By Jake Donovan, photo by Chris Farina/Top Rank
Nothing is a sure thing, especially in boxing. Still, the October 13 HBO-televised doubleheader has boxing fans thinking this will be a night to remember for a long time.
Playing in the fans’ favor is the fact that the participants seem just as eager.
All four fighters are involved in the toughest test of their respective careers. The headlining bout pits top super bantamweights Toshiaki Nishioka and Nonito Donaire in a bout that will – barring a draw or no-contest – reestablish divisional championship lineage for the first time in four years following Israel Vazquez’ extended hiatus in 2008 after three wars with Rafael Marquez.
The co-feature bout is what has really heightened anticipation surrounding this card. Current 140 lb. contender Mike Alvarado takes on former lightweight champ Brandon ‘Bam Bam’ Rios in a matchup of unbeaten sluggers that has boxing fans talking Fight of the Year accolades.
“October 13 is going to be a great night of action,” Bob Arum stated during Tuesday’s presser to formally announce the event, which takes place at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA. “The October 13 televised card consists of two matches. There is the WBO Latino 140 lb. title between Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado.
“This fight, for whatever belt it’s fought for – this bout, I don’t have to tell you will be a candidate for Fight of the Year. Everyone I know wants to see the fight because the two combatants go at it. There are no holds barred and will be extremely enjoyable for the fans.”
Both fighters have already been in their fair share of wars as they are amidst their respective optimal primes. The fight was initially made without the guarantee of a title shot. It was later announced that the fight will be an eliminator of sorts, with the winner first in line for the title presently in the possession of Juan Manuel Marquez, should he choose to hold onto the belt for that long.
No matter what lies ahead or even what’s at stake doesn’t change the dynamics of the fight. The fans know it and so do the fighters. Neither felt the need to overload on hype or machismo during the press conference. Quite the opposite was in fact true, as pleasantries were exchanged by each during their time behind the mic.
“It’s the fight I’ve been waiting for, it’s the fight we’ve both been waiting for,” Alvarado (33-0, 23KO) said of a fight that marks his HBO debut. “We have a mutual respect and have known each other for a while. It comes down to who trains the hardest. It’s about heart, stamina, our chin - all will be tested. It’s a fight everyone will be talking about for a long time. I’m ready.”
Alvarado is coming off of a 10-round decision win over Mauricio Herrera this past April. The fight took place - which took place on the undercard of Rios’ controversial split decision nod over Richard Abril – was considered among the best fights of the first half of the year.
The statement in part speaks to how weak 2012 had been to that point (really to present time), but also to Alvarado’s ability to deliver on all levels. The bout was a thriller throughout, one where Alvarado never stopped trying for a knockout and where he refused to sit on his lead at any point.
It came on the heels of a fight that perhaps truly proved his grit, rallying back from a deficit on the cards to stop Breidis Prescott in the 10th and final round of their war last November.
Rios (30-0-1, 22KO) punched his way into the hearts of boxing fans long ago, but it was his domination of then-unbeaten Anthony Peterson that proved to be his breakout performance. From there came his first crack at a lightweight belt, overcoming a rocky start to stop Miguel Acosta in a 10 thrilling rounds last February.
A more condensed version of the fight was offered in his lone title defense, a three-round knockout of Urbano Antillon that was bombs away for as long as it lasted last July.
Weight struggles and injuries have since slowed Rios’ momentum. He was forced to give up his belt on the scales prior to knocking out John Murray last December in what would have otherwise been a Fighter-Of-The-Year level campaign.
The weight issues were attributed to improper dieting and conditioning methods, but showing up heavy for his billed lightweight title fight against Abril earlier this year gained little sympathy from the public. Even less was exuded on fight night, when Rios was outworked over 12 rounds but rewarded by the judges for his more aggressive style in escaping with a split decision.
Redemption was hoped for in July when he was to fight at 140 lb. against Mauricio Herrera in the very same venue that will stage the October 13 show. However, an injury forced Rios off of the show.
All healed up and seemingly with his weight under control, Rios can’t wait to get it on with his friendly rival.
“I’m just very excited to be back (in) the spotlight,” Rios said, in good spirit with the assembled media on hand “even though you talk bad about me. There’s no hype needed. I respect Mike, I know he respect me. I know Mike is here to prove a point and I’m here to prove a point.
“This is like the Super Bowl of boxing. I’m making my weight comfortable and I feel good. It’s going to be a bloody, violent fight. I’m sure Mike agrees, this isn’t going the distance. I’m sure Mike feels the same way.”
Most feel that the fight will be a true scene stealer, so much that the onus is on the billed main event to actually live up to the supporting bout. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Donaire and Nishioka find a way to top their televised counterparts, or at least come damn close.
“This super bantamweight championship match is a real classic,” Arum insists, a statement – while biased given his involvement – not at all without merit. “Not only is it of great interest to fight fans in the United States, but also to fight fans all around and especially in Asia. You have a Filipino-born champion and a Japanese-born champion. That in and of itself makes for a classic matchup.”
Nishioka (39-4-3, 24KO) has discovered a variety of ways to win over the course of the past eight years. Sixteen straight victories have followed since his last loss, a points loss to the excellent Veeraphol Sahaprom in the last of their four-fight series that saw Nishioka go 0-2-2.
The 36-year old southpaw has since struck alphabet gold, picking up a 122 lb. belt four years ago. Seven defenses have followed, including an off-the-canvas knockout over current featherweight titlist Jhonny Gonzalez and a points win over former two-division champ Rafael Marquez last October.
“For those who were able to see the show in Las Vegas last year, Nishioka-san fought against Rafael Marquez and was victorious,” Arum reminded the audience. “That showed the people what a terrific fighter he was and is.
The performance was his last to date. Self-described personal issues kept Nishioka out of the ring for all of 2012 thus far, a layoff that resulted in his alphabet belt being stripped.
Nevertheless, Nishioka is recognized by most as the best active super bantamweight in the world. Now after having fought stateside just once through 45 fights spanning 13 ½ years, the southpaw heads to this side of the world for his second straight fight. His win over Marquez took place in Las Vegas and now returns to the West Coast just over one year later, with every intention of continuing his winning ways.
“I have been winning at super bantamweight for a long time now,” Nishioka stated through means of an on-site translator. “Donaire has been winning and has proven himself to be a great fighter. He currently has two super bantamweight belts. I believe this fight will be the best fight at 122 lb. I’d like for both of us to be in the best of conditions and put on the best fight possible. I plan to win.”
Just as Nishioka has found success late in his career, Donaire (29-1, 18KO) continues to prove with each fight that early losses don’t kill a career. A belt winner in several divisions (three, plus an interim reign at super flyweight), Donaire hasn’t lost since his second pro fight – a stretch that extends 11 years and 28 fights.
Several big wins have come along the way, including emphatic title-winning knockouts over Vic Darchinyan at flyweight and Fernando Montiel at bantamweight. Darchinyan was unbeaten at the time and Monitel was regarded as the best bantamweight in the world. Both were lit up without ever making Donaire even blink.
“Donaire has had such a distinguished career while fighting out of Northern California,” Arum says of the fighter he’s proudly promoted for the past four years. “He’s earned his way up the pound-for-pound rankings. He’s a 122 lb champion and keeps getting better and better. He truly is one of the better champions of our time.”
The latter win earned instant recognition for Donaire as high among the world’s best fighters. What hasn’t exactly followed is the type of performance to suggest he’s a threat to replace anyone currently ahead of him on any given set of formidable (albeit mythical) pound-for-pound rankings.
Wins over Omar Narvaez, Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. and Jeffrey Mathebula were respectable, though none really leaving fans fulfilled by night’s end. A win over Nishioka would give Donaire a third division in which he could claim to have been a top fighter (or in Darchinyan’s case, someone close enough to the top to where the win stands out).
“What Nishioka has done in this divison – he’s been #1 in this division and that’s why I dream for this fight,” Donaire states of his biggest challenge on paper at least since his Feb. ’11 showdown with Montiel. “He’s been in this weight class for such a long time and leading the way.
“There are no words to describe this fight, it’s the best versus the best. I’ve always dreamed of becoming undisputed champion (Editor’s note: Donaire has two titles while Guillermo Rigondeaux is the other “major” beltholder). The WBC diamond belt at stake means I can realize that dream, just as Nishioka can fight for this dream.”
It’s only fitting that such a dream comes on a dream card such as what will air on October 13.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox