Back in September we saw the US debut of WBO Super Flyweight champion Naoya Inoue (14-0, 12) [井上 尚弥], who toyed with Antonio Nieves (17-2-2, 9). Following that bout it was hoped by his team, at the Ohahsi gym, that they would be able to secure a unification bout for late December against IBF champion Jerwin Ancajas (27-1-1, 18).
Sadly Ancajas has different plans and will instead defend his title in Belfast against the exciting, and unbeaten, Jamie Conlan (19-0, 11). As a result it's left Inoue in a bit of a frustrating position, as a lot of the top contenders with the WBO at 115lbs are now booked in other bouts, and the champions are all currently occupiued themselves.
Today Mr Ohashi held a press conference to talk about Inoue's future and stated that his next bout would be a normal defense of the title, but that he was having issues getting an opponent for his champion, with many top fighters already having fights set between now and the end of the year.
The WBO rankings have Juan Francisco Estrada (36-2, 25) ranked #1, but he's going the route of the WBC of which he has a mandatory title fight, at #2 they have Rex Tso (21-0, 13) [曹星如], who turned down the chance to face Inoue earlier in the year and will face former Inoue victim Kohei Kono (33-10-1, 14) [河野 公平] in October. In the #3 position is Conlan, who as mentioned will face Ancajas.
A planned bout with Roman Gonzalez (46-2, 38) has been the dream bout for Inoue and Ohashi, but the shine got taken off that bout with Gonzalez suffering back to back losses to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (43-4-1, 39) [ศรีสะเกษ นครหลวงโปรโมชั่น], who is mandated to defend against Estrada.
With so many top divisional challengers out of the mix it does seem like Ohashi will need to pull a rabbit out of the hat to get Inoue a genuinely interesting opponent. However there are options out there, and the WBO rankings do show some interesting names for Inoue. They include the big punching Aston Palicte (23-2, 19), who is ranked #4 in the latest rankings, former Minimumweight champion Oleydong Sithsamerchai (66-1-1, 27) is ranked #6 and is known in Japan for for wins over Eagle Den Junlaphan, Junichi Ebisuoka, Yasutaka Kuroki and of course his sole loss to Kazuto Ioka, and former WBC champion Carlos Cuadras (36-2-1, 27) is ranked #10 and would be a plausible foe for Inoue, despite recent losses to Gonzalez and Estrada.
It could also be a case that Ohash will look outside of the top WBO top 15 Super Flyweights, and and potentially make an offer to a fighter like Francisco Rodriguez Jr (24-4-1,16), who is #3 ranked at Flyweight, who is known for his exploits in the lower weights and has got some name value, especially with Japanese fans who will fondly remember his bout with Katsunari Takayama.
At the moment Ohashi is said to be looking at his options for Inoue's ring return, though a decision has clearly not yet been made in regards to his opponent.
(Image courtesy of boxingnews.jp)
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