He stood over the battered body of WBC/WBO bantamweight champion Fernando Montiel, arms raised, legs pumping his 5-foot-6 frame into the air like a reflex. Indeed, this was Nonito Donaire's finest moment, a nationally televised beating of an opponent that was supposed to be his equal. As trainers, promoters and various hangers-on spilled into the Las Vegas ring, a toothy grin split Donaire's face. His journey to the top was complete.
And what a journey. Six years ago Donaire -- the No. 4-ranked fighter in SI.com's pound-for-pound ratings for March -- didn't expect to be in boxing, much less in a position to claim two world titles. Back then, Donaire was a fledgling professional who couldn't get a fight. After turning pro in 2001, Donaire fought just 10 times in his first four years, a miserable period that had the Filipino-born boxer contemplating a change in profession.
"He was tired of just being lied to, tired of dates falling out, tired of people promising things and then backing out," said Donaire's manager, Cameron Dunkin. "He was broke. He needed to do something to make a living."
It was February of 2005 when Dunkin first came into Donaire's life. The veteran boxing manager had been following Donaire's career since 2000, when he was a decorated amateur competing for a spot on the U.S. Olympic roster. He failed to sign Donaire then but took another run at the shy Filipino five years later. Only this time, there was a catch: I'll sign with you, Donaire told Dunkin. But you have to sign my brother, Glenn, a journeyman fighter looking for another shot.
"He kept fighting because of his brother," Dunkin said. "He was willing to walk away. He was ready to go back to junior college. But he told me that he wanted his brother to fulfill his dreams."
Dunkin agreed, and the Donaire brothers were back in business. Dunkin helped Glenn win a pair of minor titles before eventually securing a flyweight title shot against Vic Darchinyan in 2006. Glenn was badly outclassed by Darchinyan, suffering a broken jaw in the sixth round en route to a lopsided technical decision defeat.
But as Glenn's career fizzled, Nonito's began to take off. As an amateur light flyweight (105 pounds), Donaire was a slick boxer with pedestrian power. But as his weight increased, so did his pop. He won four straight fights in 2005 and another three in 2006. In 2007, he faced Darchinyan for the same flyweight title his brother failed to win a year earlier. It was a competitive fight until the fifth round, when Donaire landed a flush counter left hand that dropped Darchinyan to the canvas.
Word of Donaire's talent quickly spread. In 2009, Dunkin sent Donaire to trainer Robert Garcia's gym in California to work with, among others, featherweight (126 pounds) champion Steven Luevano. After one sparring session with Donaire, Luevano called Dunkin raving about Donaire's skills.
"He told me, 'I've sparred with everyone and there isn't anything like this guy,'" Dunkin said. "He said, 'I can't hit him, he's so fast.'"
Invariably, comparisons will be made between Donaire and Manny Pacquiao, his fellow Filipino who reigns as boxing's pound-for-pound king. Both are gifted with power and skill, but that is where the comparisons end. Pacquiao is a Congressman. Donaire is an aspiring photographer. Pacquiao is iconic in his home country. Donaire is popular -- he has met with the President -- but his connection with America (his family emigrated to the U.S. in 1994) keeps him from establishing a Pacquiao-like connection with the Filipino populace.
That could change, of course. In a few years Pacquiao, 32, will likely be retired while Donaire, 28, will still be in his prime. He has already owns two versions of the 118-pound title and plans on adding a third belt to his collection on May 28, when Dunkin says Donaire will face WBA title holder Anselmo Moreno. After that could come a possible showdown with the winner of Showtime's bantamweight tournament final between Abner Mares and Jospeh Agbeko -- or a move up in weight. Dunkin says Donaire, who walks around at around 143 pounds, can easily fight at 122 pounds and could eventually move all the way up to the 135-pound lightweight division.
"We haven't seen the best from him," Dunkin said. "As he starts to move up in weight he is going to be wrecking people. I'm telling you, this is one bad dude." --
• The Q score of Serhiy Dzinziruk (37-0, 23 KOs) may be infinitesimal among American fight fans. But the unbeaten 34-year-old Ukranian is more than capable of giving lineal 160-pound champion Sergio Martinez (46-2-2, 25 KOs) a spirited challenge when they meet at the Foxwoods Hotel and Casino in Mashantucket, Conn., on March 12 (10:30 p.m. ET, HBO). "I never want an easy fight," Martinez said, through a translator. "I want to fight the best. Mayweather cannot fight me; Manny Pacquiao cannot fight me. So, I need to fight somebody very challenging and the best opponent, or the best challenger, is Sergiy Dzinziruk. Nobody else is left."
• Former undisputed welterweight champ Zab Judah can win a piece of the 140-pound title for a third time when he faces South Africa's Kaizer Mabuza for the vacant IBF strap on March 4 (9 p.m. ET, Integrated Sports PPV, $29.95). This is no walkover for the homestanding Judah. "There are so many fights that people talk about lately and the results are a foregone conclusion," Main Events CEO Kathy Duva said. "This is not the case here. We have a very explosive combination of styles that is going to make for an amazing event."
• Elsewhere in the media zeitgeist:
• Look for Kelly Pavlik, whose issues with alcohol abuse were the subject of an
Donaire's vicious second-round knockout of Fernando Montiel is an early frontrunner for Knockout of the Year.
"My crowning achievement is when De La Hoya fought Trinidad and Trinidad got the decision and Don was gloating on the microphone when I pulled the plug -- and they couldn't hear him anymore."
Manny Pacquiao gets playful with his BlackBerry during a press conference to announce his upcoming fight with Shane Mosley in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP)