CARSON, Calif. – Nonito Donaire and Toshiaki Nishioka knew they had a tough act to follow with their HBO-televised main event at the Home Depot Center and the 7,665 fans that filled the outdoor arena gave them a rude reminder of that fact midway through the first round of the junior featherweight championship bout.
The fans, who had been whipped into a frenzied blood lust by the six and half rounds of mayhem the previous bout between Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado featured, loudly booed at the lack of action between the two master boxer-counter punchers.
Donaire eventually won them over – along with THR RING’s vacant 122-pound title – by dropping Nishioka in the sixth and ninth rounds en route to a ninth-round TKO, but only after five forgettable rounds.
In many ways, Donaire-Nishioka was the antithesis of Rios-Alvarado, an instant classic slugfest that didn’t feature much skill or strategy but totally delivered the blood and guts that fans crave. In fact, the fighter who exhibited more guts than skill – Rios – won the co-feature of the Top Rank-promoted card.
Donaire, a pound-for-pound rated three-division titlewinner, and Nishioka, THE RING’s No. 1-rated junior featherweight, are more accomplished and vastly superior technicians to Rios and Alvarado. However, their experience and skill canceled out the action in the first half of the bout.
Donaire (30-1, 19 knockouts) said they had to be careful, at least early in the bout, because both possessed the speed, power and accuracy to turn the fight with a single punch.
“Nishioka's a great fighter, that's why we were kind of wary about it,” the 29-year-old champion said during his post-fight interview with HBO’s Max Kellerman. “We knew we could end the fight with one punch, and that's what happened.
Donaire scored the first knockdown with a picture-perfect left uppercut. Prior to landing that shot he had the edge in the first five rounds by being the more active fighter and by taking more chances. Nishioka (39-5-3, 24 KOs) did little more than jab and block Donaire's punches – until he got caught.
“We just wanted him to make that mistake and if we make that mistake, they'll get us," said Donaire. "He made that mistake by reaching in and I got him with the uppercut. My hand was hurting a little bit, so we couldn't finish him off. So then I had to go with my right."
The Japanese veteran got up from the knockdown and took the fight to Donaire, launching one overhand left after the other until the bell. Nishioka stalked Donaire from that point on, which eventually played into the faster hands of the Filipino-American.
“The difference in the fight was speed,” said Nishioka, who saw his 16-bout win streak that began in 2004 come to an end. “I never faced a fighter with the speed of Donaire. I never saw the uppercut.”
Donaire said he couldn’t throw that particular punch again because he injured it with the knockdown shot.
"The left hand was hurt from the uppercut,” Donaire said. “That's why I stopped throwing it. It wasn't because I was tired; it was because I needed a different strategy."
Donaire got on his toes and counter punched Nishioka in rounds seven and eight, and willingly went to the ropes in the ninth to lure the southpaw in. The ploy worked as Donaire caught Nishioka with a big right hand while his back was on the ropes midway through the ninth.
The southpaw got up but he did so on wobbly legs, prompting his corner to ask referee Raul Caiz Sr. to stop the bout. The fight was halted at 1:54 of the ninth.
“When you do engage with me, and you open up yourself, Nonito is a surgeon,” Donaire said. “Once that surgeon comes in, the demolition man comes in and knocks people out.”
Hardcore fans, the same folks who booed the first half of the Nishioka fight, want to see more of the “demolition man” and they want to see him take on the winner of next month’s 122-pound showdown between titleholder Abner Mares and respected bantamweight beltholder Anselmo Moreno.
The problem with that potential matchup is that Donaire is promoted by Top Rank and both Mares and Moreno fight under the Golden Boy Promotions banner.
Everyone who follows boxing knows those two promotional companies don’t do much business together.
Donaire says he’s willing to accept that fight, but in the same breath he hinted that he’s satisfied with his accomplishments at junior featherweight and might invade the featherweight division soon.
“At this point, I got the guy that I thought was the best in the division, and that was Nishioka, and now, it's anybody. It's a free for all. Whoever wants it, let's go,” he said. “If we can make those fights happen (let’s do them). I've waited for a long time and I know how it is to be waiting for somebody. If we can't make it happen, then I want to move up a division. But that's up to (Top Rank CEO) Bob (Arum) and HBO and you guys.”
Kellerman noted that Guillermo Rigondeaux, the Cuban amateur legend who holds the WBA 122-pound title, is promoted by Top Rank.
Donaire did not seem interested.
“To tell you the truth, I believe that he needs more (quality opponents on his record) to make me excited (about that fight),” he said. “I have to be excited for the fight, or else I'm going to get bored like I have been in the last few fights. This fight, I was so worried and so focused because I knew what this guy has, and I want to feel that going into the ring.
“(I want to) have confidence that this guy is a good fighter. They've got to prove that to me for me to go at it.”
Rigondeaux is more than a good fighter. He’s an excellent fighter, but like Nishioka, he’s a boxer, which might not be what Donaire needs right now.
If the crowd’s reaction to the first five rounds of the Nishioka fight was any kind of indication of what the rest of the boxing world was thinking, Donaire’s next goal should not be to go up in weight once again.
It should be to rekindle the excitement he used to bring to all of his fights.