by Kaz Nagatsuka
As super bantamweight champion Toshiaki Nishioka prepares to square off against Nonito Donaire of the Philippines in a unification title match, the 36-year-old is as psyched up as he's ever been in his storied career.
Nishioka, the WBC champion, will face Donaire, who holds the WBO and IBF titles, at Home Depot Center in Carson, California, on Oct. 13, in a blockbuster match for the lighter weight divisions.
Nishioka last fought in October, but his long wait for another bout is nearly over. Nishioka (39-4-3, 24 KOs) needed 39 fights to earn his first world title in 2008 and defended it seven times before being named an emeritus champion by the WBC in March, and had ardently hoped to fight Donaire (29-1, 18 KO).
"I've defended my title abroad, I've had a main event in Las Vegas against (Mexico's Rafael) Marquez," Nishioka said at a Tokyo news conference last week. "I wouldn't be motivated had it been an average fight."
Nicknamed "Speed King," Nishioka is the only male Japanese boxer to defend his world championship belt overseas more than twice.
"But Donaire has a great reputation around the world and is considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters," he continued. "He's the one who I'll be fired up for the most."
The negotiations, however, don't seem to have gone smoothly, because before the matchup was officially set, Donaire was believed to be taking on WBO bantamweight champ Jorge Arce next.
In fact, Nishioka at one point thought that negotiations had completely broken down. Late in July, he got a phone call from his gym's president, Akihiko Honda of Teiken Promotions, Inc., telling him Arce signed a contract to fight Donaire. Both Arce and Donaire are both promoted by Top Rank, Inc., which has many star clients, including Manny Pacquiao.
"I was devastated," Nishioka recalled. "And I thought the possibility of a fight with Donaire was gone."
However it was revealed that information was wrong (reportedly, the negotiations stalled because Arce's side asked for far more money). The next day, Honda once again called Nishioka.
This time, he told Nishioka that his fight with Donaire was signed.
"I was truly pleased about it," Nishioka said.
Ken Morita, president of the Japan Boxing Commission, dubbed it "the biggest fight in Japan's boxing history."
Now that the negotiations have been settled, there's only one challenge for Nishioka to worry about — actually facing Donaire in the ring in Southern California come fall.
Donaire, who has captured world titles in four different weight divisions, will be a tough foe. The 29-year-old, who's known as the "Filipino Flash" and considered a boxing hero behind only Pacquiao in the Philippines, is on a 28-bout winning streak and hasn't lost a bout since 2001.
Tsuyoshi Hamada, a former WBC world junior welterweight champion and current representative of Teiken Gym, thinks it will be a difficult fight for Nishioka because of Donaire's heavy punches and his record of beating strong opponents.
"How Nishioka handles a guy like that . . . that'll be really interesting," Hamada said.
Nishioka understands it won't be easy to send Donaire down to the canvas. Yet he won't back down and believes he's capable of defeating his opponent.
"If I can unify the three belts," Nishioka said. "That's almost something like you see in comics. So I'm extremely excited about it."
Aside from the three belts, there's also a special WBC Diamond Championship belt on the line. It was established in 2009 and is given to the winner of a super fight between two outstanding boxers.
Only four men (Pacquiao, Bernard Hopkins, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Sergio Martinez) have received it.
So if Nishioka wins, or even if he loses, will this be his last bout?
Not so fast.
"You got my age wrong by 10 years," Nishioka joked, when asked how he feels physically at the age of 36. "I don't feel any decline or whatsoever in myself at all. If I did, I would've quit by now."
Nishioka will attend at a news conference along with Donaire among the other fighters on the day's card in Los Angeles on Aug. 27.