Boxing needs a barnburner

LAS VEGAS – A bad game between great teams in the NFL doesn’t cast a pall over the sport. Nor does it have that kind of impact in baseball or basketball.

But after the heavily hyped super lightweight bout on Jan. 29 in Pontiac, Mich., between Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander turned out to be a dud, there are a lot of folks in the boxing business holding their breath, crossing their fingers and wishing and praying that Saturday’s can’t-miss match between Fernando Montiel and Nonito Donaire Jr. turns out to be, well, can’t-miss.

If Montiel, the World Boxing Council and World Boxing Organization bantamweight champion who is ranked 10th in the Yahoo! Sports pound-for-pound poll, has anything to say about it, the HBO-televised bout at the Mandalay Bay Events Center will be the modern incarnation of the epic 2000 bout between bitter rivals Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera.

It has been awhile since boxing has produced fireworks inside the ring. Fernando Montiel says he's ready to change the pace.
Chris Farina photo

“The way our styles are, I would think it will be a great fight,” said Montiel, who is 44-2-2 with 34 knockouts. “But I have plans to make this a great fight and if he doesn’t fight, I will make him fight.”

Donaire, who is ninth in the Yahoo! Sports rankings and has been bet up to a better than 3-1 favorite at the Mandalay Bay sports book, believes he could win the fight just by pumping his jab and using his range.

That is not, however, his game plan. He, like Montiel, has a more fan-friendly approach in mind.

“I know that I could beat Montiel if I box,” said the 28-year-old Filipino, who is 25-1 with 17 knockouts and has won 24 in a row. “I could beat him with the jab. The thing is, though, that’s not for me. I want everyone to have a good time who watches this fight. When you’re boxing, you have to take that risk, right? I’m going to take that risk because of the fact that I want a knockout victory and I want to make it exciting. I don’t want to be the guy who wins all the fights and nobody remembers.”

Eleven years earlier to the day, in the same ring, Morales and Barrera put on one of the most heated bouts in modern boxing history. It remains one of the great bouts ever in the sport and is the standard by which lighter weight fights are judged.

If Montiel and Donaire can come close to approaching the skill, the ferocity and the intensity of Morales-Barrera I, the odor from the ugly Bradley-Alexander fight will waft away.

It puts a lot of pressure on the fighters to perform, given that HBO isn’t a regular in the bantamweight division, but neither Montiel nor Donaire is concerned. They have enough to worry about coming up with a way to handle each other to concern themselves with the ramifications of an ugly match.

Montiel plans to move to super bantamweight after the bout. His father/trainer, Manuel, wasn’t thrilled when he agreed to fight Donaire at bantamweight, but Montiel agreed to the fight because he was determined to make a statement.

Showtime is holding a four-man bantamweight tournament and Abner Mares will meet Joseph Agbeko in the finals on April 23, but the winner of the Montiel-Donaire fight will widely be seen as the top 118-pounder in the world.

And Montiel, who has won sanctioning body titles at flyweight, super flyweight and bantamweight, is convinced that’s him.

“I have accomplished more and I will continue to do more, but I want this fight to cement my legacy,” Montiel said.

Donaire wants it to build his legacy, though he has already put together an impressive series of victories. He became the first man to beat Vic Darchinyan when he knocked out the Armenian in the fifth round of a flyweight title fight in 2007, and he destroyed Olympic bronze medalist Wladimir Sidorenko in December.

Donaire has visions of moving up in weight, as well, and one of his coaches, Victor Conte, believes he can compete successfully all the way to lightweight.

Getting past a future Hall of Famer like Montiel would look great in the trophy case and would put Donaire on a pedestal as one of the few guys in the sport talented enough and charismatic enough to replace Manny Pacquiao as the sport’s standard bearer.

That, though, is down the road. Donaire has business to take care of on Saturday first and he intends to make his mark in a dramatic way.

“The great fighters perform their best in their biggest, toughest fights,” he said. “That’s what I want to do. That’s the kind of guy I want to be remembered as, as a guy who came up big when the stakes were highest and it matters the most.”

If they come through, a lot of boxing insiders are going to exhale on Saturday.

The sport needs this one to be epic.

Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Feb 18, 2011