This time we see Japanese star, and current WBO champion, Naoya Inoue (10-0, 8) defending his title against Thai veteran Petchbarngborn Kokietgym (38-7-1, 18). The bout, the headline bout of a card at the Sky Arena in Zama, sees Inoue returning to fight at home for the first time since he took the Japanese title in the same arena more than 3 years ago. The bouts in between have all taken place in Tokyo. For Petchbarngborn sees him returning to Japan for the first time in almost 3 years, following a 2nd round TKO defeat to Sho Ishida in Osaka.
For the champion this will be his third defense of the title that he won in incredible fashion at the end of 2014, when he demolished Omar Andres Narvaez in 2 rounds. Since that win he has been plagued with hand injuries however he has still light up the boxing scene when he has fought, with a particularly impressive return to the ring last December against Warlito Parrenas.
Despite looking impressive against Narvaez and Parrenas Inoue was made to look human last time out, at times, as he went the distance with mandatory challenger David Carmona. Although he went the 12 round distance for the first time Inoue showed that he had the stamina to do 12 and came close to scoring a stoppage in the final seconds.
At his best Inoue is nothing short of breath taking. He's lightning quick, incredibly fluid and makes the sport of boxing look natural. He's incredibly calm in the ring, controls range with easy and make offensive boxing an art form with combinations that many fighters can only dream of. Not only does he have the speed and skill to do magical things in the ring but the power, with both hands, to really hurt fighters.
The Thai, who boxrec now list by his birth name of Karoon Jarupianlerd, is a bit of an under-whelming challenger for Inoue, though in many ways is a man who knows he has a great opportunity. That opportunity however has arisen mostly on the basis that the top fighters in the division are all booked up with other fights, mostly mandatory title bouts. He has also gotten this opportunity following Paul Butler's inability to make weight, with Butler having had to pull out of an eliminator with the Thai earlier in the year.
Petchbarngborn has experience of fighting in Japan with 5 bouts in country prior to facing Inoue. Sadly for the Thai however he is 1-4 in the country, with his sole stoppage loss coming in his last visit to the country, when Sho Ishida stopped him in 2 rounds. It would be easy to write him off given his form in Japan however he ran Kohei Kono incredibly close 4 years ago and blasted out Tomoya Kaneshiro at the end of 2012.
Coming in to this one the Thai is riding a 16 fight winning run, with 9 wins by T/KO, they may not have come against great opponents but his confidence will be high thanks to that run. He is also an improved fighter to the one who fought Ishida and looks like a fighter who has developed some solid skills. Despite having solid skills he is, all honestly, a long way from having any world class ability, and to beat Inoue a fighter needs to be world class in a lot of areas.
For Inoue the bout really should be a showcase defense, a quick blow out and a chance to test out the hands, both of which were bruised last time out against Carmona. However the pressure is on him to look good with all the attention being on him moving towards a bout with the winner of next weekend's WBC title bout between Carlos Cuadras and Roman Gonzalez. Petchbarngborn will be looking to play the spoiler to Inoue's potential mega-fight however we suspect the Thai's best hopes would be to put on a brave effort in a loss rather than look to score the upset of the year.