Mexican Action Stars On The Rebound Encounter Differing Fates Saturday, As Rafael Marquez Wins By 3rd Round KO And Jhonny Gonzalez Loses By 3rd Round KO

[Now UPDATED with video of Nishioka-Gonzalez and Marquez-Mendoza.]

They are two of the more entertaining Mexican fighters of recent years, Rafael Marquez and Jhonny Gonzalez, and if they continued their career rehabilitations with wins Saturday night on TV Azteca, they were on a collision course. Marquez scored an early knockout in his long-awaited ring return, a good if not 100 percent conclusive answer to the questions about whether he remains one of the finest boxers on the planet. But Jhonny Gonzalez was the victim of an early knockout courtesy Toshiaki Nishioka, stunting a comeback that over a few fights had generated some nice momentum.


So that went well. Granted, it was supposed to. But it wasn’t necessarily a given. Marquez was fighting in a new weight class (we’ll get to that in a second); his opponent did have a nice knockout ratio; and most importantly, no one knew how much the grueling/awesome Israel Vazquez trilogy had taken out of Marquez. I can say this: Marquez didn’t look shot to me. The caveat on that is that his opponent was handpicked, but my eyes didn’t see signs of a shot fighter. He took what punches Mendoza caught him with well, and while he looked a tad slower and had a little trouble finding Mendoza for a while, it’s entirely possible that is due to ring rust, not some kind of permanent decline.
In the 1st round, he established his jab, did Marquez, but it was a close round where not much else happened, and Mendoza did land one or two shots. I gave Marquez the 1st and Mendoza the 2nd, what with Mendoza catching Marquez with a few nicer ones in the second stanza. In the 3rd, the action heated up, and Mendoza appeared to be getting the better of it before Marquez staggered him. Mendoza recovered and decided to slug a little, and that’s when Marquez connected with an overhand right that put him down for the count.
I’m not sure how this was a junior featherweight title eliminator if it was fought at featherweight, but never mind that. Marquez-Gonzalez was a fight that would have made sense even if it hadn’t been ordered by the WBC, but of course, that was before Gonzalez lost his title shot on the same card. Marquez says he really wants Vazquez again, anyhow, so it’s unclear if he’ll take on Gonzalez’ conquerer next. The thought of Vazquez-Marquez IV makes me shiver a little, although if Vazquez makes his own successful ring return, maybe I’ll not fear so much for the lives of both. Whatever happens next, I do think Marquez, who was only off my pound-for-pound list because of a layoff that stretched to March of 2008, deserves to return to the top 10 now. It may seem weird for him to be there but not Vazquez, but Vazquez’ own layoff that began in March may stretch into the fall, and with his injuries and surgeries, it’s a fairer question whether he may never get back to form — or even come back to boxing at all.


So that didn’t go well. Gonzalez, after two knockout losses in less than a year, had put together a nice little six-fight winning streak and gotten back to the alphabet title belt level. And it looked like the winning streak would continue early, as Gonzalez decked Nishioka with a  straight right in the 1st round. He won the 2nd, too, working his jab, left hook and lead right. But in the 3rd, basically out of nowhere, Nishioka returned the favor with a straight right that sent Gonzalez crashing down hard. He tried to rise, and got to his feet at around 10, but was in no condition to continue, so the referee waved it off.

Nishioka, who’s not ranked in the top 10 by Ring magazine, was nonetheless no joke opponent, it must be said. He’d twice drawn with Veeraphol Sahaprom (and lost to him twice, to be sure) and this being my first look at him, he definitely had some skills — good defense, nice speed. But I wonder if this loss says more about Gonzalez than it does Nishioka. At 27, Gonzalez now has three knockout losses, two that came courtesy a single shot and a third that was the result of an accumulation of punches from Vazquez. He took less total punishment in those three losses than Marquez did in his Vazquez trilogy, but sometimes a boxer’s breaking point is different from another’s. I’d wondered after the Gerry Penalosa knockout whether Gonzalez was done, and I’m wondering even harder now.

As for Nishioka, I hope he doesn’t run off with his belt back to Japan, never to be seen again. Too many Japanese fighters stay at home, and it’s too bad, because it’s a country that has a lot of good ones, especially in the lower weight classes. Nishioka-Marquez makes a lot of sense for both men, because if Nishioka wants to keep fighting in North America, Marquez would be an opponent who could get him on U.S. television, and for Marquez, Nishioka is another good step up and test to see if he’s all the way back to where he was.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.