Amid camera flashes and the din of the boxing gymnasium, trainer Robert Garcia knows how to get his fighter’s full attention.
He leans in close to Nonito Donaire and whispers, “Let’s get to work.”
Rising boxing star Donaire is nearing the biggest fight of his career — a Feb. 19 showdown with Fernando Montiel, the top bantamweight in the world, in Las Vegas.
In a public workout at Undisputed Boxing Gym in San Carlos on Saturday, former flyweight champion Donaire (25-1, 17 knockouts) showcased his talents and tactics in front of 300 fans alongside trainers Garcia and Jonathan Peñalosa.
“A win would skyrocket my career,” said Donaire, 28, who lives in the San Mateo-Belmont area. “A win gets me to belong in that elite club with the rest of the guys.”
The 12-round matchup for Montiel’s (44-2-2, 34 KOs) World Boxing Council and World Boxing Organization belts marks Donaire’s first marquee matchup since his 2007 upset knockout win over then-undefeated International Boxing Federation champ Vic Darchinyan. With that win, Donaire vaulted himself into the exclusive list of the best fighters in boxing. Since then, he has also risen two weight classes and is now a full-fledged bantamweight.
“The more I’ve gone up in weight, the stronger I’ve become,” Donaire said.
Born in the Philippines, Donaire was raised in San Leandro before relocating to the Peninsula, where he’s trained for his last five fights.
In December, Donaire made his bantamweight debut against former world titlist and Olympic bronze medalist Volodymyr Sydorenko, earning a fourth-round knockout. Though the “Filipino Flash” is coming off one of his most dominating wins, no one in Donaire’s camp is overlooking Montiel, 31, with his four consecutive knockout victories.
“I think if he wins this fight, he’s gonna be on people’s radar,” said Brian Schwartz, owner of Undisputed, but added, “[Montiel’s] power is unquestionable. We have to be careful of that left hook.”
Montiel, a knockout artist from Mexico with proven power in both hands and a debilitating body attack, will likely try to bait Donaire into a power punching duel at close range.
“We’ve got to fight smart,” said Donaire’s trainer Garcia, a former superfeatherweight titlist himself. “Montiel, at the press conferences, has said he wants to see a war, he wants to see both of them get knocked down, he wants to see blood. He’s basically trying to get Nonito to fight his fight.”
Donaire has been compared to great Filipino fighters like Manny Pacquiao and Gabriel “Flash” Elorde. Though honored, Donaire deflects such comparisons.
“I try to represent who I am,” he said. “I just want to see how far I can take my career. I know that my name is going to be bigger after this fight.”
Montiel vs. Donaire
Location: Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas
TV: HBO: Boxing After Dark
Date: Feb. 19
Time: 6:45 p.m. (tape-delayed at 9:45 p.m.)
Reach: 68 inches
Record: 25-1, 17 KOs
Reach: 66 ½ inches
Record: 44-2-2, 34 KOs