Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
Fernando Montiel has spent his boxing career looking up to fellow Mexican champions — fighters like Julio Cesar Chavez, Juan Manuel Marquez and Erik Morales.
But he’s always stopped short of putting himself into the same group. Despite going 43-2-2 in his professional career and holding four titles in three different weight classes, the 31-year old Montiel never considered himself one of Mexico’s greatest champions of all time.
A victory against Nonito Donaire in Saturday’s WBC/WBO bantamweight title fight at the Mandalay Bay Events Center would change that, according to Montiel.
“I think this is the fight that is going to leave everyone remembering my name for a long time,” Montiel said through a translator at Wednesday’s open workouts. “I think it will put me up to par with everyone except Chavez.”
That’s because Donaire is considered unstoppable. He’s 25-1, with the only loss coming in the second fight of his career in March 2001.
Donaire, who was born in the Philippines before moving to San Francisco, is unanimously ranked in the top 10 pound-for-pound boxers in the world. Many would argue he’s in the top five.
“(Montiel) tells me he thinks this is the biggest fight of his career,” the 28-year old Donaire said. “He’s fighting a guy who’s hungry, a guy who is willing to get out there with the talent I have and the speed, power and overall boxing ability.”
The bout, which will air live on HBO, is undoubtedly the biggest stage Donaire has ever fought on. Whether it’s the most meaningful fight of Montiel’s career is debatable.
Montiel has spent more time in boxing’s limelight considering his first championship fight came in 2000. Most recently, Montiel took on Japanese stalwart Hozumi Hasegawa in April of last year for the WBC bantamweight belt.
Hasegawa had won 25 straight bouts and defended the WBC title 10 times over the last five years. Montiel traveled to Tokyo and knocked out Hasegawa in the fourth round.
It was a victory most around boxing declared a career-defining moment for Montiel. But, ultimately, it still didn’t garner him the recognition of other Mexican champions.
“I haven’t had that exposure,” Montiel said. “Plus, I’m at a smaller weight. I think that plays into it.”
The matchup between Montiel and Donaire has drawn a lot of comparisons to the first time Marquez took on Manny Pacquaio in 2004 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Much like Donaire, Pacquaio was already a champion at the time but not the full-fledged superstar he’s turned into today. With Donaire’s success and Filipino roots, he’s inevitably compared to Pacquaio. Marquez, meanwhile, was in his prime and almost the same age Montiel is entering this fight.
The 2004 fight famously ended in a draw after Marquez battled back from a first round where Pacquaio scored three knockdowns.
“You can compare it,” Montiel said. “I know Manny Pacquaio was not at the level he is now when he fought Marquez the first time around. Maybe we’re on the same path right now that those fighters were.”
Montiel is ready to be mentioned among the greats. From the first time Montiel stepped into the ring as a child, he said his father and trainer told him he could settle for nothing less than becoming the best.
He always knew the day would come eventually.
“If there was ever a time to show everything I’ve learned and everything I’ve done in my career and be the best I can be, it’s Saturday night,” Montiel said. “This is the perfect time to show all my qualities and show everyone what I’m capable of.”