- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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LAS VEGAS -- Hanging in the rafters of the Mandalay Events Center is a banner commemorating some of its greatest fights. One of them is from the first legendary showdown of the great Erik Morales-Marco Antonio Barrera trilogy.
It took place 11 years ago Saturday night, perhaps an omen for something special to come. But while we did not get that same kind of all-time classic fight, we got quite a memorable individual performance as Nonito Donaire blew away Fernando Montiel with a spectacular second-round knockout to seize his two bantamweight titles.
Coming into the fight, Donaire and Montiel were both on the pound-for-pound list and bidding for upward mobility, but it was Donaire who bashed his way a step closer to being recognized as one of the very best fighters in the world behind Manny Pacquiao, the Filipino countryman he idolizes.
With the booming knockout, Donaire won a title in a third weight class and gave the Philippines another victory in its burgeoning boxing rivalry with Mexico. Donaire was a longtime flyweight champion -- the same division where Pacquiao began his historic run -- and also had won an interim junior bantamweight belt.
But he had outgrown the 115-pound division and moved up to bantamweight in December, where he crushed former titlist Wladimir Sidorenko in four rounds to send a message to the division.
He sent another one against Montiel, who wound up in the hospital as a precaution after such a thudding knockout.
"I knew we both had the punching power to knock each other out," Montiel said. "I made the first mistake and I paid for it."
Did he ever. But Donaire said it was no surprise to him. He said that he had envisioned a second-round knockout.
"I told [trainer] Robert Garcia in camp before Christmas it would be a second-round knockout. I had a premonition," Donaire said.
That's exactly what he got.
"It was the speed. That was my main key. The openings he gave me was all I needed," said Donaire, a native of the Philippines who moved to the San Francisco Bay Area when he was 10.
Donaire (26-1, 18 KOs) moved a step close to his countryman on that pound-for-pound list with such a devastating performance against Montiel, a three-division titleholder who had impressed many when he went to Japan last year and unified 118-pound belts against the formidable Hozumi Hasegawa with a fourth-round knockout.
While Pacquiao rules the pound-for-pound roost and Floyd Mayweather Jr. has a tenuous grasp on No. 2 -- a hold that slips every day because of his inactivity -- you can argue that Donaire perhaps is No. 3.
No less that Roy Jones Jr., who called the fight for HBO's "Boxing After Dark" broadcast and who ruled the pound-for-pound list for a decade, believes Donaire is a special fighter worthy of a lofty ranking.
"Nobody else comes close to Pacquiao, Mayweather and Donaire," Jones said. "Mayweather would No. 1 if he was active. Pacquiao is up there. And there's this kid. All three of them are sharp. Pound-for-pound ain't about a popularity contest. It's about who do the job. This kid do the job. I see this kid doing things not many fighters can do."
Particularly impressive is what Jones called the "check hook," the sort of left hook that Donaire landed with an explosion in the second round that effectively ended the fight.
"This kid has it down pat, solid," said Jones, who won world titles in four weight classes. "This kid, to me, is the next best in the world next to Pacquiao, because Mayweather is inactive. I saw Donaire about two years ago and I knew he was something special."
Donaire won the first round on all three scorecards, opening a small cut on Montiel's left eyelid and then ended it in the second with that check hook.
As Montiel (43-3-2, 33 KOs) was going down very hard from the hook, Donaire got in a right uppercut for good measure as he was falling.
Montiel, 31, crashed to the canvas, his legs eerily fluttering as referee Russell Mora counted.
"When I hit him with the left hook and he started twitching, I knew the fight was over," Donaire said.
It was not quite over. Montiel, perhaps only on instinct, made it to his feet, but not before falling to the canvas for a second time.
As Donaire stood in a neutral corner with his arms raised, Mora gave Montiel a long look but allowed the fight to continue. That was not a good idea.
Donaire pounced, landing a left and a right that had Montiel out on his feet in a corner as Mora jumped in to stop it at 2 minutes, 25 seconds.
"In the first round I wanted to test what he would do," said Donaire, 28. "I was blocking a lot of his shots and I memorized where his head would be. I knew my punches would land and that's what happened."
Like most in the announced crowd of 4,805, Donaire was rather surprised Montiel made it to his feet after such a crushing shot.
"That's the heart, and that he has that I have so much respect for," said Donaire, who earned a career-high $350,000 while Montiel earned $250,000 plus a piece of Mexican television revenue. "You see how big of a heart he has. I was surprised he could get up. I never thought he would get up."
Donaire now has some interesting options. The fight that makes the most sense is a match with the winner of the April 23 fight between titlist Joseph Agbeko and Abner Mares, who meet in the final of Showtime's four-man tournament.
Donaire and Montiel were invited to participate, but Top Rank did not want to be involved. It could be a tricky fight to make given the network and promotional entanglements.
Donaire said he wants to further unify the belts, even though he reigns as No. 1 in the division.
"I feel more comfortable at this weight and I want to be undisputed in this weight class. If that doesn't happen, I want to go up to 122 or 126," a beaming Donaire said, knowing that Top Rank has numerous quality titleholders and contenders in those divisions it could offer him.
"I just want to keep going. My name is up there enough where I can get a big fight now."
Maybe not quite like Pacquiao, but good enough to bring a broad smile to Donaire's face.
With a booming second-round stoppage of Fernando Montiel, Nonito Donaire won a title in a third weight class.