Reporting from Las Vegas — The Saturday evening of boxing meant to showcase Filipino super-flyweight Nonito Donaire went exactly as planned.
Donaire, quickly becoming ready for prime time, caught Manuel Vargas of Mexico midway through the third round with a barrage of punches that overwhelmed the smaller, less-skilled Vargas. The final blow of the series was a left hook. Vargas kind of let the pain move from his chin to his head, and then collapsed.
Vargas had been a last minute fill-in in the show at the Hilton Hotel Pavilion, so Donaire could not know for sure what he was facing. He quickly knew what everybody else assumed. It was a mismatch.
"I knew in the first round," Donaire said. "I felt the power.
"He threw some big, wild punches, and I was a little fearful of that. But he only hit me good once. In the butt."
Afterward, Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said that Donaire's immediate future will either be a fight against Fernando Montiel, who also won convincingly Saturday night, or against Donaire's arch rival and enemy, Vic Darchinyan, who will fight on a card in Rancho Mirage on March 6.
"We'll see after that," Arum said. "We aren't sure yet how marketable these guys are. I'm worried that it [Donaire-Darchinyan] doesn't have enough legs for pay-per-view. Darchinyan fights for Showtime, and we'll see how much money they are willing to pay for that match."
Young Ciso Morales of the Philippines, winner of all 14 of his fights, got his first real taste of the grizzled pro wars when he stepped into the ring against 30-year-old Montiel, eight years his senior and the current WBO bantamweight titleholder (118 pounds).
Montiel has had 44 fights and has now won 40 of them. Just 2:06 into the first round, during a normal-looking exchange, Montiel caught Morales with a left hook below the right rib cage. Morales appeared unhurt for several seconds, then crumpled to the canvas. He clearly was in such pain that there was no way he was getting up.
"He had a long jab, so I knew I had to get inside of that," Montiel said. "When I hit him with the left, I had hit him with a right just before that. When he went down, I knew that, if he got up, he'd go down again."
In the first of the night's three title fights, Puerto Rico's Eric Morel took the WBO interim bantamweight title (118 pounds) with a slick performance against a game opponent, Filipino Gerry Penalosa.
Morel, who retired for three years in 2005, may have done as much work, inadvertently, with his head as with his hands. In the sixth round, he twice butted Penalosa, whose nickname is "Fearless." His performance from that point on was consistent with that. Bleeding badly from the cuts caused by the butts, especially near his left eye, Penalosa kept chasing and throwing. When he finished, he climbed the ropes and gestured to his heroic Filipino countryman, Manny Pacquiao, who gestured back in respect.
But the judges had a split decision for Morel, and it was probably correct, even though his punches were less spectacular and his performance was more slick than heroic.
The 34-year-old Morel, increased his record to 42-2. Penalosa is 37 and fell to 54-8-2.
The opening fight on the TV card was an entertaining one, a non-title fight between two featherweights (126-pounders), ending with the winner, Bernabe Concepcion, trying his best to stay in his feet and fight off a desperate and wild-swinging Mario Santiago.
It was Santiago's only chance. He was well behind on points and had spent much of the 10-round fight, getting stunned by Concepcion's roundhouse rights. Santiago went down for a short count in the sixth round, was hurt and dazed several times and ended up losing a unanimous decision.
The match was a qualifier to fight champion Juan Manual Lopez. Pacquiao's management group sponsors the Filipino Concepcion. Lopez is from Puerto Rico.