Going into 2012, one bout near the top of every boxing fan's wishlist was for young pound for pound stalwart Nonito Donaire to take on Japanese veteran Toshiaki Nishioka.
It had been a combined 19 years since either fighter had last lost and hopes were high for the competitive matching of a couple elite 122 pound fighters.
From the get-go, Nishioka was cautious of the vaunted left hook of the bigger Donaire. Keeping his lead right hand pressed up against the side of his face, Nishioka gave himself no shot at having the competent jab needed to have even marginal success.
After the brutality of the co-main event, the chess match of the main event drew constant boos from the crowd.
Donaire tried repeatedly to invite Nishioka to open up, but the 34 year old champion seemed wary of the superior speed, power and reflexes of his challenger. Bouncing in and out firing jabs and right hands, the bout was a one way street in favor of Donaire.
As the hostilities of the crowd grew, Nishioka did nothing to change the fan's negative perception of the bout. At least not until the sixth round, when a lead left uppercut dropped the Japanese man.
Nishioka actually showed signs of life after the knockdown, pressing Donaire into the ropes but taking counters for his efforts. Nishioka reverted to his previous form in the next two rounds and the fight finally came to a close in the ninth, when he pressed the attack and took a stiff counter right hand for his troubles.
As Nishioka attempted to regain his upright position, his corner decided that they had seen enough and forced referee Raul Caiz to call a halt to the bout at the 1:54 mark.
It was an extremely impressive victory for the man dubbed the "Filipino Flash" but will unfortunately be salted by his opponent's unwillingness to engage.
Still, it was another notch on an increasingly impressive resume for one of the most talented young fighters in boxing.
While Donaire (30-1, 19 KOs) and Nishioka (39-5-3, 24 KOs) got top billing on the card, most in the crowd seemed to come out for what promised to be an entertaining bout between undefeated sluggers Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado.
The promoters' promise of a great fight is a dangerous one to dish out, it's rare that a bout with 'Fight of the Year' potential actually turns into a legitimate fight of the year.
Donaire vs. Nishioka was a bit of a letdown. Rios (31-0-1, 22 KOs) vs. Alvarado (33-1, 23 KOs) was not.
In hostile territory, Colorado's Alvarado seemed undaunted by the relentless boos from the crowd. The co-feature was a phone booth affair from the opening bell.
Rios seemed intent on making the bout an inside battle and that seemed to suit Alvarado fine.
The first frame was a wild one as Rios threw with reckless abandon, every punch a power shot and generated wild cheers with an assortment of left hooks and right hands. Alvarado stood his ground and took a slightly more technical approach, choosing to work behind a close range jab to set up his own power shots.
Alvarado rallied in the second with an incredible punch output, mostly power shots and repeatedly snapped Rios' head back on the inside. It became apparent that the promise of an epic, unforgettable slugfest was in the process of being realized.
With the crowd at a feverish roar, Rios started round three with a committed body attack but put defense on the backburner and paid the price as he took a series of hellacious power shots.
The back and forth continued up until the end of the fifth frame, which was a solid round for Alvarado, who appeared to be settling in and mixing in more jabs and defense.
The fifth ended with a bit of a revival for Rios as he got the better of a freewheeling, center of the ring exchange that saw both contestants land devastating left hooks that lasted from the clap to the bell.
Throwing more than 100 punches a round, Alvarado seemed to know that he needed to pace himself by taking short breaks. He made space while working behind his jab.
Alvarado took breaks by throwing jabs and slowing the bout's tempo down, Rios took his breaks by crowding his challenger and absorbing punches. It was a frightening showcase of brutality and willpower.
Toward the end of the sixth, Rios' determination paid off as he caught Alvarado moving backwards with a big right hand. Right after Alvarado was wobbled, the bell toll, it was a bit of foreshadowing of what was to come.
Another big right hand over a jab stunned Alvarado again and this time there was no bell to save him. His opponent thrust into the ropes, Rios connected with two
more gargantuan right hands, prompting referee Pat Russell to cut short a bout that is now the front runner for any 'Fight of the Year' discussion.
While speculation arose in the days prior that the winner could be in line to fight pound for pound elite Manny Pacquiao, both fighters acknowledged that they would be open to a rematch if the fans thought it was appropriate. Judging from the sold out Home Depot Center crowd's reaction, a rematch seems most appropriate.
Well regarded Top Rank prospect Jose Benavidez Jr. cruised for all but one round of his fight with tough Mexican veteran Pavel Miranda.
Benavidez (17-0, 13 KOs) used his height and speed advantage to virtually shut Miranda (19-8-1, 10 KOs) out for seven of the bout's first eight rounds. Pressuring Miranda with a stiff jab, Benavidez dished out a steady diet of jabs and right hands.
Miranda never appeared comfortable having the play the role of a pressure fighter but had to resort to those tactics after never having any success in the middle of the ring.
Every time Miranda set his feet, Benavidez backed him up with a jab that never seemed to miss. With each passing round, a shutout decision victory for Benavidez appeared imminent.
A cut opened by a punch in the seventh round clearly bothered Miranda and entering the eighth frame it was clear a knockout was needed to win.
Suddenly, a lunging left hook from Miranda wobbled the undefeated Benavidez.
With over a minute left in the round, the young prospect was out of sorts, staggering from ring post to ring post, and clutching the pressing veteran at ever opportunity.
Benavidez slipped to the canvas twice, held at every opportunity and eventually heard the final bell. It was a good dose of drama for a fight that had turned stale.
In the end, Benavidez stayed unbeaten, winning all but one round on every judge's scorecard.
The most action packed bout of the evening's undercard had a disappointing finish as local rivals Jose Roman and Javier Garcia battled to a brutally entertaining technical draw.
Garcia (8-2-2, 7 KOs) forced Roman (14-0-1, 11 KOs) to the floor in the opening stanza with a beautifully placed inside left hook. Roman recovered and stood in the middle of the ring, trading punches with Garcia to the early arriving crowd's great delight.
The tides turned in the undefeated Roman's favor with a left hook that stunned Garcia before a straight right through the gloves knocked him down. A headbutt in the third round caused a cut above Garcia's right eye and after one sided round in Roman's favor, referee Pat Russell took the advice of the ringside physician and stopped the bout after three thrilling rounds.
Heated words and some commotion ensued between the two camps afterward but calm was restored after an entertaining contest.
Light heavyweight prospect Trevor McCumby appeared ready for a step up in his competition
level as he blew past Eliseo Durazo. McCumby (7-0, 7 KOs), by way of Chicago, scored a spectacular knockdown with a left hook early that launched Durazo (4-4-1) down across the ring.
Things didn't get much better for Durazo after as a clearly superior McCumby ended the affair with a right hand that positioned Durazo dangling between the ropes.