Sergio Martinez: The middleweight champ ended up with a gratifying victory even on an off night Saturday in Atlantic City, N.J. Martinez’s struggles weren’t entirely his fault. Darren Barker (23-1, 14 knockouts) proved to be a very good boxer who was intent on not getting hit, a formula that could frustrate almost any fighter. Martinez (48-2-2, 27 KOs) never acted frustrated, though. He kept pecking away, trying to pierce Barker’s immovable guard or do damage to the body. And gradually he broke through, wearing the Englishman down and setting up the kill in the penultimate round. THE RING champion capped a series of hard blows with a right to the temple, which finally finished Barker off. The victory certainly didn’t rival some of Martinez’s recent triumphs, but when all is said and done he found a way to get to a reluctant foe and score his third consecutive knockout. Was it a great night? No. Was it a good one in the end? Absolutely.
Darren Barker: I don’t get it. A bloke presumably dreams of fighting for a world title from the time he takes up boxing as a child or young man. Then, when he has the opportunity to realize that dream, he doesn’t give himself a chance to win. You gotta throw punches if you want your hand raised, mate. Barker obviously is a good boxer. Martinez struggled to hit him cleanly for almost the entire fight, which is saying something give the champ’s ability. However, that’s only part of the equation. You’re merely surviving if you don’t take the risks necessary to score points or hurt your opponent, which describes Barker’s night. Yes, the final result probably gives us an idea of what would’ve happened had Barker taken risks earlier. Still, unless you have the ability of a Pernell Whitaker, that’s generally the only way to win. And isn’t that the objective? To win?
BIGGEST WINNER II
Toshiaki Nishioka: The WBC junior featherweight titleholder looked ordinary for three rounds against Rafael Marquez on Saturday in Las Vegas, content to trade jabs with the powerful Mexican. Then Nishioka (39-4-3, 24 KOs) turned it on. The Japanese southpaw seized control of the fight by pounding Marquez (40-7, 36 KOs) with quick, hard lefts beginning in the fourth and never let up. Marquez was game but couldn’t come close to matching the winner power shot for power shot. And Nishioka, not known for his aggression, should be commended for taking the risks necessary to close the show against a big puncher. He wanted the knockout. In the end, he was more than pleased to settle for a unanimous decision in his seventh defense of the title he claimed in 2008. It was a very impressive performance by an excellent all-around fighter, even if we wonder exactly how much Marquez has left.
BIGGEST LOSER II
Rafael Marquez: Something was missing against Nishioka. Maybe the Japanese fighter is simply more talented than Marquez. Or maybe it was a bad style matchup for the 36-year-old two-division titleholder from Mexico. More likely Marquez just isn’t Marquez any longer at 36. He appears to have his reflexes and some speed, signs that he’s not shot. He wasn’t active enough to win the fight, though, which isn’t the Marquez we know. Add to that the fact that he is 3-4 in his last seven fights and it’s reasonable to wonder whether he is in decline. Marquez has given us so many thrills in so many wars, most notably in his epic series against Israel Vazquez. He might be inducted into the Hall of Fame one day. In other words, he’s done enough. Now might be a good time to walk away, after a decent performance against a superb fighter and with his faculties in tact.
Nishioka-Donaire: No one in or around Nonito Donaire’s weight class will beat him. If anyone would have a chance, though, it might be Nishioka. Donaire’s presumably would lose the size advantage he holds over bantamweights when he moves up to junior featherweight. Nishioka also is a quick-handed boxer with uncommon skill who is cautious by nature. He typically will take just enough chances to win the fight, which could limit Donaire’s opportunities against him. Still, Donaire would win. Nishioka is a very good fighter. Donaire is a special fighter, which is rare. The two could meet in May or June if Donaire beats Omar Narvaez on Oct. 22 and a subsequent opponent (Jorge Arce?), according to promoter Bob Arum.
Andy Lee: The middleweight contender from Ireland was outboxing Brian Vera when they met in 2008 only to get stopped in the seventh, the first and only loss in Lee’s career. They met again Saturday on the Martinez-Barker undercard. And this time Vera never really had a chance. Lee boxed brilliantly from beginning to end, never allowing the pressure-fighting Vera to get rolling. And he didn’t just run, as Vera (19-6, 12 KOs) and his corner suggested late in the fight. The Detroit-based southpaw set up dozens of hard lefts with a consistent right jab. He did damage even if he couldn’t stop his iron-chinned opponent. Lee (27-1, 19 KOs) could be in line to face Martinez, which would be a monumental challenge. Lee is tall, though, 6-foot-2. And, again, he can box. He might be able to give Martinez a little trouble.
BEST U.S. DEBUT
Roman Gonzalez: Little guys like the 5-foot-2½ junior flyweight titleholder from Nicaragua aren’t supposed to have crushing power. The best of them are generally light punchers with quick, busy hands and fine-tuned skills. Gonzalez (30-0, 25 KOs) appears to be an exception. The second best fighter ever produced in his native country – after Alexis Arguello and ahead of Ricardo Mayorga – stopped capable Mexican Omar Soto (22-8-2, 15 KOs) with a straight right and a left uppercut 36 seconds into the second round of his U.S. debut on the Nishioka-Marquez undercard, giving him an 83-percent knockout ratio. That figure would make any slugger proud. He’s 7-0 in the title fights (at strawweight and junior flyweight) with four knockouts. And he’s just getting started. “El Chocolatito” is only 24 years old.
Yoshihiro Kamegai: Nishioka wasn’t the only impressive Japanese fighter on the card Saturday in Las Vegas. Kamegai (19-0, 17 KOS) dominated tough journeyman Hector Munoz (19-7-1, 12 KOs) en route to a sixth-round knockout in his first-ever fight outside his hometown of Tokyo, his seventh consecutive stoppage. Kamegai, 28, is a quick-handed fighter who moves very well and has heavy hands, which gradually broke down his game but overmatched opponent. It’s difficult to gauge exactly how good Kamegai is because of Munoz’s limited ability but his performance was on par with that of Mike Jones and Shawn Porter, who stopped Munoz in five and nine rounds respectively. We’ll see how Kamegai does when he faces better opposition.
Cunningham-Hernandez stoppage: Yoan Pablo Hernandez (25-1, 13 KOs) took the IBF cruiserweight title from Steve Cunningham (24-3, 12 KOs) by a sixth-round technical decision Saturday in Germany. The fight was stopped because of cuts suffered by the Cuban, the result of accidental head butts. The ringside doctor, Walter Wagner, told The AP: “The cuts weren’t dangerous, but the blood could have run into the eyes and affected his vision. I think the head clashes that the referee felt were accidental weren’t entirely accidental. You can have different opinions there. Hernandez was at a disadvantage from the cuts, so I gave the recommendation.” Let me get this straight. The doctor stopped the fight because blood could have run into Hernandez’s eyes? And he decided, against the referee’s ruling, that the head butts weren’t accidental? Man, ring doctors aren’t shy in Germany.
Bradley joins Top Rank: Timothy Bradley’s decision to sign with Top Rank presents at least one intriguing possibility: Bradley vs. Manny Pacquiao, who also is promoted by Top Rank. One could be critical of Pacquiao’s recent opponents, including a slow Antonio Margarito and an old Shane Mosley. No one could criticize Bradley (27-0, 11 KOs) as a legitimate challenge to the No. 1 fighter in the world. The former 140-pound titleholder is undefeated, ranked No. 7 on THE RING’s pound-for-pound list and can fight. He’s quick, athletic and awkward. Plus, both he and Pacquiao are natural junior welterweights. That means neither will be at a significant advantage fighting at welterweight, although Bradley probably would benefit from a 144-pound catch weight. He looked somewhat sluggish against Luis Carlos Abregu at 147 last year. Bottom line: Good matchup. Let’s hope it happens in the spring if Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. doesn’t. Bradley is scheduled to face Joel Casamayor on the undercard of Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez on Nov. 12 in Las Vegas.
Bradley: “I’m relatively unknown and I think that’s terrible. You hear about it all the time: Bradley can’t do this, can’t sell that, he can’t do that. My main objective was to get a promoter to build the Bradley brand, and Top Rank is good at doing that. That’s why we chose Top Rank.”