by Paul Magno
Fernando Montiel vs. Nonito Donaire, February 19th at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, is more than just a battle between, arguably, the two best bantamweights in the world. It’s also the first legitimate super fight below featherweight in a very long time and, perhaps more significant, it marks the return of the lower weight classes to HBO, a network which has snubbed boxing’s little giants since 2006.
Generally speaking, it’s very rare when the smaller divisions get any sort of attention whatsoever in the United States and Europe, but Montiel-Donaire has brought along the hype and intrigue needed to draw attention to where some of the sport’s best action routinely takes place.
As tribute, here’s a look at five other bouts that similarly captured the attention of the “bigger is better” Western audience:
Michael Carbajal vs. Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalalez I
(March 13, 1993)
Aside from this being a unification of Carbajal’s IBF jr. flyweight belt and Gonzalez’s WBC title, this was a match-up of prime, heavy-handed warriors who had been grabbing headlines on their own with impressive and devastating victories. Carbajal, the Mexican-American, vs. Gonzalez, the Mexican, became the first ever jr. flyweight bout to headline a pay per view show and, in this case, the fight far exceeded the hype.
Winning Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year award, this brutal 7-round war, which saw Carbajal hit the deck twice before coming back to KO Gonzalez in the 7th, spawned two more rematches. And while those rematches, both won by Gonzalez, didn’t live up to the original, they were the product of a legacy already established in the sport by both warriors, who, combined, weighed 30 lbs. less than then- heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe.
Johnny Tapia vs. Danny Romero (July 18, 1997)
Johnny Tapia never needed an excuse to hate his opponent. In his eyes, every rival who dared to challenge his domain in the ring deserved scorn and a good, sound beating. But, in this case, the rage was even more personal than usual.
Tapia, regarded by many as the best fighter New Mexico ever produced and regarded by real fans as the legit super flyweight champion of the world, suddenly found another New Mexico native in his own division, also sporting a world title belt. And not only that, but Danny Romero was the type of good-looking, charismatic kid who instantly made headlines.
When the two would finally meet in a unification for Tapia’s WBO belt and Romero’s IBF strap, the tension leading up to the event was palpable.
The fight, itself, didn’t live up to the rage promised in the build-up, but it was a spirited contest won by Tapia via unanimous decision.
Giovani Segura vs. Ivan Calderon (August 28, 2010)
Billed by The Boxing Tribune as “Science vs. Violence,” Segura-Calderon was a dream match-up of styles and temperaments. Calderon was the technically gifted, slick southpaw boxer who had barely been touched by his opponents in more than seven years of holding world titles at 105lbs. and 108 lbs.
The bout, itself, was more war than chess match as the 36-year old Puerto Rican, Calderon, found is legs taken from him by the focused, power-punching Mexican, Segura.
Unable to glide and move, Calderon would stand and fight. The end result was a classic battle that won its fair share of Fight of the Year honors.
Ruben Olivares vs. Chucho Castillo I (April 18, 1970)
Before the internet, cable TV, and even a real, national newspaper, fight fans got their news via word of mouth and the buzz among other fight fans.
For this contest, between two heavy-hitting Mexican bantamweights at the Forum in Inglewood, California, the expectations were war, blood, and guts.
Olivares and Castillo didn’t disappoint as they tore into one another with reckless abandon over 15 brutal rounds in front of a record-setting 18, 762 fans at the Forum.
Despite being sent to the canvas in the third round, WBC/WBA bantamweight champ, Olivares would get up and eventually defeat his countryman in a back and forth thriller that would spawn two quality rematches.
Ricardo Lopez v. Rosendo Alvarez II (November 13, 1998)
This rematch was the direct result of an unexpectedly tough and controversial first encounter where the seemingly untouchable Mexican technician and long-time strawweight champion, Lopez, had been sent to the canvas for the first time in his career by the heavy-fisted Nicaraguan brawler.
The first bout, ruled a technical draw due to a cut over Lopez’s right eye caused by an accidental headbutt in the eight round, would be re-scheduled for eight months later in Las Vegas and the buzz among hardcore fight fans was strong.
Lopez-Alvarez II was a return to form for the cold, calculated Lopez, who, despite being controversially outweighed by one full weight class by his rival, won a spirited split decision.
In terms of action and historical significance, Montiel-Donaire may or may not live up to the examples set by the five fights mentioned in this article, but there’s no denying the buzz that this contest has produced among hardcore boxing fans. And that can only be good for boxing.