Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Strange Career of Fernando Montiel

The premium U.S. boxing networks (HBO and Showtime) periodically dip into the smaller weight classes -- those below featherweight.  Over the last decade or so, we have seen a smattering of fights that included such headliners as Jorge Arce, Mark "Too Sharp" Johnson, Tim Austin and more regular coverage of Rafael Marquez and Vic Darchinyan.  Showtime has given more exposure to the lower weights in the recent years with Darchinyan, Agbeko and the bantamweight tournament. 

Fernando Montiel won his first championship belt in 2000.  Over the last ten years, he has been a champion for eight and a half of them.  He has defended his various belts (flyweight, junior bantamweight and bantamweight) 15 times.  He is a unified titlist.  Montiel has KO'ed champions and fought in five countries.  Yet his profile might be as low as that of any great North American fighter.

Montiel's last loss was in 2006 to Golden Boy-staple Jhonny Gonzalez.  It was a split decision loss in an ugly fight.  After that HBO performance he was expelled from the bright lights of American media companies, fighting in the Philippines, some of the smaller outposts in Mexico and Japan before he was summoned back to face Nonito Donaire.  Discussing this period, Montiel talks about a style change that has endeared him to the boxing fashionistas again. 

In the press conference leading up to the fight with Donaire, he said, "I changed my style and became more aggressive.  I wanted to give people a better show -- a better fight.  I think I have done that.  My style is better and it has shown in my fights."

Montiel's mindset might be different after the Gonzalez fight.  The stats don't necessarily back him up.  He has a career knockout percentage of 70%.  After the Gonzalez fight, the knockout percentage is still 70%.  However, perhaps bonus points should be given in that over the last five years he has knocked out a higher caliber of fighters.  Perhaps his more aggressive attitude has enabled him to look for knockouts more.  Perhaps it's just boxer talk. 

Surely, Montiel has been building momentum with his knockouts over former titlist Martin Castillo and WBC bantamweight titleholder Hozumi Hasegawa.  With his fight against Donaire, where Montiel is the underdog, Fernando's knockout power is looked at as his best chance of winning the fight.

If Montiel is going to make a true name for himself in the public's consciousness, he better start now.  Tim Austin was done as a major prizefighter by 32.  Too Sharp Johnson was done by 33.  The wars with Israel Vazquez ended Rafael Marquez's elite status at 32 or 33.  Montiel is going to be 32 next month.  For fighters at this weight, there is not much of a career left.  If he is able to land his Sunday punch on Donaire, he has a few fights left to capitalize on his new status.  If he is not, one of the best fighters of the last decade will return to the one constant and strange best friend he has known his whole career: obscurity.

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