by Kieran Mulvaney
The attention, as always, is on Nonito Donaire. Donaire is the star, 122 pounds of skill and charisma. Donaire is the one who knocked out Vic Darchinyan, and who hit Fernando Montiel so hard he left an indentation in the side of his head. Donaire is the one widely regarded as one of the top half-dozen talents in boxing.
But Donaire is also a fighter who has at times looked more pedestrian than all-powerful in his past few outings. That hasn’t entirely been his fault: It takes two to tango, and a couple of his recent dance partners appeared as if they would have been more than happy to sit out the opportunity to quickstep with Donaire. Omar Narvaez barely bothered to show up at all, his ambition apparently limited to being able to return to Argentina and boast that he lasted twelve rounds. Jeffrey Mathebula used his lengthy reach to keep the Filipino at bay as best he could, but beyond that brought little to the table to disrupt Donaire’s progress. Sandwiched in between, Wilfredo Vasquez Jr. did make a fight of it, and despite being knocked down for his troubles, he pushed Donaire to a split decision.
Yet, despite the excuses about reticent opponents, and despite the obvious point that he is continuing to defeat those opponents -- and normally by quite large margins -- there is something about Donaire of late that has seemed a little … well, not quite right. It is almost as if he has read too many of his own press clippings, or fallen in love with the hype that accompanied his annihilation of Montiel. Or perhaps he’s just trying to keep things interesting for himself -- this is, after all, the man who inexplicably turned southpaw in a 2010 contest with Hernan Marquez that he was winning by a country mile. Whatever the case, Donaire has of late seemed all too willing to abandon the fundamentals in favor of dipping low, dropping his hands, leaping in from a crouch -- whatever it takes to confuse his foe, entertain the fans, and prevent himself from falling asleep.
That may work against the likes of Omar Narvaez. It could be a recipe for disaster against Toshiaki Nishioka.
If you haven’t heard of Nishioka, it’s likely because he has spent much of his career boxing in his native Japan. But he is, as the British say, no mug. His last defeat was in 2004. His last victory was against future Hall-of-Famer Rafael Marquez. He is a southpaw with excellent boxing skills. And while he doesn’t have a reputation as a power puncher, he has stopped nine of his last 12 foes.
He is, in other words, absolutely not the kind of opponent to take lightly. Candidly, he is a genuine candidate to pull off the upset victory. This is a dangerous fight for Donaire.
If there is a knock against Nishioka, it is his age -- he is 35 -- and his inactivity: He has not fought since outpointing Marquez a year ago. But he has deliberately held himself out of the ring, wanting to use the Marquez win as a springboard to at least one more big fight. It doesn’t get much bigger than Donaire.
Nishioka, then, is focused and ready. Donaire will need to be, too, if he is to overcome the genuine challenge he faces on Saturday night.