In an entertaining bout at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, dynamic southpaw Toshiaki Nishioka retained his super bantamweight title with a 12- round unanimous decision over Rafael Marquez by scores of 117-111, 116-112, and 115-113.
In the early going, Marquez, 40-7 with 36 knockouts, consistently flashed the immalleable jab that made him so difficult to handle in his prime. While Nishioka, 39-4-3, searched for ways to navigate around it, he occasionally probed Marquez with left hands to the body and head, making the first four rounds a tense chess match with intermittent bursts of action.
An evenly-fought bout began to turn in the fifth, when Marquez stopped enthusiastically pumping his jab and instead looked to counter, leaving the door open for the Japanese champion to develop a rhythm and further hone his left hand. Within the final minute, Nishioka lined up one that momentarily stunned Marquez.
Nishioka, 35, took full control of the bout in rounds six and seven by landing his left hand repeatedly, but a nasty headbutt left a messy dent on his hairline in the eighth. Marquez, invigorated by the blood, attempted to pounce on his wounded opponent, but Nishioka responded in kind, and the former champion ate a thundering overhand left for his trouble.
The ninth round featured the best action of the fight. In several heated exchanges, Nishioka, 122, looked the crisper, busier combatant, but Marquez managed to slip in his trademark uppercut to stop the confident southpaw in his tracks. The 36-year-old fan favorite showcased enough power to regain some of the momentum he had lost in the previous four rounds.
That momentum was short-lived, however, when a pair of staggering left hands early in the 10th stiffened Marquez’ legs. With Marquez, 121, incapable of freely moving around the ring, Nishioka, Tokyo, Japan, turned him into target practice, unrelentingly tagging him with straight lefts and right hooks for the next six minutes.
The final stanza featured more heated action as Marquez, Mexico City, Mexico, rallied enough to remind the crowd why he is one of the most exhilarating fighters of his generation. Nishioka remained the fresher of the two though, and landed the the majority of the eye-catching blows.
It was an impressive performance by Nishioka, making a potential bout with Nonito Donaire assuredly enticing. The Filipino phenom – having made a habit of dispatching world class talent without breaking much of a sweat – would be a sizable favorite if he handles business against Omar Narvaez later this month, but Nishioka’s mixture of craft, speed, and power presents a legitimate threat.
Meanwhile, Marquez, at least in the first half of the fight, showed why he’d still be a handful for anyone not in the upper crust of the 122- or 126-pound divisions. While simply being a handful may not be enough to quell cries for his retirement, nothing involving Marquez leads to disappointment, which is more than satisfying in today’s landscape. If and when he fights again, he’ll have our attention.