Thankfully for Inoue, and for fight fans, those hand injuries have healed and on December 29th the youngster returns to make the first defense of the WBO Super Flyweight title that he won last December, when he blew away Omar Andres Narvaez. In the opposite corner will not be a patsy and instead it will be mandatory challenger Warlito Parrenas (24-6-1, 21), a heavy handed, aggressive and under-rated Filipino.
As with most of Inoue's bouts so far this is a tough test, though as we've seen through out his career, he's a fighter who is significantly better than most out there, and in fact he could well be a future claimant to the #1 spot on the mythical pound-for-pound list.
Inoue was pegged for stardom from his days as an amateur and and he has been raced to becoming a star. In just his 4th bout be claimed the Japanese Light Flyweight title, defeating current world champion Ryoichi Taguchi, a fight later he claimed the OPBF Light Flyweight title and then he claimed the WBC Light Flyweight title, stopping Adrian Hernandez. In just 8 fights has become a 2-weight world champion, one of the faces of Japanese boxing and a man who some are suggesting could be the man to finally end the long unbeaten run of Roman Gonzalez. He is, arguably, the leading figure in the next wave of Japanese superstars and is possibly the man to bring western TV cameras over to the east.
At his best Inoue is a boxer-puncher with frightening power, alarming accuracy, blurring speed, an instinctive knowledge of what shots to through and a natural ring awareness. Although he's a boxer-puncher he has shown an ability to be a brawler, an outside fighter and a pure counter puncher. Looking for something that he lacks is like looking for a needle in a haystack, however if being overly critical there are some issues with his defense, at least when he's been a bit too comfortable against some opponents, and of course the hand issues, which hopefully will not reoccur in the future.
Whilst in the ring Inoue is a sensation and one of the most natural fighters in the sport he does, of course, have a lot of pressure on his young shoulders. The 23 year old is viewed as being something special and knows that millions watch him in Japan on Fuji TV. He also knows that he is expected to perform like a star, despite spending a year out of the ring. He will also, perhaps, be worried about re-injuring the hand. The Inoue we see against Parrenas may not be the same Inoue that we saw destroy Narvaez and this is a real worry.
When it comes to Parrenas we know we're talking about a much lower profile fighter than Inoue, but one who is himself incredibly exciting. The Filipino is a monstrous puncher, and has 12 stoppages in the first 3 rounds. He's a danger man early on but also dangerous late and has shown solid punching power late into fights, although he has never scored a stoppage after the 8th round. Not only is he heavy handed but he always comes to fight and has a great engine, as he showed last time out against David Carmona, where he fought at a high pace for 12 rounds.
Whilst Parrenas is an aggressive banger here are certainly some issues with him. He has been stopped 4 times, and his chin is very questionable. He can certainly give it out, but it seems that he's not so good at taking it. Whilst it's fair to say that being stopped by Marlon Tapales and Jonathan Taconing isn't too bad he has also been stopped by Erwin Picardal and Oscar Blanquet, and was also dropped by Atsushi Kakutani, in a memorable 172 second bout. Those chin issues, especially early, could be a problem here, as is the fact he can be rather wild and wide and leaves himself open to counters, something that Inoue will take advantage of.
Whilst Parrenas has been stopped 4 times, and beaten 6 times, he is currently on an unbeaten run of 7-0-1 and has gone 12-1-1 in his last 14. Those runs have shown that he's improved. He's beaten fighters like Kakutani, Koji Itagaki, Tomoya Kaneshiro and Espinos Sabu whilst also fighting to a draw with Carmona, in what seemed to be a very unfortunate result for Parrenas. The improvement in Parrenas has been impressive but it's still a huge step up in class for the Pinoy puncher.
If Inoue is close to the fighter he was a year ago it's hard to see him losing to Parrenas, despite the danger that the Filipino brings. If however Inoue is rusty then Parrenas certainly has a chance to at least chin check the “Monster”. Our guess however is that Hideyuki Ohashi and Shingo Inoue wouldn't let Naoya fight unless they were confident he was fully healed, fully fit and had impressed in sparring. With that in mind we can't see anything but an Inoue stoppage, likely inside 5 rounds.