(STAR) By Abac Cordero (The Philippine Star) Updated February 15, 2010 12:00 AM

[Photo is loading... The referee motions Nonito Donaire Jr. to a neutral corner as Manuel Vargas lies flat on the floor.]

MANILA, Philippines - Nonito Donaire Jr. only needed three rounds to knock out Manuel Vargas of Mexico while veteran Gerry Peñalosa used all 12 rounds but still fell short against Erik Morel of Puerto Rico in the featured bouts of the “Pinoy Power III” fight card in Las Vegas yesterday.

Manny Pacquiao, the reigning pound-for-pound champion, and Z Gorres, who fought for his life following a brain operation last November, were at ringside of the Hilton Hotel and Casino and watched three other Filipinos take the spotlight before going opposite ways.

Bernabe Concepcion showed what a sound training camp can do as he pulled off a convincing win over Mario Santiago. He sent the Puerto Rican down on the floor in the sixth round and cruised to a decent 10-round decision in their featherweight contest.

Welterweight Mark Jason Melligen bounced back from a bitter loss to Michel Rosales late last year when he scored a TKO win over erstwhile unbeaten Raymond Gatica while Ciso Morales, the Filipino who showed great promise in the previous fights, was a disappointment.

Morales, winner of his first 14 bouts, almost killed himself trying to lose 12 pounds in the week heading to his bantamweight clash with WBO champion Fernando “Cochulito” Montiel. He paid the price when he took a body shot and was knocked out in the 2:06 mark of the opening round.

Pacquiao must have felt the pain watching from ringside as Morales went down and out after taking a solid blow to the mid-section.

But none would have hurt the world’s greatest boxer today than the bitter loss suffered by Peñalosa, his close friend. Morel was the taller, longer fighter but Peñalosa, at 37 just trying to stretch his luck on the ring, managed himself pretty well, and dropped a split decision.

Peñalosa’s trainer, Freddie Roach, felt they could have won the bout, which could be the last for the fearless Peñalosa.

It was the eighth loss for Peñalosa, a former world bantamweight champion who has won 54 fights, 36 of them by knockout. When he lost to Juan Manuel Lopez last year, many thought he should have retired, and now the question will continue to haunt him.

Lopez was also at ringside, and may be looking at Concepcion, of Virac in Catanduanes, as his next opponent. That would be a fight worth looking forward to, but the Filipino must do a lot better if he wants to take the world title away from Lopez.

Donaire, the WBA interim super-flyweight champion, improved to 22 wins with 11 knockouts against a single loss, was in a hurry to get rid of his opponent, actually a last-minute replacement for Gerson Guerrero who had a torn retina.

Yet, the Filipino landed most of his punches, and in the 1:33 mark of the third round he connected with a left uppercut that signalled the end of the bout. Vargas was counted out as he lay on the canvas.

After the fight, Donaire told fight commentator Ronnie Nathanielzs he was “just being cautious” since he wasn’t too sure what Vargas could offer.

“I felt stiff in the first two rounds but I wanted to knock him out,” said Donaire, who admitted that Vargas was “strong” and “hits hard.”

Again, Donaire hinted of moving up in weight, from 115 to 118, and is looking at WBO bantamweight champion Fernando Montiel. Or even Morel, for a chance to avenge Peñalosa’s defeat.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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