By Graham Houston
Everyone wants to see the best meet the best, but sometimes when elite boxers face each other a much-anticipated fight can end with one punch, almost before it really gets started. That is what happened when Sergio Martinez nailed Paul Williams with a huge left hand in their middleweight title fight last November, and it happened again on Saturday night when Nonito Donaire blew away Fernando Montiel in the second round of their bantamweight title bout.
With two big punchers in the ring, the end can come at any time. Sometimes it can all come down to who makes the first error of judgement, but it seemed to me that Donaire was dominating Saturday’s fight up to the sudden finish.
Montiel looked muscular and strong at the weigh-in, and his fight-night weight — as recorded on HBO’s scales — was 134 pounds, to Montiel’s 126. Yet Donaire, to me, looked a weight division the bigger man as they came out for the first round.
Donaire fought like a man who knew he was going to win by knockout. He seemed to be inching towards his goal, sometimes springing into the attack, at other moments staying back and waiting to see if Montiel would be tempted to come to him, so that he could counter — drawing Montiel on to his own downfall, if you like.
I thought that Donaire looked powerful and relaxed, always in control of what was happening in the ring. Montiel, I thought, had a somewhat anxious, edgy look, as if he didn’t quite know what to do. The differences in speed and strength were immediately apparent. Montiel is an excellent technician but Donaire, as HBO’s Max Kellerman quickly noted, had the athletic ability that was enabling him to get in and get out before Montiel could react.
Donaire is flat-out fast. I noted that at one point he threw a right hand that missed but in almost the same motion knocked Montiel back with a nudge from his right shoulder and was away again in an instant — the Filipino Flash indeed.
Montiel seemed to sense in the opening round that he couldn’t win by staying on the outside. Donaire was catching him with the left hook to the body — and an excellent hook upstairs — and he was too speedy and too smart for Montiel to time him for a left hook or left uppercut.
So, the Mexican boxer had to try to come forward and force his way into a position from which he could do some damage and, true, Montiel’s punches were getting closer in the second round — but at the same time he was getting closer to Donaire’s left-hand firepower.
The end came as suddenly as a trapdoor opening beneath an unsuspecting victim, with Montiel throwing a right hand and Donaire countering with a left hook in the same instant. When Montiel went down, the back of his head slamming onto the ring floor, his legs kicking, it looked all over. I don’t know how Montiel got up, but he did. Referee Russell Mora, perhaps with a little reluctance, allowed him to continue, but just two more punches from Donaire brought the referee’s intervention.
I would hesitate to say it was looking inevitable that Donaire would stop Montiel, because I suppose there was always a chance that the Mexican fighter could have landed a big shot of his own, but I feared for Fernando when what some call the commentator’s curse struck yet again: Once HBO analyst Roy Jones Jr. remarked in round two “Montiel’s showing a strong chin” it struck me as a portent of doom.
Just as when Al Bernstein “guaranteed” that the Vic Darchinyan-Joseph Agbeko fight wouldn’t go the distance, or when Max Kellerman enthused over Paul Williams’s excellent chin in the Martinez-Williams rematch, one sensed that fate had been tempted. I’ll give it to Roy, though; he doesn’t give up easily after voicing an opinion. Even when Montiel was out on his feet against the ropes the former great champion was telling us: “He took those punches well.”
So, not for the first time and surely not the last, an eagerly awaited meeting turned out to be a mismatch — but that was just fine with the Filipino fans and, of course, with the Donaire backers who pushed the odds up to -300 in the last few hours before the fight.
Donaire emerged as one of the ring’s brightest stars, but he is happy to be considered the Philippines’ No. 2 fighter, right behind the iconic Manny Pacquiao — if Floyd Mayweather Jr. drifts into retirement make that No. 2 in the world behind Pacquiao.