On Thursday, November 7th, the Saitama Super Arena is expected to host a capacity crowd for one of Japan’s biggest combat sports stars, and someone whom I consider the most exciting boxer at the moment.
Naoya Inoue (18-0, 16 KOs) has accomplished so much in just 18 professional fights. Since turning pro in 2012, he has won major world titles at light-flyweight (108 lbs), super-flyweight (115 lbs), and currently has the IBF title at bantamweight (118 lbs). If he beats the legendary Nonito Donaire (40-5, 26 KOs) in the World Boxing Super Series final, he’ll become a unified WBA and IBF champion in a loaded division.
That Inoue is a consensus top-10 pound-for-pound boxer right now is already impressive and should grab your attention. What makes “The Monster” so captivating is, to put it bluntly, his uniquely violent style of fighting.
Inoue combines a remarkable workrate with terrifying pressure, lightning-fast speed, timing, and accuracy, a hatred for livers, and obscene power for someone who competes at the bottom-rung of boxing’s many weight classes. He’s a bantamweight with the punching power of a light heavyweight, and as he’s gone up in weight, he’s become an even more preposterously powerful pugilist.
And while you may be one to immediately speculate that Inoue isn’t fighting good opposition, my retort is that you are completely incorrect.
In his debut at bantamweight, Inoue took on Jamie McDonnell, who had never been stopped before and was riding an 18-fight winning streak. McDonnell didn’t last a round.
The 26-year-old entered the World Boxing Super Series tournament with much hype and anticipation. In his quarterfinal bout versus former world champion Juan Carlos Payano, who’d entered the contest just once-beaten, he decked him in 70 seconds.
In the semifinals against Puerto Rico’s Manny Rodriguez, a slugfest was expected given their respective aggressive styles. Rodriguez was undefeated and had the IBF title at the time. The good news for Manny is that he got out of the opening round... but he didn’t get out of round two. Rodriguez had never been dropped before, but he’s also never fought “The Monster.” You can see the pain on Rodriguez’s face when Inoue coolly dents his liver.
Inoue has had three career bantamweight fights, all against men who’d never been knocked out before, and laid waste to them in a combined 7:22.
Only Ryoichi Taguchi and David Carmona have survived the distance with Inoue, and neither one of them was particularly close to victory.
For the most part, Inoue has flown under the radar as a major name in world boxing — at least a major name in the Western Hemisphere — because almost all of his fights have been in Japan. Reportedly, Inoue is in line to sign with Top Rank/ESPN if he wins the WBSS, which could be massive news as we approach 2020. If he goes with another US promoter, then a superfight between him and Mexico’s Luis Nery would be one of the most mouthwatering clashes you could possibly book.
While he is a massive favorite to win on Thursday, victory is not a foregone conclusion. Donaire may be 36 years old and past his prime, but he is still potent offensively and reminded everyone as such when he knocked out late replacement Stephon Young in his semifinal.
“The Filipino Flash” is a four-division world champion, once belonging in the conversation of pound-for-pound #1 in his prime, and thus far has had a someone fortunate run to the final in his return back down to bantamweight. He was originally scheduled to face WBO champ Zolani Tete, but wound up with Young as the alternate when Tete withdrew during fight week. Prior to the Young bout, he won by injury TKO over Ryan Burnett (who sadly had to retire due to his back issues). Only Nicholas Walters has ever knocked Donaire out, and that was at featherweight. Of course, “rarely/never been knocked out” usually means nothing when Inoue is in the ring.
Whether you catch this fight live or the highlights later, just enjoy the show. “The Monster” is already a star in his home country, and if he continues to rack up the wins and get more exposure, he could become a superstar.
Bloody Elbow will have live coverage of Inoue vs. Donaire, which starts at 5:15 AM ET/2:15 AM PT on DAZN.