Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Donaire-Nishioka: Keys to the Fight

An explosive junior featherweight matchup takes place this weekend in Carson, California between pound-for-pound entrant Nonito Donaire (29-1, 18 KOs) and longtime titleholder Toshiaki Nishioka (39-4-3, 24 KOs – the WBC was nice enough to strip Nishioka for reasons that I'm sure made sense to that fine organization).  This will be a clash of power versus finesse as the younger Filipino-American star tries to best the crafty and cerebral Japanese veteran.  Read here for the keys to the fight.  My prediction will be at the end of the piece.

1. Who can establish their full arsenal of punches? 

Both fighters are at their best when they display their well-rounded offensive gifts.  However, both can also become overly reliant on two punches, leading to periods in their fights where they are not at their most dynamic. 

For Nishioka, a southpaw, he often sticks to a jab and straight left hand.  In full disclosure, he does an excellent job of landing the straight left to the head and body, and at changing the speed, power and even angle of the punch.  Nevertheless, Nishioka is at his best when he incorporates his right hook and left uppercut into his offensive game plan.  Opponents spend so much time worrying about his left hand that his lead right hook becomes a great weapon to initiate combinations.  He'll only throw his left uppercut when his opponents are out of position; it's a speed punch more than a power offering, but it scores well and creates more opportunities for his other shots.  

Donaire can become too power-happy.  Stalking his opponents, looking for single knockout blows, Donaire often dispenses with his jab for rounds at a time.  Instead, he focuses almost exclusively on his left hook and straight right hand.  Donaire's a much better fighter when he works off the jab, and for him to be at his best against Nishioka, he will have to remember to use the stick.  In addition, Donaire does have a solid uppercut when he remembers to throw it.  He'll have opportunities to land that punch on Nishioka.

The fighter who features his full arsenal of punches will create the necessary opportunities to land and score throughout the fight.  Obviously, Nishioka wants to connect with his left hand and Donaire will be looking for places to throw his left hook, but it's the setting up of those punches that will create favorable environments for those shots to land. 

2. Who will have the higher punch output?

Because both fighters can get deliberate at points in their fights, the boxer who throws punches more consistently might be the one who squeaks by during close rounds.  Donaire, as referenced above, sometimes shuts down his offensive flow as he waits to land a potential knockout punch.  At times, Nishioka lets large chunks of rounds go by as he circles, studies his opponent and feints, looking to throw his left hand.  

Although both fighters have superior hand speed, the one who actually lets his hands go will benefit on the scorecards.  Although this seems like a fairly basic precept for winning fights, for this matchup in particular, where both boxers like to win both physically and psychologically, the one who consistently punches will have the advantage. Both fighters need to avoid the trap of falling victim to mind games.

3. For Nonito, be first and throw combinations. 

Nishioka has an interesting defensive style where he doesn't counter opponents.  He'll sometimes trade with a fighter, but when an opponent is first, he will try to elude punches with his superior upper body and head movement.  Only when an opponent is done throwing punches – and is often out of position – will Nishioka then return to offense.  One flaw of Nishioka's is his susceptibility to combinations.  Often, once he skirts past the first punch, or the first two punches, he gets himself back into offensive position.  It's the third punch that he is not prepared for that has the ability to cause damage.  

Donaire must throw multi-punch combinations.  Nishioka will let him get off with four, five or six-punch flurries; Donaire must take advantage of this opportunity.  Often, fighters get frustrated throwing combinations against Nishioka because they miss badly and find themselves out-of-position.  For Donaire, he needs to keep his punches compact and hit what's available.  He has enough power to hurt Nishioka even if he doesn't throw with full force.   Two combinations that might yield success are a left hook to the head/right hand/left hook to the body and jab/right hand/left hook. 

4. The positioning battle.

Often with matchups that feature an orthodox fighter against a southpaw, the battle to establish foot positioning is a central tactical struggle in the bout.  For this fight in particular, the control of outside positioning will be a central determinant in who can land their best punches.  

When initiating offense, Nishioka likes to move to his right; he rarely is right in front of his opponent.  While throwing his jab, he darts to the right and continues moving until he is standing at a 30 to 45-degree angle to his opponent.  From this position, he slings his blazing-fast straight left hand.  Opponents aren't used to defending punches from this type of awkward angle. 

Donaire will fight over the same terrain.  He likes to move to his left for opportunities to land his pulverizing left hook.  Both fighters will look to mark their territory.  I don't see head clashes developing, but more likely a lot of feinting, posing and fancy footwork to get to their favorite spots in the ring.  Whoever gets to these areas and establishes positioning for their power shots will most likely have the greater success in the fight.

5. Controlling distance.

Nishioka is deadly from medium range.  He carves opponents up with his excellent hand speed and mastery of subtle angles.  He constantly shakes and moves his lead hand, using it as a timing device that also lulls opponents into believing that punches aren't coming; yet suddenly, they are hit with a blinding one-two. His punches are expertly placed, short and hard.  If Donaire stays in the pocket, he will get pasted by single left hands that will snap his head back; these punches are very easy to score for judges.

Donaire needs to be either in or out.  When applying pressure, he must work off the jab and come forward.  Nishioka will never lead with an uppercut and isn't a natural counterpuncher, so Donaire needn't worry about immediate incoming fire.  When coming forward, it's imperative for Donaire to cut off the ring.  If he moves forward recklessly, Nishioka will use his clever footwork to get out of trouble.  Thus, the importance of Donaire throwing his power shots in a controlled manner is paramount.  He needs to keep Nishioka in front of him by employing angles, throwing sharp punches in combinations and using his physicality. 

When not pressing forward, Donaire needs to make sure that he is safely out of range.  Nishioka will sometimes lunge with his straight left hand to the body and in these moments, he is a prime target for counterpunches.  He often ducks his body down and to the right.  Donaire will have chances to land a counter left hook or left uppercut.  Again, these punches do not need to be thrown at full force, but they need to land.


Instead of offering up a version of how the fight may go, I will instead provide what I think each fighter should do.  I'd like to see Donaire blitz Nishioka right away.  Don't let him set up camp in the center of the ring.  He should test Nishioka's chin early and drive him to the ropes with three and four-punch combinations.  Although Nishioka's conditioning is excellent, his chin is dentable.  I think a couple of rounds of unrelenting pressure will really favor Donaire.  If Nishioka remains upright after three rounds, Donaire needs to transition into boxer-puncher mode where he fights with a fast past, landing crisp combinations while remaining controlled with his movements. 

For Nishioka, he must do everything in his power to confuse Donaire.  Make him think too much in the ring and become cautious.  This means that he needs to circle left and right, use angles to land shots and feature his right hook early in the fight.  If he is successfully with this sort of psychological pressure, he can gradually open up more as the fight progresses.  It will be very important for him to have a few impressive flurries every round so he can steal them. For Nishioka to win, the fight will have to be very technical, but he is certainly capable of pulling off this type of victory. 

Ultimately, Donaire has more ways to win the fight. He has the edge in power, he's been more active in the ring and his flashy punches score well with judges.  An often unremarked point in his favor has been his chin at junior featherweight. His solid beard should give him even more confidence in applying pressure and trading shots.  If there's a knockdown in the fight, I think it will be Nishioka who hits the canvas -- a Donaire knockout at any point in the fight would not surprise me.

Nonito Donaire defeats Toshiaki Nishioka 117-110, or 9 rounds to 3 with a knockdown.  

Contact Saturday Night Boxing at
Follow Saturday Night Boxing on Facebook:
and on Twitter: @snboxing (

No comments:

Post a Comment