Just moments after Naoya Inoue's (19-0, 16) [井上 尚弥] younger brother, Takuma Inoue, lost in his challenge for the WBC Bantamweight title the "Monster" walked out to face Filipino icon Nonito Donaire (40-6, 26), played in by the sounds of iconic Japanese musician Tomoyasu Hotei, marking a change from Noriako Sato's "Departure".
The occasion however called on something special, the WBSS Bantamweight final. The bout to crown the Muhammad Ali trophy winner, and to unify the WBA, IBF, WBC Diamond and Ring Magazine titles. It was the conclusion of a tournament that had started more than a year ago, and been a genuinely global tournament with fights in Lafayette, Orlando, Ekaterinburg, Glasgow and Yokohama before concluding with this bout in Saitama.
Many had expected this to be a mismatch. The next quick win for the Monster, he was around 1/9 to win and and it was 1/3 for the bout not to go beyond 4 rounds. This was expected to be little more than a formality. On paper it was the WBSS final the fighters wanted, but maybe not the fans. In the end however it was the final we deserved, and it was a genuine Fight of the Year Contender.
The fight started with Inoue looking razor sharp, and landing everything he wanted against Donaire in the first round. Donaire however never seemed phased until early in round 2, when he was rocked, and hurt for the first time in the fight. Donaire however turned the tide later in round 2 when he landed he patented left hook, cutting Inoue over the right eye, and Inoue the first cut of his career. The cut seemed to make Inoue wary and in rounds 3 Inoue boxed smart, moving, backing off and staying say behind his quicker foot work. That smart boxing allowed him to regain his grip on the bout
In round 4 Inoue began to unload on Donaire with bigger shots as the Filipino walked forward, trying to wear Inoue down. It was a risky strategy from the Filipino but one that he felt could work as he continued to press, walking through shots that would have dropped anyone else in the division. He was hurt a few times, including wobbling in round 5, but managed to come through the storm and leave Inoue with a bloodied nose.
The pressure of Donaire again came at a cost in rounds in rounds 6 and 7 as he was left being out boxed. Inoue combined both smart movement, heavy shots and jabs to chip away at Donaire, and in round 7 it looked like the work of Inoue had done it's job. Donaire was looking slow, and worse for war.
Despite having the moment things changed massively in rounds 8 when he hurt Inoue early in the round with a great right hand. For much of the round Donaire was the boss, and it suddenly seemed like all the pressure from Donaire had began to have the desired effects. By the end of the round blood was streaming down Inoue's face as the cut from the right eye worsened, and he took more punishment in one round than we'd seen from him in his entire career. That was followed by another huge Donaire round, and by the the end of round 9 Inoue had seemingly put his aggressive mindset to bed, boxing and moving, and trying all he could to avoid the power of Donaire.
Momentum again shifted in round 10 as Inoue showed some new found energy, and despite taking some heavy shots himself he managed to hurt Donaire, wobbling him seconds before the bell. Inoue knew it was a big shift and roared to the packed out Saitama arena when he got back to his corner. It was as mush a roar of defiance as a was a war call, telling the fans he was okay, and was going to go back on the offensive. Which he did!
In round 11 Inoue dominated Donaire, as he went for the finish, hurting Donaire badly with a left hand to the body. The shot seemed to put Donaire down for the count, though the referee allowed Donaire up at 10. It was a brave call from the referee but a desire to let a veteran like Donaire go out on his shield, if he needed to. Despite getting to his feet Donaire took a hammering through the rest of the of round as Inoue went all out for the finish. In some places that would have been in. Enough was enough. Here however the fight continued and we went into the final round, something that few expected, and even fewer would have anticipated after the knockdown.
Some how Donaire had recovered by the start of the final round, but Inoue maintained his aggressive mentality and went for the finish again. Donaire somehow saw off the round, with only his incredible toughness keeping him up and fighting back as the two traded shots at the bell.
It seemed like a clear win on the scorecards for Inoue, he had been tested, he had been hurt, he had been cut, he had been shaken, but he had racked up the rounds. And two of the judges agreed, scoring it 116-111, 117-109 and 114-113.
The first two scores seemed about right, and we had it 117-110, giving Donaire rounds 2, 8 and 9, though we really need to query what Robert Hoyle had been watching as he some how had the bout decided by the knockdown in round 11. A bizarre score, that really does need explaining.
With the win Inoue claims the WBA Super title, retains the IBF and Ring Magazine titles and adds the Muhammad Ali trophy to his collection of silverware whilst Donaire likely bows out of professional boxing with one of his greatest ever performances, even if it did come in a loss.
World Title Results
Whether you like them or not World Titles add prestige to any bout as a result we've included the results of world title bouts in this special section.