By Cliff Rold
It didn’t end up an action classic, nor will it be mentioned at 2011’s end as a ‘Fight of the Year’ candidate.
That’s really not a big deal. Every fight can’t be epic. Sometimes fans have to settle for what amount to a boxing pot luck, an occasion to watch two fighters brings a little bit of everything from their fistic kitchen, en route to producing a hearty result. A little bit of chess, a little bit of blood, a bold late stand…the only thing missing was a knockout casserole
That’s just what happened Saturday in Las Vegas as WBC 122 lb. titlist Toshiaki Nishioka (39-4-3, 24 KO) held off the challenge of former 118 and 122 lb. champion Rafael Marquez (40-7, 36 KO) in an all-class veteran struggle.
Let’s go the report card.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Nishioka B+; Marquez B/B+; B-
Pre-Fight: Power – Nishioka B; Marquez A/B; B
Pre-Fight: Defense – Nishioka B; Marquez B-/B+; B-
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Nishioka B+; Marquez A/A; A
Marquez got off to a great start, probably winning the first three rounds but it was Nishioka who was really picking up points. The first three rounds, viewing the fight as a whole, were about baiting the hook. Nishioka was gauging the range of the shorter Marquez and testing, seemingly one at a time, which of his blows would make the best contact.
The fight made a turn in a fourth round that could have gone either way before Nishioka firmly took things over in five, six and seven. He was outthinking Marquez before outboxing him. The butt changed all that of course, an accidental butt deep into the hairline disorienting Nishioka and drawing blood down around his right ear. Marquez pounced, Nishioka shored up to return fire, and the firefights of the final third of the bout began.
It would be the twelfth round that truly defined the night. Well behind on the cards, Marquez went for broke and Nishioka, who could wisely have moved and held to get out of the round and on to sure victory, fought him. With a minute to go, Nishioka was rocked. He dug in and fought back again, risking defeat for even more thrilling victory.
In the pre-fight report card, it was noted Marquez has been a great fighter while Nishioka appeared only a good fighter on a great run. What fans saw Saturday was a great performance that enhances the strength of Nishioka’s run at 122 lbs. since winning a belt (initially interim and then later ‘full’) in 2008.
The fighter once defined by being the foil of Thai great Veraphol Sahaprom can be defined by his own accomplishment, the Sahaprom failings (two losses, two draws) simply one part of his story and no longer the biggest. He also, to some extent, redefines recent perceptions about the Japanese boxing scene.
Koki Kameda remains the biggest draw. Hozumi Hasegawa, during an excellent Bantamweight title reign, looked like it’s finest fighter, even creeping onto some pound-for-pound ratings, including BoxingScene’s.
Hasegawa faltered when he reached beyond his comfort zone, stopped by Fernando Montiel in a unification bout and then in defense of a Featherweight belt a couple fights later by Jhonny Gonzalez. That same Gonzalez was whacked out by Nishioka in an off the floor thriller. Nishioka adds now the sort of name Hasegawa was trying for in Montiel. That the name is even bigger strongly advances Nishioka’s claim on being Japan’s finest, both today and in recent retrospect.
There will be those who look at a Marquez who isn’t as quick, whose punches have steadily lost snap through myriad wars, and question the true validity of the win but that would be unfair. Marquez showed he could stun Nishioka, and occasionally time him. What he couldn’t do was consistently navigate the distance to the Japanese titlist, a tactical more than physical problem. Maybe a younger Marquez could have defeated Nishioka…but, it’s fair to point out, Nishioka would have been younger as well.
Marquez, on Saturday, showed he is still a world-class fighter. Nishioka beat him because, for the moment, and for the last couple years, he is the world’s best at 122. Can anyone in the class challenge him? Fellow beltholders Takalani Ndlovu and Jorge Arce don’t look like they are seriously in Nishioka’s league; Rico Ramos is unlikely to have a belt beyond a mandatory with Guillermo Rigondeaux.
That leaves the big challenge to come from below. Is Nishioka versus Bantamweight leader Nonito Donaire now inevitable? Donaire was ringside. It’s worth hoping the countdown has begun to ring center.
Report Card Picks 2011: 32-12
Cruiserweight: A rematch is in order between Steve Cunningham and Yoan Pablo Hernandez after a laughable early cut stoppage, and equally laughable too-wide scores for Hernandez, brought an end to a fight that looked like it was getting really good. The scoring might have been questionable in divide but had the right winner and Hernandez goes to number one while Cunningham slips a notch to number two.
Light Heavyweight: Gabriel Campillo beat Karo Murat, got a draw, and moves up a notch. This dude is the poster child for why some people just can’t stomach boxing’s inability to conduct itself respectably.
Middleweight: Grzegorz Proska rockets into the top ten with a dominant carving up of former titlist Sebastian Sylvester. It was the third stoppage loss of Sylvester’s career and he’s shown age, but he marked a quality step up fight and Proska responded. Europe is getting looks at guys like Proska and Golovkin. The U.S. is watching the visibly less talented Andy Lee. The future of the Middleweight division may be headed where the Heavyweight division already resides.
Since Lee is mentioned, let it be noted he is not rated here nor should he be despite HBO showcasing him recently. Lee is not a top ten Middleweight (yet) and has shown nothing to indicate he is any more a challenge for Sergio Martinez than Darren Barker was.
Martinez is the legitimate Middleweight king and there are some quality Middleweights to defend against. He should fight one next, after taking the traditional paycheck defense. Lee should not be one of the options. If HBO isn’t disposed to air Martinez versus a serious Middleweight contender, how about a Martinez defense in Argentina or even in Europe on some other network?
The great Carlos Monzon did it, behaved as a capital “W” World champ, defending the Middleweight crown in the U.S. only once during one of the great title reigns of all time. If it’s good enough for Monzon, can’t it be good enough for Martinez?
Featherweight: Assuming he continues as a professional, Rafael Marquez is likely to stay on at Featherweight, where he’s spent most of his recent tenure. His loss to Nishioka costs him a couple slots but he remains rated for the time being.
The weekend results and more are reflected a page away.
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]