CARSON, Calif. -- Nonito Donaire was in what amounted to a no-win situation, even if he scored an official victory.
Before Donaire's junior featherweight title defense against former titleholder Toshiaki Nishioka, junior welterweights Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado waged perhaps the fight of the year, a vicious brawl that ended in Rios winning on a seventh-round knockout that had the Home Depot Center crowd of 7,665 in a frenzy.
So when Donaire and Nishioka took to the ring for a fight that was expected to be competitive but certainly not the kind of action battle the first one was, there was no way it could carry over the intensity.
It was slow. Very slow.
The crowd was booing in the first round and in many rounds thereafter -- that is, until Donaire found an opening and dropped Nishioka in the sixth round, and then again to finish him for a ninth-round TKO on Saturday night to retain his 122-pound title.
"Nishioka was a great fighter and we were wary, but if he made the mistake, we could get him -- and we did," said Donaire, who made his second defense. "My left hand was hurt in the middle of the fight and I needed a different strategy, and I got him with the right.
"This is my biggest win. I've never beaten anyone like this. He has a lot of weapons."
But before the knockdown punch and then the end of the fight, it was an agonizing waltz -- which was mainly Nishioka's fault. Like Omar Narvaez had done to Donaire last fall, Nishioka refused to engage.
In the first round, he threw only eight punches. It took Nishioka until the eighth round to throw as many punches -- 147 -- as Alvarado had thrown in the fifth round alone of the co-feature.
Top Rank promoter Bob Arum had seen Nishioka fight before and believed he would be a dangerous opponent for Donaire, so he was happy with the way he closed the show.
"It was interesting because Donaire realized that Nishioka has a really good punch and he could be very dangerous, and so I thought Donaire fought a superb fight," Arum said. "The fact that he could stop him like he did was really something special. But put Ali-Frazier on after Alvarado-Rios, and people would be booing."
Donaire, 29, who was born in the Philippines but splits his time between San Leandro, Calif., and Las Vegas, kept trying to press Nishioka through the early rounds and throw combinations, but Nishioka was just so cautious.
However, after virtually no action for the first five rounds, the crowd came to life in the sixth round when Donaire landed a clean left uppercut to drop Nishioka in the center of the ring. He was OK, and the punch seemed to bring him to life, because Nishioka began throwing punches like he hadn't done to that point.
Donaire cracked him with several more good shots during the last minute to punctuate a big round.
"I never saw the uppercut," Nishioka said through a translator.
The action picked up a bit after that, until Donaire closed the show in great fashion in the ninth round. A straight right hand to Nishioka's chin dropped him hard. He made it to his feet, and just as his corner appeared ready to throw in the towel, Donaire landed a left uppercut and referee Raul Caiz Sr. stepped in to stop the fight at 1 minute, 54 seconds.
"When you do engage with Nonito, who is a surgeon, I will pick you apart," Donaire said. "Then the demolition man comes in and I knock them out.
"I was using my jab and using my speed -- that's what we wanted to do. The combinations got better as the fight went on. I was playing possum to see what he would do. I timed the straight right like we practiced in the gym, and see what happened?"
Nishioka (39-5-3, 24 KOs), 36, of Japan, might not have fought very well, but he was viewed as a dangerous opponent. He was riding an eight-year, 16-fight winning streak going into the fight. He also should have had one of the titles, but he vacated it last year after his seventh defense, a good scrap with former champ Rafael Marquez in Las Vegas. He only wanted to fight Donaire.
Donaire was ready for him.
"The speed was a big difference," Nishioka said. "He's one of the fastest fighters I have ever faced. And Donaire has a very powerful left hand. He was strong early in the fight."
For the fight, Donaire (30-1, 19 KOs) landed 134 of 485 punches (28 percent) while Nishioka managed to land just 49 of 199 blows (25 percent).
Because of the feud between Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions, the most attractive fight in the 122-pound division has gone unmade: Donaire against fellow titlist Abner Mares, who will face Anselmo Moreno on Nov. 10.
Donaire, a former flyweight and bantamweight titleholder and a former interim junior bantamweight titlist, said he would be happy to make that fight.
"I thought Nishioka was best in the division," Donaire said, "[but] if we can make any of the other fights happen in the division, we will. If not, I move up."
When asked about fellow titleholder Guillermo Rigondeaux, the two-time Cuban Olympic gold medalist, who is with Top Rank, Donaire deflected the fight.
"I believe he needs more guys [on his résumé] to make me excited," Donaire said. "This fight, we were so focused, and that's what I want to feel when I go into the ring. Rigondeaux needs to fight more guys to get me excited to fight him."
Donaire had an open cut on his left knuckle after the fight and said he probably would not fight again this year. However, Arum said that if Donaire's hand isn't a problem, he would like to match the fighter with Mexican star Jorge Arce in December. Arce was the initial opponent for Saturday's fight but priced himself out.
"If the hand is OK, I will try to have him fight before the end of the year in Mexico City at the new arena against Arce," Arum said.
Arce, an all-action fighter, would be sure to engage as Nishioka rarely did. And in the end, Donaire, one of boxing's pound-for-pound best, probably would defeat him, too -- leaving us all hoping once again for the fight with Mares.