By Cliff Rold
If nothing else, it’s probably the best action fight between two fighters in their mid-30s that could be made in boxing right now. That it is also the best prizefight, on paper, taking place on a busy weekend of fistic action is high praise.
It’s also, with a Marquez brother on tap, no surprise.
Nishioka is unknown to most of the U.S. audience. It’s no reflection of his talent. Lodging most of his career in Japan, Nishioka emerged with a win over Jhonny Gonzalez in 2009 to seize the lead in the Jr. Featherweight division and hasn’t looked back.
It helped the two men who epically led the division before him, Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez, had beaten each other out of the field. Despite not having fought at 122 lbs. since the third Vazquez fight in 2008, Marquez is back in class looking for one more piece of gold.
Nishioka will be looking to keep the gold where it is: his waist. Someone is going to get hit in the mouth…and then get hit back. From bell to bell, this could be special.
Let’s go the report card.
Titles: WBC Jr. Featherweight (2008-Present, 6 Defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Height: 5’6 ½
Weight: 122 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 121.7 lbs.
Hails from: Tokyo, Japan
Record: 38-4-3, 24 KO, 1 KOBY
BoxingScene Rank: #1 at Jr. Featherweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 6-2-2, 5 KO (7-2-2, 5 KO including interim title fights)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 2 (Ivan Hernandez, Jhonny Gonzalez)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 1 (Veraphol Sahaprom)
Previous Titles: IBF Bantamweight (2003-07, 7 Defenses); Lineal/Ring/WBC Jr. Featherweight (2007)
Weight: 121 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 125 lbs.
Hails from: Mexico City, Mexico
Record: 40-6, 36 KO, 5 KOBY
BoxingScene Rank: #5 at Featherweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 9-3, 7 KO, 2 KOBY
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 2 (Mark Johnson, Tim Austin, Mauricio Pastrana, Israel Vazquez)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 3 (Victor Rabanales, Israel Vazquez, Juan Manuel Lopez)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Nishioka B+; Marquez B
Pre-Fight: Power – Nishioka B; Marquez A
Pre-Fight: Defense – Nishioka B; Marquez B-
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Nishioka B+; Marquez A
Nishioka is a solid boxer and tricky from the southpaw stance. He’s got enough pop to keep anyone wary and is effective in varying the speed of his offense. One second, he’s pawing with the jab, taking a half step back, and then it’s a lead left or right with snap. He’ll be a hair quicker than Marquez and has the better chin, stopped only once very early in his career.
Nishioka may also be motivated by the ghosts of his past. Four of the blemishes on his record, two decision losses and two split draws, came against the one fighter he’s defeated with any sort of claim to real greatness. Sahaprom was a long reigning titlist at 118 lbs. and one of the best Thai fighters since the prime of Khaosai Galaxy and, despite home field advantage in all of their fights, Nishioka couldn’t get the job done.
That he learned from those setbacks and enjoys the fruits of a long career’s service now is evident but one still wonders if there is a ceiling on Nishioka. He’s got some good qualities but there are limits in his punch variation. He isn’t particularly multi-dimensional.
At least, he doesn’t have quite as many dimensions as Marquez. The younger brother of current lineal Lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez shows the schooling of Nacho Beristain and a power only God can bestow (or Odin, for fans of Thor’s Hammer).
While defeated, Marquez gave hell to the younger and fresher Juan Manuel Lopez in 2010 with well-timed uppercuts and hooks. Nishioka is susceptible to lead left hooks and could be to the uppercut if he gets caught leaning forward. Marquez, in his prime, handled southpaws of superior quality to Nishioka (Johnson and Austin). He probably still has enough to exploit Nishioka if he makes mistakes.
Nishioka showed great courage in rising from the floor early to knock Gonzalez senseless in 2009. He’s older now, and in with a better finisher. Of course, Marquez is older as well and has seen his share of wars. If Nishioka hurts him, will Marquez at a spry 121 lbs. have the legs to endure? And does he still want it as bad as he did in epics against the great Mark Johnson or Vazquez?
It could be argued Marquez showed give in retiring late against Lopez, legitimate shoulder or not. In with an opponent who doesn’t come with the same star power, the same perceived threat, will Marquez be willing to suffer for one more night of glory?
The thinking here is he will. Nishioka is quicker but his hands are not as heavy as Lopez’s. Whether Marquez is or isn’t weight drained, he has shown the ability to survive on shaky stems before and what he can fire at Nishioka is bigger than what comes back.
In the end, it’s a gut feeling that Nishioka is a good fighter on a great run while Marquez is a great fighter with good nights left in him. Great usually beats good as long as great isn’t shot. Marquez has shown wear, but his brain and fists still talk to each other. At some point, he’s going to start catching Nishioka with the hardest shots the Japanese warrior has ever tasted and as they multiply, so will Marquez’s chances for victory.
The pick is Marquez by stoppage sometime around the eighth or ninth round of a thriller.
Report Card Picks 2011: 30-11
Cliff’s Notes…While it just isn’t worthy of a report card, one can never count out the chances of an underdog completely. That almost completely is the case, it’s enough to say one should expect Sergio Martinez to score his third straight stoppage in defending his Middleweight crown over Darren Barker Saturday night…In more interesting fare, IBF Cruiserweight titlist Steve Cunningham is giving up a lot of youth and an increasingly shaky beard to Yoan Pablo Hernandez in Germany. The pick here is the Cuban on an upset, probably over the distance.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org