Nonito Donaire: Donaire had the misfortune of fighting Toshiaki Nishioka immediately after a fight-of-the-year candidate – Brandon Rios vs. Mike Alvarado – Saturday night at a packed Home Depot Center tennis arena in Carson, Calif. That shouldn’t detract from his performance, though: It was outstanding, particularly in light of Nishioka’s ability. The Japanese fighter made it a stinker because he refused to engage the Filipino-American. Until the sixth round, that is. That’s when Donaire scored his first knockdown, after which Nishioka decided to fight. That was the beginning of the end, as it is extremely dangerous to engage a puncher like Donaire. Donaire (30-1, 19 knockouts) in effect ended the fight with a perfect straight right that put Nishioka down again and dazed him. Seconds later his corner stopped the fight. The knockout wasn’t as spectacular as those over Vic Darchinyan and Fernando Montiel but it was just as meaningful. With the victory, Donaire claims THE RING junior featherweight championship, solidifies his place among the best in the sport and positions himself for another high-profile fight.
Toshiaki Nishioka: Nishioka (39-5-3, 24 KOs) had hoped to emulate fellow Asian Manny Pacquiao by making a splash in the United States. Instead, he was a flop in front of many devoted Japanese fans at Home Depot Center. For five-plus rounds, he fought so carefully that he gave himself no chance to win rounds. Then, after he went down in the sixth, his decision to test Donaire’s power backfired almost immediately. No wonder he had a look of absolute disgust on his face immediately after the fight was stopped. This doesn’t mean that Nishioka isn’t a good fighter; he has proved again and again that he is one of the best little fighters in the world. That hasn’t changed. There’s a reason he hadn’t lost since 2004 going into the fight on Saturday. Maybe the fact he hadn’t fought in a year left him too rusty to fight up to his capabilities. Maybe he’s old at 36. More likely he simply ran into a better fighter, as Darchinyan and Montiel did.
Donaire vs. Moreno-Mares winner: OK, I know I’m dreaming. The fact Donaire fights for Top Rank and both Anselmo Moreno and Abner Mares fight for Golden Boy Promotions makes it next to impossible that Donaire could meet the winner of the Nov. 10 122-pound showdown. The concept is exciting, though. Moreno is slick enough to give Donaire problems and Mares has the all-around ability and toughness to do the same. A more-realistic possibility is Donaire vs. Guillermo Rigondeaux, although Donaire suggested after the fight Saturday that the Cuban must build his reputation before a showdown makes sense. Rigondeaux would be a tough out. Then there’s talk of moving up to 126 pounds, a deep division that includes such stalwarts at Orlando Salido, Chris John, Mikey Garcia and Juan Manuel Lopez. I’m not sure Donaire should move up in weight yet but the possibilities abound at featherweight.
BIGGEST WINNER II
Brandon Rios: I thought even in the seventh and final round that Rios was on his way to his first career loss in his savage brawl with Alvarado, although I later learned that two judges had the fight even and one had Rios winning on the cards after six rounds. Alvarado seemed to outwork Rios and land more clean punches, at least from my perspective at ringside. Through six rounds, I thought a score of 4-2 or even 5-1 in rounds in favor of Alvarado was appropriate. None of that mattered in the end, though. Rios (31-0-1, 23 KOs) proved again that unusual resilience – what a chin! – and unwavering determination often pays dividends. The Mexican-American kept coming … and coming .. and coming … until something particularly good happened. That would be the big right that hurt Alvarado and the follow-up flurry that finished the job, giving Rios another important victory. Now, if things fall his way, Rios could end up fighting the winner of the Dec. 8 Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez fight next. Would he win? Probably not. But that seven-figure paycheck would ease the pain.
Alvarado: At 32, Alvarado (33-1, 23 KOs) had waited a long time to fight on such a big stage. And, as I wrote, I thought he was on his way to a career-defining victory, the kind that leads to bigger fights and significant money. He fought with great spirit and his own impressive resilience – until that one punch changed everything. The loss undoubtedly is hard for him to swallow; that’s how it is when something seems to be in your grasp and then slips away. I think the fact he truly believed he could have weathered the final-round storm and fought on made it even more painful. He shouldn’t be too hard on himself, though. Alvarado lost the fight but surely made many fans with his exciting style and effort, which should pay off for him. Look for the Coloradan to bounce back quickly. He has far too much fight in him to go quietly into the sunset.
RABBIT PUNCHES: I like Englishman David Price’s potential. In fact, I believe he might be the post-Klitschko future of the heavyweight division. But don’t read anything into his 82-second knockout of Audley Harrison, who simply doesn’t have the ability to compete with a top-tier heavyweight. The victory was dramatic but it didn’t mean much. … Junior welterweight Jose Benavidez (17-0, 13 KOs) has good timing even if he doesn’t have the best chin. Benavidez was cruising to a victory over someone named Pavel Miranda on the Donaire-Nishioka undercard when he was hurt badly by a big punch in the final minute of the fight. He had the wherewithal to clutch in order to survive but his legs were all but gone. Had that happened earlier in the round, he might’ve lost. Benavidez is skillful but his ability to take a punch is now in question. … Katsunari Takayama, a strawweight from Japan, appears to be in decline. The one-time titleholder lost a split decision on Saturday to unknown Filipino Handig Singwancha, who was 12-5 going into the fight. Takayama lost a title fight against Nkosinathi Joyi in his previous fight.