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Nishioka’s fighting heart drives him towards Donaire

(Photo © Chris Farina / Top Rank)
(Photo © Chris Farina / Top Rank)

At the end of 2010, super bantamweight champion Toshiaki Nishioka, 39-4-3, 24 KOs, was named Japan’s “Fighter of the Year.” At the ceremony, a video challenge by Fernando Montiel was made to Nishioka who readily accepted. The bout would have been a fight fan’s dream: Arguably the best 118 pound boxer/puncher from Mexico against the best 122 pound fighter out of Japan. But before the fight could be signed, Montiel took on Nonito Donaire in a bantamweight unification bout. Barely two rounds and a brutal left hook (with some clean up violence on the side) later and Nonito Donaire was the WBO and WBC bantamweight champ. Montiel? Not so much.


Nishioka won the interim WBC super-bantamweight belt in 2008 against Napapol Sor Rungvisai and defended it seven times against the likes of Jhonny Gonzalez (TKO3) among others. When Donaire knocked out Montiel, Nishioka knocked out Mauricio Munoz in April 2011. That October he faced Rafael Marquez and won a hard fought decision. When that smoked cleared, it became clear to Nishioka, who is largely unknown to American audiences; there was only one fight left to make.

“I only wanted to fight Donaire,” Nishioka said at Wednesday’s media day promoting his Saturday showdown with Nonito Donaire at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA.  “And he was my main motivation. He is pound for “pound for pound” number four. I only want to fight the best. If I fight any other kind of fighters, lower ranked fighters, I will always wonder why. There is no motivation for me to fight just anybody.”  


Nishioka began preparations as far back as January. Unsure of when the fight would come off, he stayed ready while making sure not to burn out.


“It wasn’t solid. The fight wasn’t solid in January,” explained Nishioka. “I wasn’t sure if that was the fight I was going to get. But he was the only fighter I wanted to face. So that was my main motivation for training that long.”  


Nishioka is not long on words. His classic southpaw boxer/puncher style speaks for him. In Donaire, he faces his opposite both in terms of stance and style. Where Nishioka is classic and economical in his approach, placing shots carefully but with power, Donaire changes fight to fight. Still, Nishioka is confident of victory.


“I don’t really see him as a difficult fighter to figure out so I wouldn’t consider him unorthodox,” said Nishioka, who watched video to develop his game plan.  “His pattern is different from fight to fight so I will have to see how he comes out. But either way I’ll fight my fight.”


Nishioka explained that he allows the fight to develop, adjusting his plan as it progresses. Having spent a year preparing for Donaire, he’ll have some options no matter how it goes. This is how he approaches all opponents.


“It really doesn’t matter how they come at me,” explained Nishioka. “I adjust in the fight. So I use that in the fight,” referring to an opponent’s aggression and how to use it against him.


Against an awkward fighter like Donaire who likes to leap in with wide shots and explode at odd angles, the best way to begin and sustain an attack while maintaining proper range is the most basic way of all: the jab. Nishioka has a very good one and it’s coming from its own odd angle, out of the of the southpaw stance.


A battle between a southpaw and an orthodox fighter is one of footwork first and foremost. It’s a misconception that a right-handed fighter facing a lefty is somehow at a disadvantage. Only in the fact that no one faces southpaws often is this true. In fact, when opposites face each other, the lead hand used for the jab is closer than it would be when two right-hand or left-hand fighters’ face-off. With the jab being so close, foot placement is more important than ever. The right-hander moves left. The southpaw moves right.


Donaire is more athlete in some ways than fundamental boxer. More often than not he singles up his punches and forgets the jab in favor of bigger bombs and sweeping shots. His left hook is crisp and his jab, when he uses it, is a solid weapon for Donaire. The jab and who wins the footwork war will be important keys in the fight.


 “I’m not sure if he is going to use it. We’ll see how the game plan goes. I’m looking out for the left hook,” said Nishioka.  


At age 36, Nishioka has accomplished much of what he set out to do in boxing. Beating an elite fighter like Donaire would cap a wonderful career.


“It would give me the greatest feeling of achievement, personally. Yes. It would be the greatest victory, yes,” smiled a relaxed and confident Nishioka.


Many websites and blogs refer to “pound for pound” lists depicting who they feel is the best fighter all things being equal. Nishioka was unabashed in his bid for entrance on that list.


“[Donaire] is Pound for Pound number four,” he said. “If I beat him, if I knock him out, then that brings me to that position.”


One reporter asked how he felt surrounded by so much media attention. As far as media days go at Hollywood, CA’s Fortune Gym, this day was especially busy. At least one hundred people filled the spacious gym, crowding the fighters. Nishioka looked around and spoke in Japanese. At the end of his answer he paused, smiled and said in English “Happiness.”


“When I was ten or eleven, I watched a press conference of Hearns Leonard Hagler,” he said through his translator. “It makes me happy. I feel good.”


The 122 pound division is rife with talent. It’s an embarrassment of great matches. Abner Mares is about to fight Anselmo Moreno. A rematch with Rafael Marquez is available. Guillermo Rigondeaux, Scott Quigg, Wilfredo Vasquez, Jr. Vic Darchinyan, Carl Frampton and of course, Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym all loom as dangerous and lucrative fights we’d all love to see. Never mind “pound for pound.” There are some all-out wars (and money) to be made from that list.


In that context, this is Toshiaki Nishioka’s Leonard, Hagler, Hearns and Duran moment. This is his close-up. It’s been one year since he last fought. In that time he has prepared in his mind and his soul to beat the man who took Montiel away.


“It was the greatest camp you could have,” he said and you can only hope for everyone’s sake it’s true.


“It’s my heart,” he said when asked what keeps him fighting. “It’s motivation.”

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