By Jake Donovan
The writing was on the wall the moment it was revealed that Nonito Donaire was struggling to make the bantamweight limit prior to last October’s defense against then-unbeaten Omar Narvaez – his reign would be short-lived, with a leap to 122 in his immediate future.
Less than four months later, Donaire (27-1, 18KO) makes his debut in a division that is suddenly bursting with potential for great matchups at every turn.
At stake in this weekend’s showdown between Donaire and Wilfredo Vazquez Jr (21-1-1, 18KO) is a vacant 122 lb. belt, in a bout that serves as the co-feature to a middleweight title fight between Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Marco Antonio Rubio. Both bouts will air live on HBO from the Alamodome in San Antonio (10:00PM ET/PT), marking the network’s first boxing offering of the 2012 season.
Awaiting the winner of the co-feature - if promoter Bob Arum has his way – is the opponent of his choosing in a loaded 122 lb division, which will be well-represented on both sides of the ropes on Saturday night.
Rumored to be on hand at ringside for this weekend’s vacant title fight will be four-division titlist Jorge Arce and current unbeaten 122 lb. beltholder Guillermo Rigondeaux. Both are within the promotional realm of Top Rank (Arce co-promoted by Promociones Zanfer).
That this weekend’s bout is for a vacant title is in no small part thanks to Arce, who relinquished the crown he won from Vazquez Jr. last May in favor of pursuing a belt at 118. The wildly popular Mexican slugger was successful in doing just that, taking a wide decision over Angky Angkota in their rematch last November, capturing a belt that was in fact made available by Donaire just one week prior.
Part of the agreement in Arce (59-6-2, 45KO) giving up the 122 lb. belt he held for all of six months was that he would receive a crack at the winner of this weekend’s co-feature.
There’s still the matter of his winning a rematch with Lorenzo Parra in their non-title fight later this month, having fought to a 10-round draw with the former flyweight champ less than 18 months ago. Providing he emerges victorious, Arce will serve as a key figure in the upcoming 122 lb. sweepstakes, a motivating factor for enjoying a ringside view for this weekend’s action.
Emphatically announcing his presence is Rigondeaux (9-0, 7KO), argued by some as the greatest amateur of all time. The Cuban southpaw is rapidly making his mark in the pro ranks, recently shutting down Rico Ramos en route to a 6th-round body shot knockout to win his first major belt.
Watching from afar will be top-rated 122 lb. titlist Toshiaki Nishioka, who will take in the action from the confines of his home in Japan. The 35-year old southpaw has won 16 straight, including standout performances against Jhonny Gonzalez (TKO3) and most recently against former two-division champ Rafael Marquez (UD12) last October in Las Vegas.
The bout with Marquez served as the main event of Fox Deportes’ ‘Top Rank Live’ series, and left a lasting impression on Bob Arum. Nishioka’s lofty ranking is also enticing enough to have Donaire call him out, hoping for a spring showdown.
No matter who is lined up next for the winner, it’s clear that Top Rank is anxious to begin mixing and matching a series of fights, any number of which will prove rewarding to the boxing public.
“There’s going to be a convention of sorts at 122,” noted the Hall-of-Fame promoter. “There’s great, great matches to be made at the 122 lb. division.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to JakeNDaBox@gmail.com