by Cliff Rold
Nonito Donaire is the World Champion at 122 lbs. A knockout of Toshiaki Nishioka, the most accomplished fighter in the division, sealed that spot. If Donaire stays in class, what matters now is what will, and what can, come next.
For Brandon Rios, what can happen, if not next then soon, matters a lot. Already, he’s being dangled as a potential foe for Manny Pacquiao. It’s a can’t miss action fight. Most Rios fights are. Can Rios stay disciplined long enough to get near the chance?
After a sensational battle with Mike Alvarado, a battle that might well have been the best fight of 2012, the nightmare of his flaccid showing against Richard Abril is replaced with a reminder of the Miguel Acosta and Urbano Antillon wins.
There’s just something about Rios. That something was on display after the first round with Alvarado. Warring towards the bell, he came back to corner smiling and said, “I love it.”
So did everyone watching.
Let’s go to the report cards.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Nishioka A; Donaire A/Post: B+; A
Pre-Fight: Power – Nishioka B; Donaire A/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Defense – Nishioka B+; Donaire B+/Post: B; B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Nishioka A; Donaire B+/Post: B-; A
Pre-Fight: Speed – Rios B; Alvarado B/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Power – Rios B+; Alvarado B+/Post: A; B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Rios C; Alvarado B-/Post: B-; B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Rios B+; Alvarado A/Post: A; A
Beginning with what turned out to be the main EVENT of the evening, the superlatives for Brandon Rios’s stoppage of Mike Alvarado are thick. They should be.
Are some going a little overboard? Sure they are.
Promoter Bob Arum stated Rios-Alvarado was clearly the fight of the year. Kevin Iole at Yahoo deemed this fight, paraphrasing, as neck and neck with Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo I for fight of the 21st century. Let’s put aside that Orlando Salido-Juan Manuel Lopez II is still neck and neck with Rios-Alvarado for fight of 2012.
A little perspective:
The 21st century to date has had some corkers. Overseas classics like Somsak Sithchatchawal-Mahyar Monshipour and Akira Yaegashi-Pornsawan Porpramook were even more savage than what we saw Saturday and with greater escalations of violence once one of the combatants was hurt. Here in the States, fans have seen the first and third contests between Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales and the first bout between Arturo Gatti and Mickey Ward. Like Gatti-Ward, Saturday featured a showdown of top ten Jr. Welterweights willing to give their all.
Nothing in Rios-Alvarado compared to round nine of Gatti-Ward.
And, sorry, nothing in any weight class as compared to Corrales-Castillo I yet in this century. That was probably the best Lightweight championship fight ever recorded.
So maybe there is just a hint of hyperbole out there. So what? In this case, that’s a good thing. Boxing is often better than its detractors and cynics (and that’s just among its hardcore fan base) give it credit for, but the most hyped moments going in are not always the most celebrated going out.
Saturday, a pair of unbeaten bulls met at center ring and let rip. They gave what was asked for and then a little more. With most of the titles in the division locked up by a rival promoter, Rios is already being talked about as an opponent for the winner of the Welterweight belt tilt between Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao in December.
There will be some who don’t like the idea. Rios has no chops yet at Welterweight and Pacquiao hasn’t fought someone rated in the Welterweight division (before the fight) since Shane Mosley. That said, Rios has the size to compete with either smallish Welterweight and he’d make it a battle with either.
Where do we sign up?
Alvarado’s name came up after the fight in connection to Ruslan Provodnikov for whatever belt is vacant by the time they could make that fight. Alvarado’s trend of gripping action fights could only continue with Provodnikov.
Where do we sign up?
In the fight that got top billing on the weekend, it was evident the question for Toshiaki Nishioka was ‘where do I sign out.’ The Japanese battler had a strong reign as WBC titlist and earned his place at or near the top of the 122 lb. class. It was the right fight for Donaire to take on merit, a chance to show the old boss the door or validate his place.
What went on in the ring didn’t meet the ‘on paper’ values of the fight. Nishioka fought not to lose from the beginning. He was wary as hell of the Donaire left, to the point of eating up his own chances for offense.
Donaire proved wary to be wise once Nishioka opted to open up. The sixth round was the best of the fight, Nishioka opening up and getting dropped for his trouble only to fight back hard. He showed he could have done more offensively all night, and had luck when he started slinging the left.
The problem was Donaire could take the shot and Nishioka couldn’t take what came back. From Flyweight to Jr. Featherweight, few have been able to. Donaire has a way of freezing guys by hitting as hard as they’ve heard and being even quicker than he looks in real time. Jeffrey Mathebula and Nishioka, as consecutive wins, is high quality stuff. Saturday’s was an impressive victory, if workmanlike, and clears the path for 122 lbs. to go to the next level.
Again looking on paper, and in a vacuum, the best next foe for Donaire would be decided next month. The 122 lb. title bout between former Bantamweight titlist Abner Mares and Anselmo Moreno pits two of the best fighters in the sport under 30 against each other. Both men are seasoned veterans already given their quality of runs at 118 and the winner will emerge as the next most proven commodity in class.
The problem is the promotional rift between the sides. Mares-Moreno is a Golden Boy fight. Donaire plies his trade under the Top Rank banner. We may not get the fight we should.
Donaire doesn’t seem to want the highest quality in-house match in the division. Guillermo Rigondeuax wants Donaire badly, and they share a promoter, but Donaire wants Rigondeuax to beef up his resume. It wasn’t a good look in the post-fight interview and fueled the cries of “duck!” from the Cult of Rigo.
Rigondeuax’s only course of action is to beat more recognizable opposition than he has to date and build public pressure. He’s had good wins. Not he needs ‘look at me’ wins, someone like a Vic Darchinyan whose bona fides are firmly entrenched in the minds of fans. The physical tools and skill of Rigondeaux say he should be a serious threat. At 11-0, Donaire has an excuse to say no.
Rigondeuax has to take that away. His promoter has to get him fights to allow for it. For now, all signs point to Donaire and sub-Featherweight money man Jorge Arce. It’s not a competitive fight but it is the kind that will make Donaire look the sort of beast he hasn’t since scorching Fernando Montiel. In a year where he could end up fighting four times, barring rehab time for his left hand, Donaire could use the win to ice a run at Fighter of the Year honors.
After he disposes of Arce, lets hope the stars can align and the drumbeats will have grown loud enough for the fights that ardent observers want to see.
Report Card Picks 2012: 54-16
Jr. Welterweight: Brandon Rios comes in strong to the top ten at 140 while Alvarado slips only a single spot. Ajose Olusegun is bumped from the top ten but could easily return should #10 Erik Morales be defeated this weekend in his rematch with Danny Garcia.
Jr. Featherweight: Donaire moves into the champion’s slot and Nishioka drops a few rungs on the ladder. Rigondeuax moves into the number one slot but the hold could be tenuous and close eye is being kept on the Abner Mares-Anselmo Moreno winner next month. An impressive winner there could leapfrog the Cuban.
Strawweight: Longtime division stalwart and previous #9, Katsunari Takayama, suffered a somewhat surprising split decision defeat to Handig Singwancha on Saturday. Consideration was given to bringing Singwancha (13-5, 7 KO) into the top ten. Ultimately, South Africa’s Hekkie Budler slides back in.
The full results of note and impact on the ratings are a click away.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]