by Cliff Rold
In a steady, workmanlike performance, 29-year old WBO Super Bantamweight champion Nonito Donaire (30-1, 19 KO) of San Leandro, California scored two knockdowns en route to a ninth-round stoppage of defensive minded 36-year old former WBC Super Bantamweight titlist Toshiaki Nishioka (39-5-3, 23 KO) of Tokyo, Japan on Saturday night at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. It was Donaire’s first knockout win in four fights and only the second loss inside the distance for Nishioka dating to 1995.
Both men came in under the division limit, Donaire at 121 ½ and Nishioka at 121 ¾. The referee was Raul Caiz Sr.
The lineal crown at 122 lbs., vacant since Israel Vazquez announced he was done with the division in 2009, was widely considered to be on the line coming into the fight given the divisional accomplishments of the two men.
Nishioka gave up the World Boxing Council (WBC) title without losing it for personal cited reasons after a seven-defense reign from 2008-2012 that included a win over likely future Hall of Famer Rafael Marquez.
Donaire, a former titlist at Flyweight and Bantamweight and also an interim titlist at Jr. Bantamweight, won the World Boxing Organization (WBO) and International Boxing Federation (IBF) titles at 122 lbs. in his two fights prior to Nishioka, defeating Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. for a vacant belt and Jeffrey Mathebula respectively. Donaire vacated the IBF title prior to Saturday’s contest. The WBC offered something called a “Diamond” belt to the winner on Saturday despite currently recognizing Abner Mares as their champion.
Nishioka, a southpaw, found Donaire waiting at center ring to start the fight with some early testing shots. Donaire landed a jab between the guard, Nishioka landing back with his own jab and a straight left to the body. The crowd booed the technical start as Nishioka again landed a single left to the body. His right glove glued to his face, Nishioka was clearly looking to elude the left hook of Donaire. Donaire jabbed, and occasionally opened up off the stick, while Nishioka mostly watched.
Donaire’s early assaults in the second were blocked, Nishioka trying to set up a left counter to the face. An attempt to do so missed the mark. A Nishioka feint backed Donaire up but he again missed a left to the head. Nishioka turned to three jabs. A couple of Donaire rights got past the guard of Nishioka down the middle. Donaire landed another in the final seconds as both men posed and looked for openings.
His best success coming with lead right hands, Donaire kept throwing them in the third as feinted plenty and threw little. Nishioka started to show his right jab towards the final minute, nearly eating a counter when he followed with a let to the body. Nishioka managed to land the body shot late and slipped Donaire’s follow-up.
The fight was rinse and repeat in rounds four and five, Nishioka opening up marginally more with the jab but remaining so focused on not getting hit he couldn’t get off. Nishioka was warned in the fifth for a shot below the belt, but Donaire didn’t seem too bothered.
Easily the best round of the fight to then, Nishioka finally started to throw real punches in the sixth. He paid for it, a left from Donaire putting him on the floor. Nishioka rose and was suddenly wide-awake. As Donaire stepped in to look for a finish, Nishioka let go some hard left hands to keep him honest and the crowd responded with cheers for the first time. In the closing seconds, Nishioka took a big right and waved Donaire on.
Could the tempo stay up in the seventh? It took about a minute, but a landing left from Nishioka gave hope. Nishioka stepped in with a left and a clash of heads briefly halted the action. No cut resulted and they were quickly back to action. Nishioka landed some jabs and blocked a left. Donaire slipped in a right in the final thirty seconds. The tempo was back to slumbering.
Nishioka may actually have won a round in eighth, stealing it in the final minute by sitting down and committing to his offense. He landed some booming lefts. Donaire landed back but Nishioka stayed aggressive, as the fight got lively again.
Donaire slipped in an awkward exchange early in the ninth. Nishioka ended up on the floor the old fashioned way. Pressing the action, Nishioka walked into a hard right hand and went to the floor for the second time in the fight. Nishioka beat the count but his corner stepped in to save him and Caiz stopped the fight at 1:54 of the ninth.
Nishioka was not interviewed after the fight. He suffers his first setback since a four-fight WBC title series at Bantamweight against Veraphol Sahaprom from 2000-2004. Nishioka suffered two decision losses and two draws in their rivalry.
Interviewed in the ring following the fight, Donaire gave respect to the fans that came to the fight and his opponent. “Nishioka’s a great fighter. That’s why we were kind of weary about it because we know we can end it with one punch…he made that mistake to reach in, I got him with the uppercut (in the sixth). My hand was hurting a little bit so I couldn’t finish him off so I had to go with my right.”
The right worked out just fine. Asked about the future, and whether he would stay at 122 or move up four pounds to Featherweight, Donaire was non-committal. He stated he’d be willing to stay when asked about fighters under other promoters, presumably referring to the upcoming Abner Mares-Anselmo Moreno fight in November. Asked about a fighter with whom he shares a promoter, World Boxing Association titlist Guillermo Rigondeaux (11-0, 8 KO), Donaire didn’t seem enthused.
“He needs more guys (on his record) to make me excited. I have to be excited for the fight or else I’m going to get bored like in my last few fights. This fight I was so aware, so focused. I know what (Nishioka) have and I want to feel that going into the ring.” So, for now, it appears the Rigondeaux fight some hardcore fight fans would like to see remains off the table.
Whether or not a fight with the winner of Mares-Moreno could be made remains to be seen but the obstacles are high given problems between Donaire’s promoter, Top Rank, and Golden Boy Promotions.
Fans who wanted to see more action had already received their money’s worth before Donaire and Nishioka ever stepped in the ring.
It was billed as a “Fight of the Year” candidate from signing. It may well have met the hype. Over seven brutal rounds, 26-year old former WBA Lightweight titlist Brandon Rios (31-0-1, 23), 140, of Oxnard, California, erased the memories of a controversial decision win over Richard Abril in his last fight by stopping undefeated 32-year old Jr. Welterweight contender Mike Alvarado (33-1, 23 KO), 139 ¾, of Denver, Colorado, in a savage affair. No knockdowns were scored but Alvarado, badly hurt by right hands and broken down by Rios’s relentless body attack, appeared nearly out on his feet and suffered the stoppage loss.
Alvarado came into the contest rated #3 by the IBF and #1 by the WBO. Rios, new to the Jr. Welterweight class, entered the bout unrated by any of the major sanctioning bodies. That should change shortly.
The referee was Pat Russell.
Alvarado jogged out of his corner at the opening bell. Both men tested with their jabs, Rios stepping in with some hard shots to the body. Alvarado, sticking with attempts to establish the jab, fired back to the body after a second Rios salvo. Rios scored with a right over the shoulder guard of Alvarado and then scored with a pair of lefts to the head. Alvarado answered back with a combination to the head and right to the body. Rios drew first blood, Alvarado’s nose showing a trickle. He didn’t seem to notice as both men fired hard in the trenches down the stretch to the bell.
Again they began with measuring jabs in the second, Rios again going to the body first. The pretense of boxing settled into hard inside fighting before a minute has passed. They traded massive right hands and each man kept their hands moving until a big uppercut broke through for Alvarado. Rios shook it off, landing to the body and with a left to the head. Alvarado answered with a booming right. Rios blocked a right upstairs and they were shoulder to shoulder for most of the final minute, Rios nailing Alvarado with a clean left and a right before the bell.
A small welt was forming under the left eye of Alvarado as the third round began. Rios missed a combo in the first minute and took a right as Alvarado responded in kind. Alvarado used his right to loop around the high guard of Rios twice, Rios opting to stay close and keep digging. A Rios right landed stiff and Alvarado blasted him with a left to freeze any follow up. Rios connected with two lefts inside the minute mark and this time Alvarado used a right to get his back. A Rios right landed and Rios came on with a series of shots as the crowd chanted his name loudly.
Alvarado’s right eye was also showing bruising as the fourth started; Rios was red across the bridge of the nose. Alvarado worked well of the jab in the first minute, his right hand again coming around Rios’s guard. Rios landed a left as the midway point of the round neared. More and more, Alvarado was trying to create space with the jab as Rios stayed ever ready to get inside. He paid for it, taking a nasty left, but he came back with one of his own. Both men landed jarring lefts in the closing seconds of the round.
The first big blow of the fifth was a right from Alvarado; he did it again before the first minute was done. A right uppercut and two more right crosses came across the bow. Rios, being countered silly in spots, just kept coming, firing and taking the worst of it as Alvarado multiplied leather on his face. Rios came back and found some punches to make Alvarado think. What Alvarado apparently thought was that he’d go back to landing hard and make sure he won the round.
As the sixth began, Rios’s right eye was now showing wear. Neither man fought like they minded. Both men landed short, chopping shots at center ring, Alvarado staying a step ahead in terms of clean, eye-catching shots. After taking the best of some Rios lefts, Alvarado backed Rios off with a right. Rios replied by rocking Alvarado with a right but the Colorado native didn’t stay buckled long, biting down and stepping back in for a crowd pleasing exchange to draw the round closed.
Both men now showing blood from the nose, Alvarado landed the first big shots of the seventh. Rios landed a terrific right hand just inside the halfway point and Alvarado was rocked. His man in trouble, Rios did what he does best.
Another right hand turned Alvarado almost all the way around, sending him into the ropes. Another right hand landed against the ropes and Alvarado, his eyes dazed, held his arms out high and loose, his sense separated from his physical intentions. With Rios coming forward to dish out more, Russell stepped in to save Alvarado at 1:57 of the seventh round.
An exhausted Rios collapsed to the floor face first with joy and maintained his elation during the in-ring interviews following the bout. Rios quickly gave credit to those who set up the contest. “It wasn’t a fight. It was great promoters, great managers. That’s what lived it up in the fight.” He gave Alvarado credit as a warrior and said, “He tested my chin. I handled it. I’m ready for the next guy.”
A possible next guy could be WBO Welterweight titlist Manny Pacquiao if Pacquiao defeats Juan Manuel Marquez in their fourth fight in December. Asked about a fight with the Filipino superstar, or Marquez, Rios liked his chances. “See what happened to Mike Alvarado? I think I can do it to them too. Mike Alvarado, I think he hits harder than them. He’s tougher; Pacquiao is an in and out guy…Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. taught me very well, break the body, the head will fall down.”
Asked about a rematch with Alvarado, Rios involved the crowd for their opinion. The crowd roared their approval. “Fuck it. Let’s do it again.” Rios said with a smile.
Alvarado, disappointed, felt the fight could have gone on longer. “I could have kept going. I would have got my head back and kept going.” Alvarado, like Rios, was open to a return. “I’m ready.”
No one who saw Rios-Alvarado on Saturday would want to miss a sequel.
The card was televised in the U.S on HBO as part of its “Boxing After Dark” series, promoted by Top Rank.
Cliff Rold is a Managing Editor at BoxingScene, and a member of the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]