November 7th 2019 will long be remembered for giving us one of the best Bantamweight bouts in recent memory, as Japanese star Naoya Inoue (22-0, 19) scored a unanimous decision over Filipino legend Nonito Donaire (42-6, 38) to unify the WBA and IBF Bantamweight titles, along with the Ring Magazine title and win the Bantamweight edition of the WBSS. The bout, later dubbed the "Drama in Saitama" was an instant classic, with everything a bout could want. It has intense respect between the two fighters, it had drama as Inoue suffered the first cut of his career, and was later diagnosed with a broken orbital and a fractured nose, and controversy with Ernie Sharif helping Donaire survive the penultimate round of the bout. The bout, later named the Ring Magazine Fight of the year, was brilliant and helped to enhance the reputations of both men.
This coming Tuesday we get to do it all again, in one of the most anticipated rematches of 2022. This time the bout will not only be for the WBA, IBF and Ring Magazine titles, but also the WBC title, with only the WBO title being missed on what would have unified all the Bantamweight belts together, for the first time in the 4 belt era.
Since their first bout we've not seen as much of Inoue as we would have liked, with the Monster's career stalling in part due to the injuries he suffered against Donaire, and in part due to the Pandemic, which made it nearly impossible to stage big bouts in Japan during 2020 and 2021. As a result Inoue has fought just 3 times in that time period and none of the bouts were huge ones against the divisional elite. Instead they were his Las Vegas debut in October 2020 against the capable Jason Moloney, a mandatory against the underwhelming Michael Dasmarinas and a homecoming defense against the brave but massive over-matched Aran Dipaen. There had been plans for a bout against John Riel Casimero, but that was cancelled due to the pandemic and never re-arranged, unfortunately, before Casimero was stripped of the WBO title.
Notably however the inactivity likely served Inoue well, allowing him a lot of time to heal up from the injuries he suffered to Donaire. He wasn't forced to rush back from what is a serious injury, and was instead able to take his time, and when he returned against Jason Moloney almost a year after that clash with Donaire he looked 100% the fighter he had been previously. He seemed very much the Monster we all know and love.
As we all know Inoue, arguably the face of Japanese boxing over the last few years, is indeed the Monster. He's one of the few fighters in the sport who really can do it all. He can play the boxer, the boxer-puncher, the counter-puncher and the pressure fighter, and has the tools in his arsenal to really pick and choose what he wants to do and when he wants to do it. He has brutal power, which has carried up from Light Flyweight to Bantamweight and is likely to carry up at least another division, if not two. He has incredible handspeed, impressive footspeed and worryingly for he also has an incredibly quick boxing brain. That boxing brain sees him seeing things before they even look to be there, including counter opportunities and defensive gaps that he can exploit. He's an offensive freak but is also a defensively under-rated fighter, with only Donaire really landing much of note on him since his 2012 debut, and has an incredible jaw, that saw withstand Donaire's much patented left hook.
Aged 39 Nonito Donaire should be retired, he should have his feet up, looking back on a great in ring career and either working with the new generation of fighters or using his brain as an analyst. Or even just walking away from boxing and enjoying one of his many hobbies away from the ring. Instead he's proving that a fighter who looks after themselves can give father time a bit of a fight, and still remain one of the most dangerous fighters in the sport. And when we talk about Donaire he really is dangerous, and has a very misleading KO ratio, of just 58.33%, despite being one of the heaviest handed fighters in the sport on a pound for pound basis. His power is legitimate and as he's gotten older, and lost some speed, he's adapted. He's not the same fighter he was, as a young Donaire was sharp, quick and destructive, but he's altered his in ring style to be deliberate, and has moved from a counter-puncher of sorts, to more of a stalking monster looking to take opponents heads off when he lands.
Donaire, who has won titles from Flyweight to Featherweight, is a first ballot Hall of Famer when he retires, and his resume reads like a who's who of who, of the lower weights from the last 15 years. Wins over Vic Darchinyan, Moruti Mthalane, Hernan Marquez, Fernando Montiel, Toshiaki Nishioka, Jorge Arce, Ryan Burnett and Nordine Oubaali are just a handful of his wins. Even since the Inoue fight in 2019 he has scored notable wins stopping the then 17-0 Oubaali in 4 rounds and the then 24-0 Reymart Gaballo, further enhancing his reputation as a modern great.
Early in his career Donaire lived up to the moniker of the "Filipino Flash". He was lightning quick, with great timing, vicious power but some what poor boxing skills. His power and speed allowed him to get away with making mistakes, and bailed him out of bad situations. With his speed gone now a days, he has changed into a fighter who uses his size, and his ridiculously big frame at Bantamweight, along with his incredibly chin, to take when he needs to. He applies intense stalking pressure now a days. It's slow, it's deliberate, but it's hard to deal with given he still has excellent timing and is happy to take a shot to land a shot. The change in style is almost a reinvention of a fighter, and it's one that has seen him have success well beyond the typical age of a Bantamweight, of almost any fighter for that matter. It's a change that has allowed him to have success in the last part of his career, and whilst it won't forever, he will remain a threat to all the top fighters at 118lbs, due to his toughness, power, size and timing.
In their first bout the expectation was that Inoue was going to slay Donaire, stopping him and sending him into retirement. Had that happened it's fair to say Donaire would have been downplayed as being shot, and old. The fact he gave Inoue a tough bout saw both men enhancing their profiles and their positions. For Donaire to then bounce back and blast out Oubaali and prove he was still an elite level Bantamweight further enhanced both men, and coming into the Donaire is older than he was, but is also, arguably, standing in a better position than he was in 2019.
Sadly for Donaire however, we don't see him having the same success he had in the first bout with Inoue. Instead we expect to see Inoue being smarter, sharper and using his brain more. He knows what Donaire's left hook can do, and he also knows Donaire can be hurt to the body, with a liver shot sending Donaire down in their first bout. We suspect that will be the key for Inoue here, as he uses his speed, to target the body of Donaire, landing single shots to to slowly take the wind out of Donaire in the early part of the fight. Single shots from Inoue, who will look to get in and get out, draw Donaire into mistakes and tag the body. In the later rounds those body shots will take a toll, force Donaire to defend his body, before Inoue goes up top with a burst of head shots, forcing a stoppage in the later rounds.
After the bout, win or lose, we expect to see Donaire retire sailing off in to the sunset as a modern legend. Likewise we expect this to be either the final, or penultimate, Bantamweight bout for Inoue who will move up to Super Bantamweight and begin to hunt world titles in his 4th weight class.
Prediction - TKO10 Inoue
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.