Merchant: Donaire no Pacquiao, but beating Vetyeka could lead to bigger things
By Dino Maragay Updated Friday May 30, 2014 - 8:09pm

Veteran boxing commentator Larry Merchant (inset) underscored the importance of Nonito Donaire's fight with Simpiwe Vetyeka as the boxer steps up as a possible successor to Manny Pacquiao. AJ BOLANDO

MACAU - While Nonito Donaire will never be the next Manny Pacquiao, one couldn't help but wonder if the Filipino-American fighter could possibly be Philippine boxing's next torchbearer - especially now that the beloved Pacquiao is already at the twilight of his storied career.

Boxing sage Larry Merchant thinks marketing Donaire as Pacquiao's successor is just a ploy of fight promoters. Nevertheless, he believes Donaire can at least trek the trail that Pacquiao blazed when the boxing icon stormed through weight classes and hauled an unprecedented eight world titles in as many divisions.

Donaire can continue traversing the said path with a win over a relatively unknown Simpiwe Vetyeka at the 15,000-capacity Cotai Arena of the Venetian Resort here.

Merchant, a highly respected figure in the boxing community having done precious commentaries and no-holds-barred interviews in countless fights over the years, is in this bustling city to work on the Donaire-Vetyeka bout.

Philstar.com got hold of Merchant, who talked in great depth about Donaire possibly taking over from Pacquiao and the significance of Saturday's fight.

"I thought that's what some promoters were trying to make happen (packaging Donaire as the next Pacquiao)," Merchant said. "Because Manny created so much worldwide interest and such a big fan base in America."

"And Donaire is similar in a sense that he came from the same place originally," added Merchant, well aware that Donaire hails from General Santos City, which is also Pacquiao's hometown.

Donaire is seeking a fifth world title against Vetyeka, who holds the WBA featherweight belt. He has won championships at flyweight, super flyweight, bantamweight and super bantamweight.

Merchant noted the similarities to Pacquiao, who started out as a skinny flyweight who started leapfrogging from one weight class to another.

"He (Donaire) was a small guy with a big punch. And it looks like he could grow into a bigger fighter," the 83-year-old commentator said.

Donaire himself isn't ruling out the possibility of moving up in weight again, saying he's still packing the pounds. He tipped the scales at exactly 126 pounds during Friday's official weigh-in.

"Lumalaki pa din (I'm still growing)," he told philstar.com during a late workout on Wednesday.  

Notwithstanding the similarities between Pacquiao and Donaire in terms of physical growth, Merchant stressed that there's only one Manny Pacquiao.

"I don't know if there's time enough now for him (Donaire) to achieve those heights. That's very rare. What Manny Pacquiao did happens once in a generation, so it's unfair to expect Donaire to follow in his footsteps," he said.

A win over Vetyeka on Saturday will not only net Donaire another crown, but it could also open new doors for him.

"If he wins this fight, he could be in some big, important events over the next couple of years," Merchant continued.

More importantly, the Vetyeka fight will determine if Donaire is indeed capable of campaigning at heavier divisions.

"Will his punch be as strong? And will he be able to withstand the punches he gets? That's what we have to see on Saturday night," Merchant said.

"And he himself said it, that he wants to make a statement and to find out how good he is and for everyone else to find out," he ended.

It is now up to Donaire to prove if he can be the next face of Philippine boxing.

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