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 !
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