by Cliff Rold
Barring a draw in the main event, on Sunday morning boxing fans will have a universally recognized new champion at 122 lbs. for the first time since Israel Vazquez and, hopefully, lots of blood to clean off their screens or clothes, depending on where they were watching the action.
October 13th, the most circled date on the boxing calendar in a long time for hardcore fans, is here.
Anyone reading knows who’s fighting.
Let’s go to the report cards.
Previous Titles: WBC Super Bantamweight (2008-12, 7 Defenses)
Height: 5’6 ½
Weight: 121.8 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 121.7 lbs.
Hails from: Tokyo, Japan
Record: 39-4-3, 24 KO, 1 KOBY
BoxingScene Rank: #1 at Jr. Featherweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 7-2-2, 5 KO (8-2-2, 5 KO including interim title fights)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 3 (Jhonny Gonzalez, Ivan Hernandez, Rafael Marquez)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 1 (Veraphol Sahaprom)
Titles: WBO Super Bantamweight (2012-Present, 1 Defense); IBF Super Bantamweight (2012-Present, 1st Attempted Defense)
Previous Titles: IBF Flyweight (2007-09, 3 Defenses); WBC/WBO Bantamweight (2011, 1 Defense)
Height: 5’5 ½
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 119.1 lbs.
Hails from: San Leandro, California
Record: 29-1, 18 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #2 at Jr. Featherweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 8-0, 5 KO (10-0, 6 KO including interim title fights)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 8 (Vic Darchinyan, Moruti Mthalane, Hernan Marquez, Wladimir Sidorenko, Fernando Montiel, Omar Narvaez, Wilfredo Vazquez Jr., Jeffrey Mathebula)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Nishioka A; Donaire A
Pre-Fight: Power – Nishioka B; Donaire A
Pre-Fight: Defense – Nishioka B+; Donaire B+
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Nishioka A; Donaire B+
Considering his natural edge in size and overall talent and experience, Nishioka might be the most formidable opponent of Donaire’s career. Still somewhat unknown to U.S. fans, the Japanese battler posted a strong run as the WBC titlist at 122 lb. before outside the ring issues cost him his belt. In that run, he earned his spot as the leader of this class. Since a career best win over a still game Rafael Marquez last year, Nishioka has been inactive. Donaire, with three wins since, two of them for belts at 122, has almost caught Nishioka’s claim on the top spot.
They’ll sling leather to sort it all out.
As it should be.
Because of the layoff and his age, there can be some question of how sharp, and just where, Nishioka will be coming in. At his best, Nishioka is an accurate southpaw with quick hands and sudden power. He mostly focuses upstairs, but he has a solid straight left to the body and smart feet in the ring. Nishioka has a knack for punching between the shots of foes and keeping them off balance with flurries. He’s more boxer than puncher, but he can get guys out of there, drawing them in while he works the ring.
This could fare well against Donaire. Donaire sometimes gets too focused on single shots and can be caught loading up. If Nishioka gets into a rhythm, it could wreak havoc. Nishioka hasn’t been stopped since his second pro fight in 1995 so a one-punch knockout is unlikely. It’s not impossible. He was down in the first before getting up to concuss a Gonzalez who, while a big puncher, is much slower than Donaire.
The Japanese champion has a round-winning style and never strays far from a solid fundamental base. His lone setbacks in the last sixteen years were two highly competitive losses and draws to the outstanding Veraphol Sahaprom at Bantamweight. Sahaprom, a shorter pressure fighter, doesn’t give Donaire much of a template but there is, at least, something.
Sahaprom was able to score with counter hooks in those bouts and Donaire has a lethal counter hook. He times it over the jab beautifully and it is lethal all night. He can be losing rounds and steal them back with just a few head rockers. He has also shown an ability to ice those expected to test him in the brightest spotlights. The two best wins and most accomplished foes on his record, Vic Darchinyan and
Donaire showed something in his last bout that had been missing for a while. Donaire can sometimes look like he has no real game plan beyond his Plan A. Against Mathebula, he showed an ability to adapt late in a tough fight and close strong. Nishioka is a more complete challenge than Mathebula. Can he force Donaire to raise his game even more?
Let’s hope the crowd isn’t too exhausted from the televised opener to give the question their full attention.
Titles/Previous Titles: None
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 139.6 lbs.
Hails from: Denver, Colorado
Record: 33-0, 23 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #7 at Jr. Welterweight
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 1 (Cesar Bazan)
Titles/Previous Titles: WBA Lightweight (2012, 1 Defense)
Weight: 140 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 136.25 lbs.
Hails from: Oxnard, California
Record: 30-0-1, 22 KO
BoxingScene Rank: Unrated
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 1 (Miguel Acosta)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Rios B; Alvarado B
Pre-Fight: Power – Rios B+; Alvarado B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Rios C; Alvarado B-
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Rios B+; Alvarado A
How does one break down a fight where both guys are this naturally aggressive? Rios has shown to be vulnerable to slick boxers. Richard Abril beat him earlier this year, damn the cards. Miguel Acosta was giving him hell before Rios started to break him down.
Alvarado doesn’t fight like Abril or Acosta.
That said, of the two, Alvarado is the better defensive fighter. He gets hit a lot because of the way he fights, and has been cut, but he is pretty good at blocking with his shoulders and riding shots. Where Rios can take advantage is in being just a bit quicker and more adept at punching in combination. Alvarado has a nice overhand right hand in close. Both men throw hard uppercuts.
In terms of opposition, Rios has the edge. While he is coming up in weight technically, he’s not fighting weight the same as he did for his last two fights. Acosta, Antillon, and Anthony Peterson were enough to let us know what he can do when in his best shape. Rios is relentless and his chin is sturdy. The closest Alvarado has come in terms of foes is Breidis Prescott, and he had to come from well behind.
But he did make the comeback. The will is there and in terms of intangibles one has to give an edge to Alvarado if only because he’s not had the same struggles outside the ring in terms of preparation and negative attention. Rios is thrilling and mercurial, but he leaves doubts sometimes about his focus. Alvarado is the steadier force.
But steady doesn’t always win the race.
Beginning with the hoped for barn burner, this one comes down to a gap in talent favoring Rios. The younger man is also a hair quicker and the more fluid combination puncher. The discipline issues that could be questioned after Rios missed weight in his last two fights at 135 don’t appear a factor with five more pounds to play with at 140. Alvarado is going to stay with him for a while, but Rios can just do a little bit more. Look for Rios to win inside the route, anytime from the fifth round forward in a great fight that doesn’t quite reach the Fight of the Year prayers of the masses.
If the main event ends up a draw, it would be no surprise. Nishioka is well schooled and consistent. If he can establish his rhythm, he has the size and range to keep Donaire at bay for stretches. A big concern is that Nishioka, at 36, is coming off a year layoff while Donaire has fought three times in his absence. Donaire showed the ability to adjust to a tough foe late against Mathebula and he might need it here. Nishioka might be a little better fundamental boxer, but the total talent package favors Donaire and he has an eraser. Nishioka hasn't been stopped since his second pro fight. Donaire is at least good enough to hurt him and make it noticed. In a game of rounds, it should be enough to edge it on the cards.
Report Card Picks 2012: 52-16
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]