelphia welterweight Mike Jones (23-0, 18 KOs) seems to be taking his rematch with Mexico's Jesus Soto-Karass (24-5-3, 16 KOs) quite seriously. Jones has enlisted the services of Danny Davis, who has been Bernard Hopkins' strength and conditioning coach for eight years, to help him prepare for the fight on Feb. 19 (HBO) at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

"I push and challenge Mike and bring out the best in him," Davis said. "Mike's a hard worker who wants to go to the highest level and never complains about what he's asked to do. That's what makes a champion. He looks a lot stronger and his conditioning is right there. People will see a difference in Mike in this fight. I hope I'm the missing piece to the puzzle. It's a pleasure to be working with him."

Jones fought to a debatable 10-round majority decision against Soto-Karass on Nov. 13 on the Manny Pacquiao-Antonio Margarito undercard at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Jones nearly knocked him out in the second round, but punched himself out and struggled for the rest of the fight.

"Danny has pushed me and has squeezed out of me every ounce of sweat I own in the drills he has put me through," Jones said. "Look at the shape Bernard was in for his last fight. Staying in shape is a lifestyle that I also believe in, doing the right things in and out of the ring. Look at how long Bernard's stayed on top. That's where I want to be."

Davis joined the Jones camp about three weeks after the Nov. 13 fight.

"Danny has some great ideas on strength and conditioning that he brings to the team from his experience with B-Hop," trainer Vaughn Jackson said. "Danny brings what he's done with Bernard to our workouts. He's put Mike through some strenuous sessions. He also gives me great feedback from Mike's sparring sessions. He will be my other set of eyes in the corner for the fight with Soto-Karass."

HBO deal for Hopkins

Golden Boy's Richard Schaefer told ESPN.com that when Bernard Hopkins challenges light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal in a May 21 rematch -- the fight is nearly finalized -- of their December draw, it will be the first fight of a three-fight contract between Hopkins and HBO.

"The fight is part of that new multi-fight deal," Schaefer said. "Bernard Hopkins is a legend but, of course, the deal depends on him winning. But Bernard, if he wins, he will be light heavyweight champion again in a division with some good fights. Why wouldn't HBO want to have him?"

Hopkins has fought most of his fights for the past decade on HBO, but went to Showtime for the first fight with Pascal when HBO was not interested.

If Hopkins beats Pascal in the rematch, the second fight would come against former titleholder Chad Dawson, who would need to win his fight on the May 21 undercard.

Hopkins has also expressed interest in eventually facing Lucian Bute, the Canadian super middleweight titlist he would want to move up to light heavyweight. Bute, however, is about to start a three-fight deal with Showtime next month.

• Lightweight titlist Humberto Soto outslugged Urbano Antillon to win a decision Dec. 4 in Anaheim, Calif., in what turned out to be the 2010 ESPN.com fight of the year. It was close and competitive the entire fight and a rematch is a natural, which is why Top Rank is lining one up to be featured on the May 7 Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley Showtime PPV undercard. However, despite the grueling slugfest he was in and with the high-profile rematch looming, Soto (54-7-2, 32 KOs) is going to take an interim title defense. He is scheduled to headline "Top Rank Live" (Fox Deportes) on March 5 from a site to be determined in Mexico, Sean Gibbons, matchmaker for Soto co-promoter Zanfer Promotions, told ESPN.com. Gibbons said Soto will face Colombia's Fidel Monterrosa (25-2, 19 KOs) in a rematch. Soto outpointed him to retain his belt in September.

• HBO owes former junior welterweight titlist Devon Alexander a fight based on the contract he had with the network for his Jan. 29 unification fight against Timothy Bradley Jr., which Alexander (21-1, 13 KOs) lost on a 10th-round technical decision. There was some discussion from Alexander's team and HBO that he might fight top contender Marcos Maidana of Argentina in June or July in what amounted to a consolation match of an unofficial four-man tournament that also involved Amir Khan, who outpointed Maidana in a December slugfest. However, Maidana signed this week to face Erik Morales on April 9. So now Alexander is focused on trying to make a fight with Lucas Matthysse (28-1, 26 KOs), another powerful puncher and top contender from Argentina. Matthysse lost a tight split decision to Zab Judah on HBO in November and rebounded to knock out former titlist DeMarcus "Chop" Corley in the eighth round Jan. 21. Kevin Cunningham, Alexander's trainer and manager, is interested in making the fight and hopes to have it in his and Alexander's native St. Louis. Golden Boy's Richard Schaefer, Matthysse's promoter, said it was an intriguing fight. "We would do that fight in a heartbeat," he said. "We'd go to St. Louis. I'm going to talk to HBO and Don King next week about that."

• Middleweight titlist Dmitry Pirog will make his first defense March 26 in Ekaterinburg, Russia, co-promoter Artie Pelullo told ESPN.com. Pirog (17-0, 14 KOs) is scheduled to face Javier Maciel (18-1, 12 KOs) of Argentina, Pelullo said. Pirog has not fought since winning a vacant belt in July, when he scored an upset, fifth-round knockout against highly touted American Daniel Jacobs on the Juan Manuel Marquez-Juan Diaz HBO PPV undercard in Las Vegas.

• When the WBC vacated the junior middleweight belt Manny Pacquiao won in November, it likely paved the way for Mexico's Saul "Canelo" Alvarez (35-0-1, 26 KOs), the 20-year-old 2010 ESPN.com prospect of the year, to get a shot at the belt. Alvarez, who is in a mandatory position, has a fight scheduled against England's Matthew Hatton (41-4-2, 16 KOs), the European welterweight champion and younger brother of Ricky Hatton, on March 5 (HBO) in Anaheim, Calif. With the title now vacant, Golden Boy's Oscar De La Hoya has requested that the WBC approve the bout for the vacant belt. A decision is expected next week.

• Former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson will be featured on the next edition of HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel," which debuts Feb. 15 (10 p.m. ET/PT). Tyson hasn't fought since 2005, but still is in the news and one of the world's most recognizable sports figures. He was recently elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame, has movie offers and has been making movie appearances and has a new cable reality series set to debut that is devoted to his love of pigeons. Tyson, who fought many of his biggest fights on HBO in the 1980s and early '90s, sits down for an interview with "Real Sports" correspondent Jon Frankel.

• Super middleweight prospect Edwin Rodriguez's shoulder injury is not as serious as initially thought and he could be back in action by May, promoter Lou DiBella told ESPN.com. Rodriguez injured his left shoulder early in a fight with Aaron Pryor Jr. on Jan. 14 in Key West, Fla. Rodriguez struggled to a unanimous decision victory and was taken to the hospital after the fight with what was initially thought to be a torn rotator cuff. However, DiBella said the injury was ultimately diagnosed as a severe strain of the rotator cut. "It's not a tear, so it turned out to be good news," DiBella said. "He should be ready by the middle of May." After the fight, Rodriguez was in excruciating pain and was taken to the hospital in Key West, which did not have an MRI facility. But when Rodriguez (18-0, 13 KOs) eventually had two MRIs on the shoulder after the swelling finally subsided, the doctor did not find a tear. "He has to rest and take a little time off and have some physical therapy, but he shouldn't miss more than one fight in his rotation," DiBella said.

• Former heavyweight titlist Nikolai Valuev (50-2, 34 KOs), who has not fought since losing his belt to David Haye via close decision in November 2009, is still several months away from beginning training, according to Sauerland Event promoter Chris Meyer. Valuev underwent surgery on his left shoulder and right wrist in August to take care of nagging injuries. "It looks like he will be able to start training again in summer, perhaps even June," Meyer said. "Depending on how his body will cope with the general and boxing training, his trainer and he can determine when exactly he might box again."

• Junior welterweights Mike Alvarado and Vernon Paris (24-0, 14 KOs) will meet on Showtime in a scheduled 10-round fight that will open the card headlined by featherweight titlist Juan Manuel Lopez against Orlando Salido on April 16 in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. Alvarado (28-0, 20 KOs) is trying to get his career back on track after two stints in prison over the past couple of years. He has a tuneup fight Feb. 19 on the Fernando Montiel-Nonito Donaire untelevised undercard that he needs to win and not get injured in. Paris, of Detroit, is coming off a controversial eight-round decision win against Emanuel Augustus on Jan. 29 on the Timothy Bradley Jr.-Devon Alexander card. "It's two guys that have great records that haven't really been seen nationally, and now it's time to step up for both guys," Top Rank matchmaker Brad "Abdul" Goodman said.

• Houston's Rocky Juarez (28-7-1, 20 KOs), the once-perennial featherweight and junior lightweight contender, will have his first career bout in Mexico when he meets Alejandro Sanabria (24-1-1, 19 KOs) in a scheduled 12-round junior lightweight bout Feb. 19 in Rosarito, Mexico. The bout is the main event on Mexican network Televisa's weekly boxing series. Golden Boy has a new deal with the network to promote some of those cards. Juarez, a 2000 U.S. Olympic silver medalist, is trying to end a three-fight losing streak in which he lost decisions to featherweight titlist Chris John, Jason Litzau and Jorge Linares.

• Promoter Frank Warren signed European lightweight champion John Murray, 26, of Manchester, England, to a promotional agreement. Murray (30-0, 18 KOs) had been considered as an opponent to challenge junior welterweight world titleholder Amir Khan on April 16, but instead signed with Warren. "John is a tremendous talent and I'm thrilled that he's joined my organization," Warren said. "I've always thought highly of him and what he needs now is the right promotion and guidance to turn him into a star and that's what I aim to do. He can fight and I believe that with his no-nonsense, all-action style, he can be the man to get Manchester's boxing scene going again." Murray's first bout of his new deal will be his second European title defense against countryman Kevin Mitchell (31-1, 23 KOs) on April 2 on the undercard of Jürgen Brahmer's light heavyweight title defense against interim titlist Nathan Cleverly. "I'm excited to be signing with Frank, who is the best promoter in Britain and one of the best in the world at developing talent," Murray said. "This is the next chapter of my career which will be the most exciting, and I'm looking forward to being on the big stage. Frank can make the big fights happen."

• Promoter Lou DiBella told ESPN.com that HBO is interested in matching Don King-promoted light heavyweight titlist Tavoris Cloud (22-0, 18 KOs) with Zsolt Erdei (32-0, 17 KOs), whom DiBella promotes. Erdei is a former titleholder who gave up his belt in 2009 and moved up to win a cruiserweight belt before vacating that belt also to return to light heavyweight. "HBO is talking to Don about doing that," DiBella said. "The winner of Cloud-Erdei would set up the winner to fight the guy who comes out of [Chad] Dawson, [Jean] Pascal and [Bernard] Hopkins."

• DiBella is planning a "ShoBox" tripleheader for April 8 (Showtime). Super middleweight prospect Marcus Johnson will headline with two other prospects also slated to see action, junior welterweight Danny O'Connor and welterweight Willie Nelson. The opponents and site have not been determined. … Former welterweight titlist Carlos Quintana (27-3, 21 KOs), idle since Andre Berto knocked him out in the eighth round of a title challenge last April, returns Feb. 18 in his native Puerto Rico. Quintana faces Ghana's Ishmael Tetteh (21-6-2, 10 KOs), who has lost two in a row, in a 10-rounder at junior middleweight. … Jose Armando Santa Cruz (28-5, 17 KOs), a former interim lightweight titlist coming off a third-round knockout loss to Zab Judah in a July junior welterweight contest, is stepping in for injured Lanard Lane to face Golden Boy prospect Jessie Vargas (13-0, 7 KOs). They'll meet in an eight-rounder at L.A. Live's Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles on Feb. 24 on the season premiere of "Fight Night Club" (FSN). Lane dropped out with a hand injury. … Junior flyweight titlist Juan Carlos Reveco has vacated his belt in order to move up to flyweight, paving the way for interim titlist Roman Gonzalez, who hoped to fight Reveco, to become a full titleholder.

Quotables

"I'm thrilled to be coming home to England to defend my title on April 16 and I promise my fans that I will give them a performance they won't forget. McCloskey is a tough contender, so I expect him to be in his best form. I'm in my prime now and I want to make a statement in this fight." -- junior welterweight titlist Amir Khan, in announcing his upcoming defense on HBO against Northern Ireland's Paul McCloskey.

"Fighting for a world championship is a dream come true for me and I'm not about to let it go to waste. Khan is a very good fighter and I respect him, but he is beatable and I plan to do just that. I've sacrificed a lot to get here and this is my time." -- McCloskey, the European champion, on challenging Khan for his 140-pound title.

"I know Dzinziruk is the best champion at 154 pounds and he will make for a great fight. This year will be the year that I become the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. I am training very hard to make sure that this is the best fight to bring to the fans." -- middleweight champ Sergio Martinez, on Sergei Dzinziruk, who is moving up to 160 pounds, at this week's news conference in New York to announce their March 12 HBO fight.