While he’s far from a household name here in the states, Toshiaki Nishioka is the closest thing to a living legend in his native Japan. He fights out of the famed Teiken Boxing Gym in Tokyo, an outfit that has recently produced, most notably, technicians such as Akifumi Shimoda, Takahiro Ao and Jorge Linares. He is one of the most recognized athletes in his country and over the last 8 years has commanded a level respect at 122 pounds that is unmatched. While newcomers to the division, including his next opponent Nonito Donaire, have been making considerable noise in the division as of late, one would be wise to note that Nishioka is the one that has been ruling the roost at Super Bantamweight for the better part of the last decade.
Known as the “Speed King,” Nishioka is a respected champion who, after overcoming two early losses during the first year of his career, and his inability to overcome the baffling style of rival Veeraphol Sahaprom, has knocked out the majority of his opponents or earned one-sided unanimous decisions. His impressive record is a testament to his work ethic, respect for the sport and his ability to command the ring with a calculated style that is understated yet authoritative. He has the tools and presence of mind to neutralize the primary weapon of his adversary.
Like a grandmaster surveying his chessboard he can anticipate his opponent’s next move while navigating the ring with an immutable tone that makes you almost forget that he possesses one of the most dangerous weapons in all of boxing, a powerful straight left has been the demise of many of those who stood against him in the ring, most recently Rafael Marquez and Jhonny Gonzalez. The latter of which being the recipient of a thunderous blow that led him to the canvas in the 3rd round. One can’t help but think of Donaire’s long looping hooks and haymakers and what would happen if the “Speed King” gets his left glove within range.
Unlike many of the great Asian champions of the last 20 years, Nishioka has been unafraid to travel across the Pacific for his chance to retain supremacy over his contemporaries at 122, fighting Gonzalez before 12,000 screaming Mexican fans in Monterrey and under the bright lights at the MGM Grand where he defended his WBC Super Bantamweight title against Marquez a year ago. He will be doing the same next week when he enters the ring against Donaire in Carson, California.
Since Top Rank announced the matchup earlier in the year, Donaire, has shown a tremendous amount of respect for Nishioka, likely because he realizes that this fight will be unlike any of his previous fights. Donaire is no stranger to fighting under the spotlight or against game competitors with perplexing styles. In July, he earned a one-sided victory over Jeffrey Mathebula, the lengthy ex-champion who stood close to six feet tall and threw over 600 jabs in his loss of the IBF title, and previously undefeated Omar Narvaez who frustrated Nonito with the defense of a prairie dog escaping a hailstorm.
But Nishioka is an entirely different animal; one that should not be underestimated by Donaire and his trainer Garcia. While he doesn’t have anything to prove, a win for Nishioka, will be the exclamation point on his career and will cement his place with the all-time greats in his native Japan, and everywhere else that has seen super bantamweight warriors fighting for a shot at glory. At 36, as he approaches the twilight of his career, he is likely more aware of this than anyone and you better believe that he will bring his A-game through customs when he lands in LAX this weekend.