It’s probably fair to call Naoya Inoue the most dominant fighter in boxing. The unbeaten IBF-WBA bantamweight champion, who meets Nonito Donaire on Thursday (5 a.m. ET, DAZN) in the finals of the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament in Saitama, Japan, has needed less than six minutes to get through his first two bouts.
He’s 18-0 with 16 KOs and pound-for-pound could be the hardest puncher in the sport.
There’s some pressure that goes along with the high expectations that surround Inoue, who is No. 5 on Yahoo Sports’ ranking of the best boxers in the world. Former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey once graced the cover of Sports Illustrated over the headline, “Unbreakable: Ronda Rousey is the world’s most dominant athlete.”
Rousey, of course, was knocked out in her next bout in the second round, and in 48 seconds in her comeback fight. She retired from fighting to pursue a career as pro wrestler and an actress.
So just because a few media types have anointed Inoue as boxing’s next big thing, it means nothing. Inoue is a -900 favorite at the MGM Grand Sports Book to remain unbeaten, though Donaire is unfazed.
“I’m just very excited,” Donaire said. “I don’t see myself with any disadvantages going into the final. I will give everything I have to win and I believe I can do it. It has been predicted that the keys to the fight are speed and power and the one who makes a mistake first will lose. On the other hand, we both have boxing brains, so it can be a long game like chess.”
It won’t be much like chess unless one considers Inoue trying to fire a volley of hooks at Donaire’s midsection a game of chess.
Inoue shrugged when Donaire’s physical advantages were brought up. Donaire has held a world title at featherweight and has fought far better opposition than he has so far in his career. Inoue admitted to idolizing Donaire and said he’d hoped to see Donaire in the finals when the bracket was first made public.
Inoue is one of those special athletes who has the ability to make disadvantages like height and reach rapidly disappear. In many ways, he’s like a bantamweight version of former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson. When Tyson was a 20-year-old champion, he gave up a lot of height and reach to his opponents. But Tyson was exceptionally quick and fast-handed and had the power to knock a small building down. Proportionally, it’s much the same with Inoue, who is swinging for the fences with just about everything he throws.
“Nonito’s only advantage is his experience,” Inoue said. “He has been in many big fights. He is taller and his reach is longer, but that’s something we have prepared for.”
A win over Donaire will garner Inoue plenty of attention within the industry. But he has the ability to transcend the sport and become a global star with his power and personality.
He’s still largely unknown to American fans, but if there is anything that could grab the attention of the American sporting public, it is a guy with concussive power in each hand who delivers blows in a blinding assault until the opposition wilts under the pressure.
Inoue understands what is ahead of him.
“We are going to show the greatest fight ever,” Inoue said. “A victory will be a very satisfying moment for me and it will be a very big step for a bright future.”
It may also herald the arrival of a must-see new international star. His nickname is “The Monster,” and though Halloween is past, it’s going to be monster season for a while now.
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