In front of a raucous crowd in Monterrey, Mexico, former bantamweight and super bantamweight world champion Rafael Marquez (38-5) returned to the ring after a 15 month layoff following his decision loss to Israel Vazquez in the Ring Magazine Fight of the Year for 2008.
Rumors had circulated on the internet suggesting that Marquez looked shaky in the gym since the loss, and many felt that the brutal nature of the Vazquez trilogy had likely diminished both fighters. In Jose Francisco Mendoza (21-2-2) Marquez faced an opponent that had only fought twice outside of his native Colombia, both losses.
Marquez moved forward from the opening bell behind his left jab. Mendoza continually circled to his left, throwing the occasional right hand counter over the jab, but only landing a few.
Marquez appeared to shake off the ring rust in the second round as he began mixing in left hooks to the body and right uppercuts, although the action remained somewhat tepid, with Mendoza retreating throughout.
The fight appeared to be settling into a deliberate rhythm of Marquez stalking and Mendoza circling when Marquez stunned Mendoza with what appeared to be a left hook, and then drilled him with a beautiful short overhand right hand moments later, sending him collapsing to the canvas.
Although Mendoza appeared to beat the count, the referee stopped the contest then and there, prompting no visible protest from either the fighter or his corner.
Given the short fight, and the limitations of his opponent, it was difficult to gauge whether or not Marquez had truly returned to championship form.
The fight served as the opening act for WBC super bantamweight champion Toshiaki Nishioka’s defense against popular Mexican Jhonny Gonzalez (40-6).
Nishioka (33-4-3), a southpaw, was fighting outside of Japan for only the fourth time in his career, and making the first defense of the title he won last January by knocking out Genero Garcia in the 12th round.
Nishioka had Gonzalez circling and retreating from the opening bell, pressing forward behind the occasional right jab. He was driving Gonzalez backwards with a series of sharp left hands when Gonzalez landed a sweeping left hook followed by a straight right cross that deposited Nishioka onto the seat of his pants.
The champion beat the count but looked unsteady as Gonzalez followed up with a furious assault that seemed to batter him across the ring. They traded punches along the ropes as the bell sounded to end the round.
In the second round, Nishioka appeared to make an adjustment by keeping his right hand up high, allowing him to pick off the lead left hooks of Gonzalez. He showed no ill-effects from the previous round’s knockdown, and began throwing hard lefts to the body, parrying Gonzalez counters with his high right hand guard.
It looked as though Nishioka had turned the momentum in his favor as the second round came to a close.
Both fighters met in the center of the ring to begin the third, circling and throwing jabs, when Nishioka landed a long straight left cross on the front of Gonzalez’s face, putting him down hard. Gonzalez struggled to his feet on shaky legs, but referee Kenny Bayless, seeing a fighter in front of him who was clearly unfit to continue, stopped the contest.
Although the card appeared to be a setup for the winners to face each other, it was unclear whether or not a Marquez-Nishioka fight was on the agenda for later this summer. Nishioka seemed enthusiastic about that possibility, so it remains to be seen whether or not Marquez’s camp will accept that fight.
It's an intriguing matchup, to be sure, and with the WBC title on the line, it could serve as good setup for the winner to challenge either IBF/WBA champ Celestino Caballero or WBO champion Juan Manuel Lopez.
It would seem that Marquez has more options at this moment than Nishioka, however, as he is already a quite popular fighter in Mexico and in the United States, and the public continues to clamor for a fourth fight between he and Israel Vazquez.
Marquez has been hinting that he is ready to make the jump to featherweight as well, which would probably rule out a fight with Nishioka.
However, the 122 pound division may be ready to move on without Marquez and Vazquez also, with Caballero, Lopez, Nishioka, and Ireland’s Bernard Dunne all seemingly in position to make a string of fan friendly fights to determine the true champion.