The Showtime bantamweight tournament featuring Joseph Agbeko, Vic Darchinyan, Abner Mares and Yonnhy Perez has placed a deserving spotlight on one of the deepest divisions in boxing.
Some boxing media and fans think that tournament would have been even stronger if it adopted a Super Six-style format – adding Fernando Montiel and Nonito Donaire – like Showtime’s tourney for super middleweights.
Montiel (44-2-2) and Donaire (25-1) will fight their unofficial portion of a dream 118-pound bracket in a highly anticipated unification bout for the WBC and WBO bantamweight titles Saturday, Feb. 19 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas (HBO).
But Donaire’s stay at bantamweight may not last past this fight.
Challenging the winner of the Mares-Agbeko Showtime tournament final in a bout to determine the best bantamweight in the world is an option for The Filipino Flash if he beats Montiel. But Top Rank promoter Bob Arum already is making heavier plans.
“Like always we will sit down with (manager) Cameron (Dunkin) and Nonito and discuss the so many great options,” Arum said in a recent conference call with reporters. “To stay at bantamweight and fight the winner of Mares and Agbeko or off to 122 – we have two 122-pound champions, Stevie Molitor and Miguel Vazquez from Puerto Rico – and he’s going to keep moving up in weight.
“We have killer featherweights: Juan Manuel Lopez, Yuriorkis Gamboa. We have fighters for him to fight to make exceptional fights, all the way up through 135 pounds. On the Pacquiao card, we have Soto against Antillon – a fight-of-the-year rematch – and Brandon Rios is going for a title on Showtime on Feb. 26.
“So there is plenty of great competition for him.”
Donaire made a strong bantamweight debut last Dec. 4 with a 4th-round knockout of Volodymyr Sydorenko. He knocked down the Ukrainian in the 1st and 3rd rounds, eventually stopping Sydorenko for the first time in his career at 1:48 of the 4th.
The victory earned the vacant WBC Continental Americas title for Donaire. But more importantly, it created confidence in his ability with more bulk. Fighting with the extra 3 pounds also helped trainer Robert Garcia sharpen Donaire’s workouts.
“In the last fight with Sydorenko, I felt stronger and faster,” Donaire said. “Mainly in the last two weeks of camp, I’m usually cutting down (weight), actually three weeks I am focusing on cutting down, but this time we are focusing on strategic moves and not having to worry about the weight too much.
“I am naturally strong and naturally fast. I get in tremendous shape.
“Like Manny Pacquiao going up in weight – he feels very comfortable. I feel strong. I look bigger, and the speed is still there.”
Ah, Pacquiao. The king to whom all Filipino fistic princes will be compared.
Pacman’s climb through the weight classes is the stuff of boxing legend. He made his professional debut at 106 pounds in 1995 and has fought as heavy as 150 against Antonio Margarito, winning belts in an unprecedented eight weight classes along the way.
Following Pacquiao’s path into stardom – and a higher tax bracket — by ascending heavier weight classes is Donaire’s plan.
“He is definitely an inspiration in my career, an inspiration in boxing and how I want to be,” Donaire said of Pacquiao. “I am inspired to see no impossibility. To get to 130 pounds or even more. To keep going.
“For me, it keeps me going and keeps me motivated. It keeps me hungry to fight better opposition. I am mentally prepared because of it.
“Right now I am not even touching the weights, and I am blowing up to 135 if I don’t take care of myself for even just a few days. I think I can fight as heavy as 130 or 135 because of how much bigger I have become.”
How he handles that weight will determine just how big of a stage The Filipino Flash can command.
Paul Kelly can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @pk500.