By Graham Houston
When a fighter produces explosive performances we tend to expect them as a matter of course. It doesn’t always work out that way. Nonito Donaire, who once looked one of boxing’s most destructive hitters, has gone the distance in his last three fights. Perhaps, though, Donaire will be able to deliver a dynamic display on the lines of his wins over Vic Darchinyan and Fernando Montiel when he meets Japan’s Toshiaki Nishioka in a junior featherweight championship bout at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA on HBO on Saturday night.
Donaire has been winning but the Filipino Flash hasn’t been exciting. His last three fights have gone the full 12 rounds. The opponents weren’t cooperating and there was also a spot of adversity involved. Argentina’s durable and skilled Omar Narvaez considered it a moral victory to go the full 12 rounds, Donaire suffered a hand injury in his fight with Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. while the tall and awkward Jeffrey Mathebula falls into the “difficult to stop” category.
So there were reasons why Donaire wasn’t setting the boxing world buzzing in these three bouts.
However, they say that a boxer is only as good as his last fight. If Donaire can pull out a KO blow against Nishioka in this defence of his WBO and IBF titles it will be a massive step towards achieving Manny Pacquiao-type lustre.
I’ve had the impression with Donaire that he hasn’t been fighting to the fullest level of his ability, almost as if he’s been getting bored. He was a massive betting favourite in each of his last three fights. Donaire admitted in a phone conversation that he has been focusing too much on landing one big shot lately. I don’t think he felt a sense of danger in his last three fights. Nishioka, though, offers a real challenge.
Yet even though Nishioka brings impressive credentials — unbeaten for the past eight years, a former WBC champ at super bantam who never lost his title in the ring — there will be a sense of disappointment if Donaire merely wins the fight. The boxing public wants something extra, something a bit special.
Donaire set the bar high, of course, with devastating displays when knocking out Vic Darchinyan and Fernando Montiel. He looked like a monster when crushing the capable Raul Martinez — unbeaten going into the fight — in four rounds. Ukraine’s Wladimir Sidorenko had never been stopped but Donaire simply blew him away in four rounds.
In a sense, Donaire has been a victim of him own success. Expectations are high, perhaps unfairly so.
It didn’t surprise me that the defensive master Omar Narvaez was able to go the route but I did expect Donaire to run right over Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. However, Vazquez was in tremendous condition and fought the fight of his life, even — astonishingly — winning the fight on one judge’s card. (The other two judges each had Donaire winning nine of the 12 rounds.)
My initial feelings of Donaire having been a bit of a letdown were softened when he held up his left hand to show a blood-soaked bandage after the Vazquez fight. Donaire, we were told, had suffered a severely swollen left hand early in the fight. There were no broken bones but the skin split due to the swelling. Despite the pain in his hand, though, Donaire was able to floor Vazquez with a left hook in the ninth round, and I’m not so sure if we should consider Donaire’s performance unimpressive that night after the way Vazquez blasted out Jonathan Oquendo in last weekend’s big Puerto Rican showdown.
In his last fight, Donaire floored Jeffrey Mathebula with a big left hook just before the end of the fourth round. If he had landed that punch, say, a minute earlier, the South African boxer might not have survived the round. It was later revealed that Mathebula suffered a broken jaw.
So it isn’t as if Donaire has somehow lost his punch: He just hasn’t been getting his opponents out of the fight.
Perhaps, against a fighter who on paper represents a formidable challenge, Donaire will return to KO form — that’s the way it happens in boxing sometimes.
Nishioka, although 36, is a fighter who commands respect. He fought a bloody four-bout series with the Thai, Veeraphol, for the WBC bantam title, losing twice and drawing twice, then moved up in weight and hasn’t lost a fight at 122lbs. He is a skilled, courageous fighter who hits hard with the left hand from his southpaw stance.
It isn’t anything new for Nishioka to be the underdog. He wasn’t expected to beat Jhonny Gonzalez in their 122lbs title bout in Mexico three years ago, but Nishioka survived a first-round knockdown and came back to drill Gonzalez with a big left hand in the third.
Nishioka has shown that he can win championship fights on the road, knocking out Gonzalez in Mexico and, in his last fight, outpointing Rafael Marquez in an exciting contest in Las Vegas.
The WBC vacated the 122lbs title when Nishioka was unable to meet a mandatory defence requirement due to what the fighter called “personal issues”, otherwise the fight with Donaire would have been a unification bout. As it is, the match is a high-quality one.
While I have enormous respect for Nishioka, I think that there is a chance that Donaire can look very good in this fight. Nishioka hasn’t boxed since the Marquez fight in October 2011 and he was getting hit quite a lot in the early rounds of that bout although he pulled out the win with a strong finish down the stretch. I think that Donaire has the hand speed and power to catch the older man and do some damage, especially if Nishioka starts slowly, as he did against Marquez.
Nishioka will, I believe, be coming to fight — not just to survive. This could leave Nishioka open to getting caught by Donaire’s left hook or left uppercut. I’m expecting Donaire to win — and if he can get Nishioka out of the fight inside 12 rounds it will be an outstanding achievement.
Visit fightwriter.com I’ll be looking at betting angles for the fight for subscribers along with previews of Price vs Harrison, Stevenson vs George and, of course, much more.