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Nonito Donaire presents case for becoming boxing’s next big thing

Donaire embraces the constant comparisions to Manny Pacquiao

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Steve Marcus

Nonito Donaire of the Philippines poses with his belts as he celebrates his victory over WBC/WBO bantamweight champion Fernando Montiel of Mexico on Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

Fight Night Montiel vs. Donaire

Nonito Donaire of the Philippines (R) punches at WBC/WBO bantamweight champion Fernando Montiel of Mexico during their title fight Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Launch slideshow »

Montiel vs. Donaire

KSNV coverage of fight between Nonito Donaire and Fernando Montiel at Mandalay Bay, Feb. 19, 2011.

He grew up in General Santos, Philippines, and became a professional boxer before his 20th birthday in one of the smallest possible weight classes.

By the time he was 28, he had multiple championships and everyone in the boxing world considered him a star.

Any casual boxing fan who reads that description will immediately associate it with Manny Pacquiao, even though it could just as easily apply to Nonito Donaire.

Donaire (26-1) won his 25th straight fight Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center with a second-round knockout of Fernando Montiel (42-3-2) and took the WBC/WBO bantamweight titles in the process.

“Fernando Montiel has beaten everybody in the bantamweight division and look at how Nonito matched up against him,” said Top Rank CEO Bob Arum. “So, yeah, he is a superstar. I always felt that he had the ability to do what he did tonight, but now you’re going to see a lot of things we saw with Manny Pacquiao.”

No one had ever knocked out Montiel in his 15-year professional career. His two previous losses were a split decision to Jhonny Gonzalez and majority decision to Mark Johnson.

But Donaire made Montiel look like a stranger pulled off of Las Vegas Boulevard before the bout. Donaire used his quickness to land whatever punches he wanted for the first four minutes before dropping Montiel with 52 seconds remaining in the second round.

“I don’t know about the star yet, but I definitely believe I belong in that top pound-for-pound,” Donaire said. “I believe I’m the best bantamweight right now, and this is just the beginning of it.”

Donaire threw a left hook that landed squarely on Montiel’s temple and sent him to the ground where he flailed before working his way back up. The referee let the match continue but only for a few ticks off the clock.

Donaire charged once again, but Montiel was out of it and couldn’t protect himself. The referee officially called the fight at the 2:25 mark of the second round.

“I was so surprised he got up because I put everything into that punch,” Donaire said. “I knew where he was going to be and that was the hardest punch I have ever thrown in my life.”

The question now becomes what’s next for Donaire, who has demonstrated he has the talent for superstardom but could use a few more attention-grabbing bouts to break into the mainstream.

After the fight, Donaire said he would like to stay at the 118-pound class where he feels comfortable for now. But there’s a problem, because the rest of the competition appears so far behind.

“I don’t think any bantamweight stands a chance with him,” Arum said. “Maybe we go up to 122. I think the big, big fights are at 126.”

Donaire said he planned to move up the weight classes eventually and could see himself fighting as high as 135 pounds. Pacquaio famously started at the 105-pound division and now competes at 147 pounds.

Pacquaio won titles in eight different classes during his climb. Donaire is seen as one of the only fighters who could come close to matching that feat.

“I have my speed and I have my power,” Donaire said. “As I go up, I think you’ll see a more ferocious Nonito Donaire.”

In his post-fight press conference, Donaire said he got word that Pacquiao tried to be at the bout against Montiel. According to Donaire, Pacquiao even arrived at the arena but it was moments too late.

The fight had just ended. That’s how fast Donaire finished the previously indestructible Montiel.

“It’s such an honor that Manny even came here to see my fight,” Donaire said. “He tried to get here on a private plane and that just goes to show, I don’t mind being called No. 2. Manny is the one who created Filipinos in boxing and got that attention.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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