By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
The most anticipated fight in the Japanese boxing scene takes place on November 7th at the Saitama Super Arena, as Naoya Inoue and Nonito Donaire finally meet in the finals of the Bantamweight WBSS Tournament, for the WBA (Super), IBF & The Ring World championships as well as the prestigious Ali Trophy.
Naoya Inoue (18-0 / 16 KOs) is considered to be one of the best boxers that have come out of the land of the rising sun. His power, agility and precision have brought him immense success, while he is already ranked in the top 5 (P4P) list by The Ring, ESPN, the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board and others.
Before becoming a pro, he had a relatively short but rather accomplished amateur career, amassing 75 victories in 81 outings, with 48 of them being stoppages. Naoya won numerous (inter) high school tournaments, earned the gold at the 2011 Indonesia Presidential Cup and became the All Japan Light Flyweight champion, the same year. He also placed high at the Asian & World championships.
In 2012, the Monster finally made his pro debut and quickly made himself a guy to look out for. After going 3-0, in less than a year, he was set to face Ryoichi Taguchi (27-4) for the Japanese Light Flyweight title. Taguchi, at 18-1, not only was he the more experienced of the two, but he was also a world ranked fighter. Inoue displayed much aggressiveness, taking control of the fight from the opening round. We saw a lot of his body work at display, which became a signature strategy as his career progressed. After 10 rounds of action, the youngster took a clear unanimous decision win (one of only the two times a fight of his has gone the distance) and the belt. Taguchi eventually went on to become the WBA, IBF & The Ring Light Flyweight World champion.
Just 4 months later, he fought Jerson Mancio (18-6) for the vacant OPBF Light Flyweight title. Naoya’s offense was too fast for the Filipino. He weakened his opponent with body shots, before the referee was forced to stop the fight in the 5th as Mancio was getting repeatedly tagged.
It wasn’t long after that Inoue received his first world title shot against Adrian Hernandez (30-5) on April of 2014. The 2 time WBC Light Flyweight World champion had marked 4 successful title defenses coming into this one. Both strong body punchers, Hernandez seemed to be gaining ground in the 4th round but Naoya quickly bounced back with some heavy shots of his own. It was an even match until the 6th when the Japanese Monster dropped El Confesor with a lighting fast right hook, who despite getting up, refused to continue. As a result, Inoue was declared the World champion at 21 years of age, in only his 6th professional bout.
Inoue defended the WBC title only once against Wittawas Basapean (34-11), before moving 2 weight classes up and within the same year, he challenged Omar Andres Narvaez (49-3) for the WBO Super Flyweight World championship. Narvaez, a 1999 Pan American Games winner, enjoyed a 7 year reign with the WBO Flyweight World title (16 defenses) prior to winning the Super Flyweight strap, which he had held for 4 years at the time (11 defenses). This was meant to be the Japanese fighter’s toughest test yet. Instead, it turned out to be one of his most dominant performances, as he dropped the veteran 4 times in just 2 rounds, sealing the deal with the liver shot, to become a 2 division World champion. That was the sole KO loss in Narvaez’s career.
The Monster remained champion for 3.5 years, reaching an impressive number of 7 title defenses. Warlito Parrenas (26-10), Karoon Jarupianlerd (44-9), Ricardo Rodriguez (16-7) and Antonio Nieves (19-2) were easy work for him, as neither of them were close to his level. David Carmona (21-6) did better, simply because Naoya injured his right hand during the match. Still, he managed to outclass his opponent, even put him down in the last round, earning his second and last decision victory. Yoan Boyeaux (41-6), another promising challenger, was on a 31 fight winning streak (close to 5 years unbeaten) and with 26 KOs under his belt. This also ended up being a one sided beatdown, with Inoue scoring 4 knockdowns in less than 8 minutes.
His best challenge was against the 2 time WBA Super Flyweight World champion Kohei Kono (33-12) on December of 2016. Kono came out strong in the beginning, connecting with some good punches, surprising Inoue for a while. Before you know it, this was turned into a wild brawl with both men bringing the heat and exciting the fans. All that changed in the 6th when Naoya landed a perfect left hook that floored the former champ and proceeded to finish him off a couple of seconds later, putting an end to this thrilling encounter.
In 2018, Inoue decided to enter the Bantamweight ranks and immediately challenged the WBA (Regular) title holder Jamie McDonnell (30-3). The Yorkshire native hadn’t suffered a single loss in a decade (22 fights). A former British, Commonwealth, European & IBF Bantamweight World champion, McDonnell was his best opponent since Narvaez. The Monster, true to his nickname, overwhelmed the champ with powerful shots, dropping him in the very 1st round. McDonnell managed to stand up again, but found himself trapped against the ropes as Naoya delivered a lethal flurry to get the KO.
After the fight, the Japanese superstar announced his participation at the WBSS and in October of last year, he was matched against the former WBA (Super) World champion Juan Carlos Payano (21-3). In what was voted as one of the best knockouts of 2018 (#1 by The Ring Magazine), Inoue nailed him with a straight right and put his lights out, 70 seconds into the fight.
He proceeded to ruin Emmanuel Rodriguez’s (19-1) perfect record, by knocking him down thrice in the 2nd round, securing the IBF World championship in the process. McDonnell, Payano and Rodriguez had never been stopped before in their entire career.
Naoya is finally a step away from fulfilling his destiny and winning the Ali Trophy, but in order to accomplish that, he has to go through one of the most successful fighters that has come out of the Philippines.
Nonito Donaire (40-5 / 26 KOs) has been a boxer for over 20 years. Beginning his amateur career back in the 90s, the Filipino had won 3 U.S. national championships, as well as the 1999 International Junior Olympics gold medal. His record stood at 68 wins and only 8 losses.
As a pro, he went 17-1 before challenging Vic Darchinyan (43-9) in 2007, for the IBF Flyweight World title. The Armenian was 28-0 at the time and had been the reigning champion since 2004, boasting 6 successful title defenses. Donaire established his dominance from the opening round, with the left punch being the difference maker. He kept hitting hard, giving Darchinyan the biggest test of his career. As he was trying to close the distance, Nonito connected with a thunderous counter left, right in the jaw, ending the champ’s undefeated reign. Donaire, not only captured the World title for the 1st time, but also the “Knockout of the year” and “Upset of the year” awards from The Ring Magazine.
The Filipino Flash defended his belt 3 times, against Luis Maldonado (36-15), in what was an one sided beatdown, Moruti Mthalane (38-2), due to a cut, and the then unbeaten Raul Martinez (30-4), who he dropped thrice. In all of his matches, Donaire had showcased incredible speed and timing, especially with his left hooks & uppercuts and of course his counter shots, which all have been proven to be his favourite weapons, even to this day.
His second reign began in 2009 when he won the interim WBA Super Flyweight title, after a hard hitting battle with the former champion Rafael Concepcion (18-8) at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, in Las Vegas. Nonito then made short work of Manuel Vargas (32-11) who seemed to be out of his depth. In the 3rd round, he was almost dancing around the former interim WBO Strawweight champion, while throwing punches, before finishing him off with a left uppercut. He also defended against Hernan Marquez (43-10) where once again, the left uppercut sealed the deal.
Donaire made his Bantamweight debut against Olympic Bronze medalist and former WBA (Regular) champion Volodymyr Sydorenko (22-3) back in 2010 and looked better than ever. He scored a knockdown in the 1st, courtesy of a right cross. Another one in the 3rd with a left hook and dropped him for the final time in the 4th with a right straight. By the end, Sydorenko’s face was a bloody mess, full of bruises after the all the punishment he had to endure. That was his only stoppage loss and last fight as well.
On February 19 of 2011, Nonito challenged 3 division World champion Fernando Montiel (54-6) for the WBC & WBO Bantamweight titles. Going into this one, both men were ranked amongst the top 10 boxers in the world. The Filipino Flash threw one of the best punches of his career, as he connected with a counter left in the 2nd round, dropping Cochulito hard to the canvas. Even though he got back up, he was clearly out on his feet and after 2 more shots, the referee stopped the fight.
His inaugural defense of the belts was against the aforementioned Omar Andres Narvaez (49-3) who was coming into this match with a perfect 35-0 record. Not the most exciting performance from Donaire, but he still managed to outbox the 2 division World champion and win a wide unanimous decision.
Moving up again a weight class, and in February of 2012, he fought the former WBO Super Bantamweight World champion Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. (25-7) for the same vacant title. It was a rather close contest, during which Vasquez was dropped for the very first time of his career. When the final bell rang, Donaire was crowned a 4 division king.
Riding all that momentum, his next goal was to become the undisputed champion at Super Bantamweight. He first unified with the IBF champion Jeffrey Mathebula (27-5) in July of the same year. A much more impressive showing than his last 2 outings.
Next on the list was the WBC champion Toshiaki Nishioka (39-5). The WBC Diamond, The Ring and the lineal titles were also on the line. Nishioka played a defensive game, offering no significant offense of his own. Donaire utilized his patented left uppercut to score a knockdown in the 6th, but hurt his hand in the process, forcing him to rely only on his right for the rest of the match. The Japanese fighter finally put together some good combinations in the 9th, trapping Nonito against the ropes, but still got dropped with a counter straight right and shortly after the fight was stopped.
In what was basically an exhibition of his speed and power, Donaire defended his belts against fellow 4 division World champion Jorge Arce (64-8) in December, scoring 3 knockdowns and retiring another fighter once more.
His first loss in 12 years came on April of 2013, as he failed in his final unification fight with the WBA (Super) champion & 2 time Olympic Gold medallist Guillermo Rigondeaux (19-1). He still managed though to land a left hook in the 9th round, putting the Olympian down but not out.
The Filipino Flash bounced back with another stoppage victory over now 2 division champion Vic Darchinyan, before graduating to Featherweight and facing Simpiwe Vetyeka (30-4) for the WBA (Super) title. To no one’s surprise, the left hook did the trick again in the 4th, before the fight abruptly ended a round later, due to an accidental head clash. His reign however was short lived, as he lost the championship to Nicholas Walters (26-1) only 5 months later. Despite a strong start, Walters proved to be a much tougher opponent than expected, ending Donaire’s sole Featherweight title run, giving him the 1st (and thus far only) KO loss of his illustrious career.
In 2015, Nonito decided to return to Super Bantamweight and convincingly defeated William Prado (22-5), Anthony Settoul (24-8) and Cesar Juarez (24-7) in a fight of the year candidate, becoming the WBO champion for the 2nd time. He only defended the title once, against Zsolt Bedak (25-2), before losing it to the then undefeated Jessie Magdaleno (27-1).
He tried his luck at Featherweight one last time but, besides one minor victory, he came up short against Carl Frampton (26-2) when they met for the interim WBO championship in 2018. Even though he did throw the best punches and seemingly did more damage than his opponent, Frampton played a smart game, not engaging in any big exchanges, while scoring points which in the end earned him the strap.
Most recently, Donaire moved back to Bantamweight, in order to participate in the WBSS. In the opening round of the tournament, he clashed with the then undefeated WBA (Super) World champion Ryan Burnett (20-1). That was the Filipino’s first Bantamweight match since 2011. An injury, which seemed to have been caused from one of Donaire’s left punches to the body, rendered Burnett unable to continue, thus declaring him the new champion. Then earlier this year, the scheduled double title bout, with the WBO champion Zolani Tete (28-3), was cancelled, due to Tete suffering a shoulder injury. Instead, Nonito defended against last minute replacement Stephon Young (18-2), who he knocked out with a decapitating left hook. Now Donaire has the chance to once again be recognised as one of the best boxers in the world today, by winning his final fight this coming Thursday night in Japan. But this task is easier said than done.
It’s easy to be amazed by the careers of these men. Both have been in the ring with some of the best boxers from all over the world and have gathered countless championships. However this fight might be their most significant one yet. Their paths share many similarities but at the same time are completely opposite. For Inoue, it’s a chance to become a global star. For Donaire, it could very well be his last hurrah. After 20 years into the sport, the Filipino Flash has won world titles in 5 different weight classes. The experience factor is definitely on his side. Unfortunately, that also means that he’s not a young fighter anymore. His speed and stamina are no longer what they used to.
On the other hand, Inoue is at his prime. An unstoppable force that has rained havoc in every one of his opponents, with none of them being able to even score a single knockdown against him. Power, agility, precision, timing. Four attributes that once were used to describe Donaire. As that wasn’t enough, the Monster has looked even more spectacular in this division than in any other one he has been in. His entire Bantamweight run has been a total of 7 minutes and 21 seconds. That’s how long it took him to knockout 3 world champions. Whereas Donaire’s latest Bantamweight run can be described with only one word: Luck ! Burnett’s injury and Tete having to pull out of the tournament are the key reasons why he has made it to the finals. Still, this doesn’t mean he isn’t a dangerous opponent. His power is still here. His timing is still here. Inoue has to be careful of Donaire’s left hand and counter strikes, at all times. But, in the end of the day, the Japanese Monster seems to be in a completely different level from everyone else. For all of his achievements and accomplishments, make no mistake that, Donaire is coming in as the underdog.
So the final question is this: will Inoue demolish another world champion on his way to superstardom or can Donaire’s experience and luck bring him the big win one last time ? We will find out on November 7th, when these 2 warriors clash in Saitama !
It's fair to say that 2017 has been an amazing year for boxing fans, who have had so many great fights that year has over-delivered in many ways. There has been dodgy decisions, farcical contests and all the negatives we associate with the sport, but also a lot of amazing fights. We get some more of those on December 31st with the pick of the bunch being a Light Flyweight unification bout between WBA champion Ryoichi Taguchi (26-2-2, 12) and IBF champion Milan Melindo (37-2, 13). The bout could well shake up Fighter of the Year category and will almost certainly see us with a unified champion at 108lbs, a division which many have been sleeping on in recent years.
Of the two men it's Taguchi who is the more distinguished champion. The 31 year old from the Watanabe gym has held the WBA title since the end of 2014, beating Alberto Rossel for the belt on December 31st. Since then he has racked up 6 defenses, though shown real inconsistencies during his reign. He has dominated the likes of Kwanthai Sithmorseng, Juan Jose Landaeta and Ryo Miyazaki, struggled past Luis De La Rose and Carlos Canizales and looked beatable in both of those fights, whilst impressing earlier this year when he stopped Robert Barrera.
Although a bit of an enigma no one can argue with Taguchi's ability. When he's got his head on and is in the right mood he's an absolute night mare to fight with a very high output, freakish physical stature for a Light Flyweight, standing at over 5'5”, a solid toughness and a real air of confidence. He's not the most skilled but with his long reach, durability and work rate he's going to be a handful for anyone, and even gave Naoya Inoue his toughest bout to date, taking several rounds from the “Monster” back in 2013.
Filipino fighter Melindo only won his title this past May, in his third world title fight, but is arguably one of the top contenders for Fighter of the Year in 2017, with a win over Taguchi possibly earning him the award. He won the title in Japan, when he stopped Akira Yaegashi in 165 seconds, a divisional record, and made his first defense in September when he defeated top South African Hekkie Budler in a 2017 Fight of the Year candidate. Prior to those two wins Melindo was a bit of a nearly man, having put up good efforts in losses to Juan Francisco Estrada and Javier Mendoza and having scored notable wins over Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr, Saul Juarez, Martin Tecuapetla, Carlos Tamara and Muammad Rachman. His resume was on par that of a world champion, but without a win in a big one.
Having gotten his “big win” and a world title the question now is whether Melindo can continue to build on his success. From a technical stand point Melindo is arguably the best fighter at 108lbs. He's got a very, very high ring IQ, is a brilliant counter puncher and understands the ring fantastically. He gauges distances really well, has great timing and knows how to control the distance. From a fight fan perspective he's a real thinking man's fighter, but sadly that comes at a cost and he can be out worked, he can seem lazy and can be swarmed, though he does hit harder than his record suggests and one of his counters can turn the bout on it's head.
This bout really does look like it will be an intriguing clash of styles. It has Taguchi's high work rate, and relative defensive openness against Melindo's low work rate but accurate and smooth counter punching. It will pit two world class fighters against each other and will, potentially, see one walk out as a unified WBA/IBF champion, and the man to beat in the division.
With home advantage we do favour Taguchi, who with a win would spoil Melindo's year, but a win for Melindo is certainly not out of the question. Either man can win, and it is a true 50-50 bout, with a feeling of being something very, very special to close out the year.
Unification bouts are rare in boxing, though thankfully their rareness comes with the feeling that every one of them that we do get is that little bit special. That's arguably the case this coming Saturday as the WBA and IBF Bantamweight titles get unified in Belfast. Going into that bout as champions will be Kazakh brawler Zhanat Zhakiyanov (27-1, 18) and Northern Irish slickster Ryan Burnett (17-0, 9), with Zhakiyanov entering as the WBA champion and Burnett at the IBF king.
Aged 33, and soon to be 34, the Kazakh is really at the point in his career where a loss could well be the end of his career, at least at the top level. That's ignoring the fact that he has actually only just arrived on the world stage, winning his WBA title last time out in a split decision win over Rau-shee Warren in the US. Had the decision gone against him, there's a good chance that Zhakiyanov would have joined the “who needs him?” club and not been able to get a second shot at a world title.
Amazingly for Zhakiyanov his reign was rather lucky, and in his win he was dropped twice, in the opening round by Warren. A smarter fighter than Warren would have jumped on Zhakiyanov in round 2 and closed the show, but the American took his foot off the gas and let the Kazakh regroup, before he out hustled and out-worked the American to earn the decision. That bout proved that Zhakiyanov can over-come real adversity but also showed his limitations and it was clear that he really was a fighter with only one plan, and that pressure.
Although a pressure fighter at heart Zhakiyanov does have very solid power, as shown back in 2014 with his KO of the Year contender against Karim Guerfi. Sadly though he's slow of foot and his punches are certainly not the most technically correct or the fastest. As a results he can be out boxed.
Whilst Zahkiyanov is a pressure fighter Burnett is a pure boxer, and a very talented, slick one at that. He can box on the front foot, or the back foot, and although he's not the most aggressive or exciting of fighters he is one of those natural talents who looks so composed and at ease in the ring that boxing looks second nature to him. He moves wonderfully around the ring and controls distance brilliantly, especially on the back foot where his boxing brain really does shine. Although he can fight on the front foot he does look a lot more effective on the back foot.
Burnett has long been championed as a star for British boxing and at times has shown incredible skills. Whilst those skills are impressive he has also shown a lot of frustrating traits. He's note more than 2 years removed from his last stoppage and his lack of killer instinct has been really annoying, especially given that he has dropped a number of fighters but never gone for the kill, instead racking up unnecessary rounds and potentially boring fans, when he should be using those skills to shine.
Whilst Burnett is incredibly frustrating for fans he's also a nightmare to face, and stylistically Zhankiyanov is made to order. The pressure of the Kazakh will allow Burnett to tee-off on him and make him look stupid. There is a chance that Zhakiyanov will have some moments but the reality is that the movement of Burnett will simply be too much for him, and the sharp shots will take their toll. It's up to Burnett as to whether he'll want to up the pace and seek a stoppage late,but it's hard to see anything but a win for the Northern Irishman.
At the start of this year Japan had only ever had one IBF champion, Satoshi Shingaki. This year that number climbed to threee as Katsunari Takayama finally won the IBF Minimumweight title and Daiki Kameda (29-3, 18) claimed the Super Flyweight title.
On December 3rd both Takayama, who defends against Vergilio Silvano, and Daiki will put their titles on the line as Japanese boxing tries to prove that allowing IBF champions isn't a bad thing for the sport.
As mentioned Takayama will be fighting Silvano in the first defense of his title. For Daiki however things are much rickier as he attempts to unify his belt with the WBA title currently held by Venezuelan Liborio Solis (15-3-1, 7). For Solis this will be his second trip to Japan this year following his victory over Kohei Kono to unify the WBA interim and WBA regular titles.
For those of you who remember Solis's fight with Kono it was a really fun fight. Both men had their moments in a give and take contest that saw Solis dropped early on before dropping Kono in the eighth and eeking out the decision late. For many that bout was so good and so close that they were calling for a rematch between the two men, instead however Solis has been inactive for 7 months.
Against Kono we saw a bit of everything from Solis. We saw him boxing and moving, we saw him going to war and brawling and we saw him showing his toughness. It was genuinely great.
Several months after Solis' victory against Kono, Daiki won the IBF title as he out pointed Mexican Rodrigo Guerrero in a contest that was fought in a much different manner. Against Guerrero we saw Daiki sticking, for the most part, to boxing and moving, being negative and trying to avoid too many moments of back and forth action. It was a forgettable contest for the most part, though there was a highlight reel tenth round as both men unloaded.
From having seen both of those fights again recently we are really hoping that this won't fall into a clash of styles. If both men attempt to box for 12 rounds then Daiki's speed could well be the difference in what could potentially be one of the worst fights of the year.
What is, thankfully, more likely is that the bout will have moments of ups and downs. Solis, despite being the shorter man, is expected to have a notable reach advantage and if he can use that to his effect he could prevent Daiki from being overly negative. If he can use that and force Daiki the bring some action to him we could have a number of rounds like the tenth of the Daiki/Guerrero bout.
We'll admit we're hoping that Solis has the ability to bring the best from Daiki. If he can then we may, again, see Solis involved in a great contest in Japan and a contest that is fitting the "unification" tag that this bout has. If we end up with a forgetable one however then we expect the Japanese will further slate the way the Japanese Boxing Commission has accepted the IBF.
It'd be a shame for the fans to refuse the IBF as organisation opens up new doors to major fighters. For example a possible Light Flyweight clash involving Johnriel Casimero and Kazuto Ioka, Ryo Miyazaki or Naoya Inoue, or a fight involving a Hisashi Amagasa and Evgeny Gradovich at Featherweight.
Oddly the winner here, despite being a unified champion, would likely only be viewed as the third best fighter at 115lbs behind both Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Omar Andres Narvaez, the WBC and WBO champions respectively. Interestingly both Narvaez and Srisaket have beaten Japanese fighters in recent bouts with Narvaez stopping Hiroyuki Hisataka and Srisaket stopping Hirofumi Mukai.
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.