One of the things particularly notable about 2020 was the huge number of upsets we had, all over the planet. It seemed not a week could go by without at least one major favourite slipping up in a bout where they were expected to win, and to win with ease. Today we look at one such bout as we head back into the 2020 Treasure Trove and find a bout that was worthy of attention, especially if you missed it the first time around.
Koki Inoue (15-0, 12) vs Daishi Nagata (14-2-1, 5)
Before we get on to the bout we need to really go into some details about what the world was like in July 2020. By that point boxing was pretty much on a global standstill waiting for governments to asses their strategy to deal with the Covid19 pandemic. As a result the Ohashi promoted "Phoenix Battle 71" was the first card at Korakuen Hall since late February and was only the second card in Japan upon the sport restarting the country, and was fought in front of an eerie and empty Korakuen Hall. It was also a chance for the long over-due Champion Carnival to continue.
As part of the Champion Carnival Japanese Light Welterweight champion Koki Inoue, the cousin of Naoya Inoue, had to defend his title against mandatory challenger Daishi Nagata.
The Polish betting website STS bet had Inoue as a very clear favourite, the polls on Japanese websites had Inoue favoured with 67% of the vote backing him and a lot of people saw this as a formality. After all Inoue was an Inoue, he had already won and defended the title, he had also won the WBO Asia Pacific title and seemed like a man with the ability to compete at a very high level. He was an unbeaten and talented southpaw, with explosive combinations heavy hands, a good amateur pedigree and an Ohashi gym fighter.
Nagata on the other hand was a guy who had already lost twice, including a TKO loss to Vladimir Baez, and had struggled past both Min Ho Jung and Cristiano Aoqui. He wasn't a bad fighter, not by any stretch, but was a technically limited boxer, with a pretty basic style. There was nothing that really stood out as being in his locker that should have been too much for Inoue. He had been a good amateur, but hadn't really shined on the professional ranks and his best performance, to this point, had come in a regional title fight against Rikki Naito, a bout he had lost.
Despite being the under-dog Nagata was hungry and straight from the opening bell he came out and rushed Inoue, putting the champion on the back foot and under pressure. The speed, aggression and tenacity from Nagata was great to see as he consistently pressed forward and forced Inoue to use his feet through out the first minute of the fight. Not only was Nagata pressing forward, but he was also landing quite frequently and connected with a very nice left hand. The pressure and Nagata was incessant through the entire round and it was clear that he wasn't there to make up the numbers. He was there for the belt and if Inoue wanted to keep it he'd have to earn a victory, rather than just turn up as many had originally expected. To his credit Inoue did have some success late in the round, but it was too little, too late to turn the round in his favour.
The pressure of Nagata continued into round 2 and he managed to really lay the shots off on Inoue in one particular sequence around 40 seconds into the round. Inoue didn't seem capable of responding the to the fast start of Nagata, who looked like a man possessed. Inoue looked the more talented boxer, and he showed more boxing ability, but he was being forced into a fight, and Nagata was getting the better of it, by far.
Round 3 we saw more of the same, though we also saw a massive headclash that left Inoue cut. It was a nasty headclash but the resulting cut wasn't a particularly bad looking one, even if it did seem to bother Inoue who was again backed up time after time and was even rocked to his core at one point, with his legs buckling after a shot.
After 5 rounds all 3 judges had Nagata in the lead. Inoue had tried to fight his way back into things, in rounds 4 and 5, but it wasn't nearly enough and the open scoring had Nagata up 48-47, twice, and 49-46. The champions title reign wasn't just slipping away, but it was being ripped away by a super determined challenger, who was forcing his fight on the bout. Inoue was slowly finding his feet though and knew he had to turn things around.
Round 6 turned out to be Inoue's best round as he gritted his teeth and stood his ground, trying to turn things around. He let Nagata continue to come forward but this time fired off shots on the inside, finding room for some brutal uppercuts and excellent straight left hands, despite blooding dropping from his right eye, which was a repeated target for Nagata's jabs. It felt, for the first time, like the tide might be swinging and that Inoue was being forced to show his champion's spirit. He was still under pressure, and he couldn't make Nagata go away, but he was landing his own leather, and was slowly getting Nagata's respect.
Sadly for Inoue his success in round 6 was for nought as Nagata came out even hungrier in round 7 and ended up connecting repeatedly with the swollen and cut right eye of Inoue. The eye, was quickly becoming a swollen, grotesque lump of flesh and it was clear that the doctor was going to want a look at it sooner, rather than later. With around 45 seconds of the round left Michiaki Someya took Inoue over to the corner, with the doctor waving the bout off and saving Inoue from further punishment.
For those wanting an all out war. This isn't one of those. It's a very good bout, regardless, but isn't a war. Instead it's a great example of will over-coming skill. Nagata wanted it so much more than Inoue, he jumped on him from the opening bell, and ripped up the odds on the bout. He put in a career defining performance and showed what he could do.
Sadly for Inoue he would announce his retirement soon after this loss and begin a journey into his other love, anime, with the plan being for him to become an animator in his post boxing life.
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.