When Nonito Donaire knocked out Fernando Montiel in the second round of their February 2011 bout, it appeared as if his potential met his preeminent talent and unquestioned dominance was in his immediate future. But over his next three fights, two of them in a new division, that dominance was put into question. Toshiaki Nishioka, whom he’ll face on October 13th at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, is the type to command answers.
Eight months after dispatching Montiel, Donaire looked less than spectacular in decisioning Omar Narvaez, a tiny opponent with a puzzling defense. It was a frustrating night for the Filipino sensation, pounding Narvaez’ tight guard to the rhythm of the boos and cat calls raining down from the crowd. He then moved up to super bantamweight only to struggle against Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. and Jeffrey Mathebula—competent fighters who nonetheless entered the ring as massive underdogs.
Donaire as an uneven performer isn’t a recent phenomenon. Before Montiel, eye-opening destructions of Vic Darchinyan, Raul Martinez, Manuel Vazquez, and Volodymyr Sydorenko were mixed with relative struggles against Moruti Mthalane, Rafael Concepcion, and Hernan Marquez.
This type of critique directed at a man who has faced a number of unheralded, yet solid fighters may be nitpicking, but criticism is the natural consequence of fighting less than three times a year. For all the luminescent talent Donaire possesses, a discomfort with throwing combinations or pursuing a consistent body attack lends to long stretches of monotonous rounds in many of his victories.
Still, even at 122, he packs power within one of the more lethal left hands in boxing. Although they went 12 rounds, all three of his recent opponents were seriously staggered and/or knocked down at some point during their bouts. If a fighter overextends on a punch against Donaire, he’s in danger of getting clipped with a fight-altering counter left hook.
But Donaire may need to show more than he’s shown in the last year-and a-half against Toshiaki Nishioka. Nishioka had long been a Bantamweight contender in Japan—never quite overcoming rival and early 2000s stalwart Veeraphol Sahaprom—before making a resounding introduction to the world outside of his home country by stopping Jhonny Gonzalez in 2009. Though some saw the KO as a fortunate shot against a menacing, but iffy-whiskered Mexican veteran, Nishioka bounced back from a first round knockdown and skillfully placed enough jabs on his lanky opponent to set up the finishing blow in the third round.
Nishioka steamrolled four more opponents before facing a shopworn Rafael Marquez last October. After struggling to navigate Marquez’ jab through the first four stanzas, the aggressive southpaw began landing his left hand at will, and thrashed Marquez through the remainder of the fight.
Equipped with active feet, a strong left hand, and a steady jab, the 36-year-old has the tools to take advantage of Donaire’s intermittent nonchalance. A dangerous puncher with speed, he only sparingly uses an uppercut or right hook, leaving a one-dimensional attack consisting of jab-straight left combinations. But as the recent past has shown, Donaire’s offense can be shallow, too, often limited to head-hunting as he seeks out the perfect left hook counter.
Nevertheless, beyond simply name recognition, Donaire will enter the ring as a solid favorite for a reason. Sahaprom and Gonzalez are the best opponents Nishioka has faced: he failed to notch an official win over Sahaprom in four attempts, and Gonzalez’ prodigious offensive talent is at times compromised by durability issues. Unlike Gonzalez, Donaire has boasted a steady chin and responsible defense throughout his career. To stop him would be a tall task.
Your imagination doesn’t have to wander as far to picture a Nishioka decision win. Donaire is accustomed to being flashier than his opponents, but Nishioka’s attack is nearly as impressive. If Donaire falls into the habit of slinging single shots at Nishioka’s chin, the heady southpaw can find a rhythm and bag rounds with counter jabs and the odd straight left. Still, Nishioka often reaches with his punches, a precarious tendency against the counterpunching prowess of Donaire. A terse chess match will likely materialize; one far from a firefight, perhaps, but with enough of a competitive edge to keep it from being a dull affair.
Nishioka is set to be the toughest challenge of Donaire’s career. But we’ve said that twice before – against established champions Vic Darchinyan and Fernando Montiel – and the 29-year-old soared above expectations both times. With another world class operator in front of him, he’ll look to quiet the uncertainty yet again.
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