By the time Nonito Donaire defends his IBF and WBO junior featherweight belts in an HBO-televised clash against Japanese southpaw veteran Toshiaki Nishioka on Oct. 13, it will have been eight years and seven months since his rival last experienced defeat.
A Tokyo resident who turned 36 in July, Nishioka (39-4-3, 24 knockouts) has not lost since falling by unanimous decision to long-reigning WBC bantamweight titleholder and Thai legend Veeraphol Sahaprom in March of 2004, having won 16 consecutive fights.
Nishioka’s winning streak includes 10 knockouts and a 12th-round stoppage of Genaro Garcia in January of 2009, a victory which represented the first defense of the belt Nishioka earned with a unanimous decision over Napapol Sor Rungvisai in September of 2008.
Nishioka has been stopped only once, that being by Masahiko Nakamura in the fourth round of his second professional fight in February of 1995.
“Definitely, against Nishioka, we can’t let our guard down. We are working with everything. We’re going back to the old style of Nonito Donaire, and we’re being smart,” said Donaire, who turns 30 in November. ” With the proper game plan, my power will be more dominant when it comes to being set up.”
Nishioka will be ending a nearly year-long absence from competition against Donaire (29-1, 18 KOs), having last been in the ring for a unanimous decision over ex-beltholder Rafael Marquez in defense of his WBC belt on Oct. 1 of last year.
Nishioka made history by defeating Marquez, becoming the first man from Japan to successfully defend his crown on American soil in what was his seventh defense at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Nishioka has since vacated the title, which is now held by Abner Mares.
“Nishioka did a great job against Marquez, but Marquez is a lot slower than I am. So none of those punches will land, obviously,” said Donaire, who will face Nishioka at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
“But he does have power, and that’s something that he can probably try to do is to land and to set up his straight [left hand,] but we’re very mindful of his advantage.”
As far as left-handers go, Donaire has stopped both ex-beltholder Vic Darchinyan and Hernan Marquez in the fifth and eighth rounds in July of 2007 and July of 2010 as a flyweight and a junior bantamweight, respectively.
“I’ve gotten used to sparring a lot of southpaws throughout the years,” said Donaire, a winner of 28 straight fights. “Darchinyan was one of the southpaws that I was notable in knocking out, and Marquez as well is one of the guys that I took apart.”
But Donaire has not ended a fight in spectacular fashion since February of last year, when his second-round knockout dethroned Fernando Montiel as WBO and WBC bantamweight titleholder.
When Donaire dropped Montiel with a stunning left hook followed by a short right uppercut, the loser’s arms outstretched over his head and both legs twitching. Montiel rose on unsteady legs, fell back down, and then rose yet again and stumbled into referee Russell Mora, who waved an end to the fight.
The win over Montiel was the second for Donaire as a bantamweight, following a fourth-round knockout in December of 2010 over Volodymyr Sydorenko , whose nose was broken during a bout in which he was dropped once each in the first, third and fourth rounds.
“That’s what I’ve been known for is those lightening fast counters that were knocking people out, and not because they saw it coming,” said Donaire, who is nicknamed “The Filipino Flash.”
“If they saw it, they were able to brace for it, but I think that’s going to allow me to get back to who I was. That was being unexpected. You won’t see it, but you’re going to feel it, and you might go down.”
Montiel represented Donaire’s fourth straight by stoppage and his 10th in 25 consecutive triumphs. Since then, however, Donaire has not been as completely dominating, although he has been impressive in his past three straight decision victories.
Donaire was frustrated by a defensive-minded Omar Narvaez, a previously unbeaten WBO junior bantamweight titleholder, in his last fight in defense of his WBC and WBO bantamweight titles in October of last year.
“We all have to realize that Nonito has moved up in weight. The fighters are bigger and they’ve all been stronger, and they’ve all been world class fighters. It all has been a little more difficult, coming up in weight, because these guys have been doing it there for years at that weight division. It won’t be easy,” said trainer Robert Garcia.
“But this training camp, the first thing that Nonito told me is that ‘I’m going to come back and fight the way that I used to, and the way that I did with Montiel, Sydorenko,’ and those guys that he was taking apart, little by little and knocking them out. He’s been landing beautiful punches and beautiful combinations, and I have no doubt that he will do it against Nishioka and perform very well.”
Donaire feels, however, that he has grown and developed a more complete repertoire as a result of having gone the distance against Narvaez, Vazquez Jr. and Mathebula.
“We trained our best, and we gained the victories, and I think that’s what counts the most. But you’ve got to understand that these guys are world champions and they’re on top of their game, and sometimes, you don’t get the things that people expect because I’m one of the top guys, and people expect a lot from me. We’re changing up a lot of the style to get something more exciting for the fans,” said Donaire.
“For the last three fight, it was different and experimental, and it allowed me to get to know myself better as a fighter. So, in this fight, I’m going back to who I really am in terms of boxing and doing the unexpected. That’s the difference in this camp. We relied on he power in the last few fights, but this time, we’re coming out there and fighting the way that we were before.”
During his victory over Vazquez Jr., representing his junior featherweight debut, Donaire fought through a ruptured vein in his left hand that resulted in the blood-soaked hand wrap revealed after the fight. An MRI this week has revealed no breaks.
Against Mathebula, a nearly 6-foot tall southpaw with a long jab, Donaire managed to score a fourth-round knockdown against a rival who gave as good as he received.
“Every fight makes you stronger and every fight makes you tougher and every fight makes you smarter, so going into this fight, you realize how you want to be and how you want to be in that ring,” said Donaire, who employed creative, bobbing, weaving and leaping tactics to get inside the rangy Mathebula’s defenses.
“I’ve established that mentality and I know myself better. I’m a much smarter and better fighter because of those fights…Nishioka has power, and he knows how to set that up, and he knows a lot of tricks that can frustrate a fighter that we don’t want to fall into. So we have a game plan, and we’re just ready for him, no matter what he brings.”
Making only his fourth appearance in the United States when he meets Donaire, Nishioka’s skills and familarity with longevity and durability rank him with dignitaries such as 35-year-old Floyd Mayweather Jr., 37-year-old Sergio Martinez and 47-year-old Bernard Hopkins.
Still, Garcia believes Donaire will simply be too much for Nishioka.
“This guy is very experienced and he’s one of those guys who has been in it for so many years. He’s done everything with every type of opponent. But inside of the ring, he hasn’t been in there with a guy like Nonito. Not with a guy who thinks the way Nonito thinks, and who has the power that he has, and the speed that he has,” said Garcia.
“He hasn’t seen that, and that’s what’s going to make the difference. Nonito has got tremendous power and tremendous speed, and one thing that I really see and admire and I don’t see in many fighters is that Nonito is so ahead of his opponent that he knows what’s coming. So this guy hasn’t been in there with anybody like Nonito.”
But Garcia said that he is “not pushing or asking for the knockout” from Donaire against Nishioka.
“I just want him to look good, perform well and to do what he’s done in training, because he came out with the perfect game plan on how to do it, and he’s been doing it during sparring,” said Garcia.
“When I was there seeing that happening, I’m pleased with his performance even if he doesn’t knock him out. I know that in his mind, and for his fans, that he wants to do it. But if he performs well, and he does what he has done in training, I’ll be happy with it.”
Photos by Chris Farina, Top Rank
Photos by Naoki Fukuda
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org