Saturday’s showdown between Nonito Donaire and Toshiaki Nishioka at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California is almost a rarity in boxing: a genuinely elite, championship fight.
With the plethora of alphabet title sanctioning bodies consistently increasing their stranglehold on boxing’s 17 weight classes, unification fights and bouts contested for a division’s lineal championship have fallen victim to fighter’s content to annex one belt and make pointless mandatory defenses.
Donaire (29-1, 18 KO), 29, has consistently bucked this disturbing trend. Having been a unified champion at flyweight, bantamweight and super bantamweight, he has made a concerted effort to fight the best available opponents, all while establishing himself as one of the most electrifying pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
Nishioka (39-4-3, 24 KO), 36, should also be celebrated for his desire to fight Donaire. According to ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael, Nishioka vacated his WBC title to avoid a meaningless mandatory defense, and his patience in waiting to secure the Donaire fight has certainly paid dividends.
Both fighters boast an impressive championship pedigree. Of course, Donaire has defeated the likes of Vic Darchinyan, Raúl Martinez, Fernando Montiel, Omar Andrés Narváez, Wilfredo Vázquez Jr. and Jeffrey Mathebula, amongst others. Whether fighting brawlers, taller boxers or supposedly stronger men, Donaire has always had an emphatic answer and has become known for scoring spectacular stoppages.
Nishioka’s career at the championship level began ominously as he went 0-2-2 in four world title fights against the same man: Veeraphol Sahaprom. Three of these setbacks were especially razor thin, and the two even bouts were actually split draws.
Undeterred, Nishioka captured the interim WBC title in 2008, which he quickly elevated to full championship status in his next bout with a stoppage win over Genaro Garcia. Other Nishioka victims during his championship reign include Jhonny González, Rendall Munroe and Rafael Márquez. Having made six defenses since he became the full WBC 122-pound champion, Nishioka is riding a 16-fight winning streak (overall) dating back to 2004.
Before analyzing the fight’s tactical essentials and potential outcome, here is the tale of the tape for both fighters (record in championship fights includes interim title bouts):
|Nonito Donaire||Toshiaki Nishioka|
|Record||29-1, 18 KO||39-4-3, 24 KO|
|Championship Record||10-0, 6 KO||8-2-2, 5 KO|
With relatively even credentials and Nishioka offsetting his age disadvantage with supreme conditioning, one of the most important factors in determining the outcome of this fight is ring generalship.
As a slick and strong orthodox fighter, Donaire possesses power in both fists, including a solid straight right hand and a devastating left hook. Whether he is stalking or counter-punching, one of Donaire’s greatest assets is his balance and explosiveness as he uses incredible leverage to throw punches.
For Donaire, negating Nishioka’s lead right hand will be essential. Whether he chooses to counter overtop with his left hook or apply pressure to eventually create openings for his offense, much of his success will come from setting traps and baiting Nishioka into his optimal punching range.
Donaire will have to employ movement to slip punches and return fire quickly. Conventional wisdom would have Donaire move to his left to create openings for his straight right hand down the middle, and while this somewhat negates his left hook, Donaire might have to initiate offense with right hand power punches to create openings for his left.
Nishioka is a quality volume and combination puncher with a devastating straight left hand and uppercut. The fact that both boxers carry explosive power in their left hands is one factor that makes this fight so intriguing. Nishioka will undoubtedly want to circle to his right to optimize the chances to land his straight left hand down the middle, but doing so moves him directly into Donaire’s left hook.
Who will win Saturday's fight?
Because Donaire and Nishioka might end up running into each other’s best power punches, watching each fighter’s foot placement will be essential.
Much of the fight’s subtle movement will involve whether Nishioka will be able to get his lead foot outside of Donaire’s. If Nishioka can do this, he will be able to throw his straight left hand down the pipe. Conversely, if Donaire can counter this with feints and half steps back or to the side, he might be able to force Nishioka to lunge with his punches, which will create opportunities for counters.
Nishioka’s straight and sharp punches could still be effective if he crowds Donaire and takes away his leverage. Staying at range is inviting a knockout punch from Donaire, whose greatest key to victory will be variety. A predictable pattern of offense or movement plays right into Nishioka’s hands.
One thing Donaire will want to avoid is loading up on shots the way he did against Mathebula. Donaire could get picked apart if he guns for the knockout, but it seems reasonable to suspect that his punches will be fluid and that he will box intelligently.
Donaire-Nishioka promises to be the ultimate chess match. The most telling blows will likely be the ones where a prior subtle advantage has been established through feints or movement. Given both fighters' versatility, expect a close decision with Donaire taking the fight by scores in the neighborhood of 116-112 or closer.