- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Unified junior featherweight titlist Nonito Donaire, one of boxing's top pound-for-pound fighters, will meet former titlist Toshiaki Nishioka and junior welterweight contender Mike Alvarado will face former lightweight titlist Brandon Rios on a blockbuster doubleheader Oct. 13, promoter Top Rank announced Wednesday.
The card, which will take place at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., will headline HBO's "Boxing After Dark" (10 p.m. ET/PT) and feature some of the sport's most exciting fighters in even-money matches.
"History shows there is only one way for a fighter to make the leap to stardom and that's by accepting the challenges and risks like the ones Donaire, Nishioka, Rios and Alvarado committed to on October 13," Top Rank president Todd duBoef said. "They are young, hungry and ambitious."
Donaire (29-1, 18 KOs), 29, is a former flyweight, interim junior bantamweight and bantamweight titlist and moved up to claim a junior featherweight title in February. On July 7, he unified 122-pound belts when he dropped Jeffrey Mathebula and broke his jaw en route to a unanimous decision.
Top Rank's plan had been to match Donaire, known as "The Filipino Flash," with Mexican star Jorge Arce (60-6-2, 46 KOs) on the October card, but negotiations stalled when Arce's team asked for far more money than was available. But all along, Top Rank's Bob Arum had talked about Nishioka also being a possible opponent.
From a competitive standpoint, Nishioka figures to be more of a test for Donaire than Arce.
Nishioka (39-4-3, 24 KOs), 36, of Japan, has not lost a fight since 2004 and is on a 16-fight winning streak, during which he won a junior featherweight belt and made seven defenses against a series of top opponents. However, following a unanimous decision against former bantamweight and junior featherweight champion Rafael Marquez in October in Las Vegas -- for which Donaire sat ringside to scout him in anticipation of a possible fight -- Nishioka vacated his title and decided to take some time off because of an undisclosed personal issue.
But Nishioka attended Donaire's win against Mathebula last month, thinking there was a good chance he would make his return if he could land a fall fight with Donaire.
"No question that Nishioka is a tougher fight [than Arce]," Top Rank's Carl Moretti said. "He's a southpaw, fast, experienced, he can box. He's really not an easy guy to fight no matter who you are, so Donaire will truly be tested. You want to make the best fights for Donaire and clearly this is one of them."
Alvarado-Rios features two of boxing's most exciting fighters, and on paper at least, the bout looks like a can't-miss slugfest.
"HBO wanted two great matchups," Arum said. "That's what we're giving them. This [Rios-Alvarado] match could be the first of a trilogy like [Arturo] Gatti-[Micky] Ward."
"It's unfair to make Gatti-Ward comparisons. You don't want to do that so let's not go there, but the size and style of Alvarado and Rios bleeds -- literally and figuratively -- that this will be something special," Moretti said. "They are both so mentally tough and physically strong. They both have that innate ability to endure pain in order to inflict it."
Alvarado's last two fights -- against Mauricio Herrera and Breidis Prescott -- were sensational brawls. In April, Alvarado (33-0, 23 KOs), 32, of Denver, outpointed Herrera in a leading fight of the year candidate.
Rios, 26, of Oxnard, Calif., was due to face Herrera on Donaire's July 7 undercard but withdrew because of a sore elbow that has since healed.
Rios (30-0-1, 22 KOs) was forced to move up to the 140-pound junior welterweight division after failing to make the lightweight limit of 135 pounds for two consecutive fights: a title defense against John Murray in December that resulted in Rios being stripped of the belt (but getting an 11th-round knockout win) and an April fight for the still-vacant belt against Richard Abril (which Rios won via highly controversial split decision but was again not eligible to win the title).
"I think you'll see a much better Brandon Rios at this weight, and he's fought a better competition that Alvarado," Moretti said. "But Alvarado, when it comes to putting boxers in certain categories, I can't think of too many guys who apply the constant pressure he does on another fighter. He'll just walk you down and walk you down. And Brandon is the kind of fighter who will be right there to meet him head on."