Having gone through some difficult times, Toshiaki Nishioka’s boxing career wasn’t exactly what he originally thought it would be when he entered the ring at age 11.
But he now can say that it was more fulfilling than he expected.
Nishioka, who lost to Filipino Nonito Donaire in a super bantamweight world title unification match in the United States last month, announced his retirement Tuesday after spending nearly two decades as a professional fighter.
“I’ve spend my last 18 years as a professional boxer,” Nishioka, a WBC emeritus champion, said at a Tokyo news conference on Tuesday. “And I’d have some hard times and some joy through boxing. I’d have big injuries and times with no titles. But I’d overcome those and earned world titles and defended them.
“And I was given the opportunity to fight against Nonito Donaire on such a big stage. Now I can say that my boxing life was more than satisfactory.”
Nishioka, 36, challenged for world championship belts four times in the early part of the 21st century, but didn’t win any of those bouts. He also tore his Achilles tendon during the period.
The native of Kakogawa, Hyogo Prefecture, finally captured a world title in September 2008, when he defeated Napapol Kiatisakchokchai of Thailand in a WBC super bantamweight interim bout in Yokohama (he inherited the full version of the title in December of that year).
Nishioka then defended the title for seven straight times before he was made a WBC emeritus champion in March 2012.
On Oct. 13, Nishioka faced Donaire, who’s considered one of the best pound-for-pound boxers, in a world title match with Donaire’s WBO, as well as WBC Diamond and The Ring magazine titles at stake at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, and lost by technical knockout in the ninth round.
“I was so frustrated for about a week after the fight,” Nishioka said of the defeat. “But it was just a result. I’d put everything toward the Donaire fight in the past year, thinking of Donaire and training so hard for that. I’m so proud of myself. In that respect, I’ve got nothing but satisfying feelings.”
Tsuyoshi Hamada, a representative of Teiken Promotions and a former WBC junior welterweight champion, tipped his hat to Nishioka, for his performances in the ring that helped raised the profile of Japanese boxing.
“Before him, it was important how popular you are,” Hamada said. “But the media began to focus on actual fights. I think the credit goes to Nishioka.”
Nishioka, whose professional record was 39-5-3 (24 KOs), said that he could still be good enough to compete for a world title technically-wise. But mentally, there’s nobody else that could light a fire in his heart any more.
“It’s impossible for myself to think there would be a bigger bout than one against Donaire in the super bantam division,” Nishioka said. “I’ve come to the decision to retire because I thought I wouldn’t be as motivated and excite people had I fought with someone else.”
As much as Nishioka had respect for Donaire, the 29-year-old orthodox fighter, nicknamed “The Filipino Flash,” admired the Japanese.
“Your hard work and dedication in boxing will have you remembered as one of Japan’s greatest champions because of the pride you’ve brought your country,” Donaire said in a statement. “It was an honor to have met you and been given the opportunity to fight with someone as fast and smart as you.”
Asked if he would ever imagine fighting until his current age when he started boxing, Nishioka said no, adding that he thought he would leave the ring with a word championship belt in his late 20s.
Also, Nishioka couldn’t picture himself being in a big fight in a jam-packed arena — like the famous 1981 Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns bout at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas that he watched on video as a boy.
“The fight with Donaire was like that,” Nishioka said, referring to the Leonard-Hearns bout, which is considered one of the top fights of all time. “I never thought that I’d be able to see the same scenery as with the stadium that was so full. It was strange feelings, but I was extremely happy.”
As his next goal, Nishioka still thinks about a world title belt. But in the future he wants to train up-and-coming fighters.
Nishioka said that he would open his own gym, somewhere between Osaka and Kobe, hopefully next year.
“Hopefully, I’ll grow good boxers from my gym in Kansai to contribute to the sport,” he said.