Photos by Sumio Yamada
TOSHIAKI NISHIOKA vs RAFAEL MARQUEZ
Hammered into defeat by Juan Manuel Lopez in a bruising featherweight title bout November, Mexico’s Rafael Marquez is back for what will surely be a final world championship challenge when he meets Toshiaki Nishioka for the Japanese fighter’s 122-bound belt at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday night, with TV coverage on Fox Deportes.
Marquez hasn’t fought at 122 pounds in more than three years, but he trained for this fight in the Otomi Mountains outside Mexico City and says he had the best training camp of his life. I guess that fighters always say that, but Marquez looks ripped — he clearly has worked hard to get ready for a fight in which he is the underdog.
This is a clash of veterans — Marquez is 36, Nishioka is 35. Marquez is essentially on home ground because most of the fans will be supporting him, but Nishioka is unlikely to be concerned about the venue seeing that he knocked out Jhonny Gonzalez in Mexico. Nishioka has appeared in Las Vegas before, when he knocked out a Panamanian trial horse named Evangelio Perez in 92 seconds in December 2002.
It seems to me that Marquez has more wear and tear on him than Nishioka, if only because of his three wars with Israel Vazquez — Marquez demolished Vazquez easily in their fourth meeting, but he took severe punishment in the earlier fights. Also, Marquez was hammered rather severely by JuanMa Lopez, and he has been boxing professionally for 16 years.
Nishioka had bloody battles with the Thai, Veeraphol, but I don’t think he has been in the grinding type of fights that Marquez went through against Vazquez (three times) and Lopez. However, Nishioka has also had a very long career (it is almost 17 years since he made his professional debut with a one-round knockout victory).
We don’t know how much Marquez has left and how well he will perform back down at 122 pounds, but he has always been able to punch. Unfortunately, Marquez has never shown the iron chin of his older brother, Juan Manuel, having been stopped five times. He was down in each of the first three fights with Vazquez (one of them a kept-up-by-the-ropes knockdown).
Marquez is a very good puncher, though, having won 36 fights by stoppage in 40 victories, and he wobbled Lopez in the fourth round.
Lopez was too young, too big and too strong for him, but Nishioka is the same size as Marquez and equally long-serving.
Nishioka is the faster, slicker boxer but Marquez might be the heavier hitter. Two of Marquez’s best wins were against southpaw technicians when he stopped Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson and Tim Austin, but these fights were more than eight years ago: Marquez is a slower fighter now and his reactions aren’t as quick. Marquez is a precise type of fighter, though, and if he can time Nishioka for the straight right hand through the middle or the left hook he can hurt the Japanese boxer.
Marquez must be careful, though, because Nishioka hits hard and fast with the left hand from his southpaw stance.
I’m sure that Marquez’s ex-champ trainer, Daniel Zaragoza — a southpaw in his boxing days — will want Marquez to apply careful, intelligent pressure.
If Marquez gets drilled by the sort of left hand that floored Jhonny Gonzalez his chin will be seriously tested.
Usually, though, Nishioka is more of a sharpshooter than a big one-shot banger. He will use the ring, show his classy boxing skills, hit and get out, and often seems content to keep scoring points, making the other man miss and not really going all out to score a stoppage.
Nishioka is well aware that Marquez can punch powerfully, and I see the champion boxing a smart, disciplined fight, avoiding exchanges until later in the fight when his left-hand shots might have taken something out of the Mexican boxer.
Marquez will likely be the boxer who is forcing the fight. Nishioka is elusive, but if Marquez can track him down and land the right hand to head and body and perhaps get in some hooks, too, he can slow down Nishioka and perhaps start to give his supporters real hope that he can pull off the upset.
However, Marquez was disappointing in his last fight, in July, when he stopped Eduardo Becceril after five rounds. Becceril is a weak opponent when matched at the higher level and he had been stopped in two of his last four bouts before meeting Marquez, but he proved to be a real nuisance. Marquez looked slow and was getting hit far too easily before his heavier artillery closed the show. I believe that Marquez was probably unmotivated and not in very good condition for the tune-up against Becceril, but this was a poor performance by Marquez’s standards. Obviously Marquez will be in tiptop condition and much more motivated on Saturday, but it concerns me that he was so hittable against Becceril.
I see the fight as a sort of last stand for Marquez and I am expecting him to give a valiant effort. They say that a great fighter has that one last great fight left in him, and for this reason if no other I give Marquez a chance, although I think that Nishioka will probably be a bit too speedy and stylish for him and I can envisage the Japanese fighter winning by TKO in one of the later rounds.
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