Land of the rising son: On Naoya Inoue
Last September in Inglewood, California, those at The Forum got to see Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez get pushed to the limit against Carlos Cuadras in a captivating super flyweight title fight but little did they know there was a monster lurking at ringside.
Naoya “The Monster” Inoue – the current WBO super flyweight titleholder – made the trek from Japan to scout Chocolatito with the hope of one day landing a fight against him in the future. After Gonzalez’s decision win to capture the 115-pound WBC strap, Inoue could be seen willing and ready do an interview with HBO’s Max Kellerman but the waiting around was all for naught.
Perhaps time didn’t permit the interview but Kellerman was sure to let everyone watching the broadcast know, during the fight, that Inoue was there. Six months later, however, hopes of fighting Gonzalez were dashed after he was beaten by Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in a controversial decision and the WBC quickly ordered a much-needed rematch. Just like that night in L.A. post-fight – standing there with his hands in his pockets and a translator by his side – Inoue was practically marooned once again.
The Japanese rumor mill churned out a notion that Inoue’s motivation had taken a hit because of Gonzalez’s defeat and it conjured up questions on the matter.
“My motivation hasn’t dropped,” Inoue said at a press conference announcing his fight with Ricardo Rodriguez on Sunday in Tokyo, Japan. “Some articles were writing my motivation went down but it’s been unchanged.”
Inoue, 12-0 (10), looks to defend his belt for the fifth time – the longest reigning titleholder in an extremely competitive division. Rodriguez, 16-3 (5), a 27-year-old Mexico City native fighting out of Los Angeles, is the No. 2 ranked contender in the eyes of the WBO and is coming off an impressive fourth round knockout of Carlos Narvaez in February.
(That win got Rodriguez a mandatory shot at Inoue but at the Ariake Colosseum tomorrow, he will be thrown into a lively pit in which Japanese fans will savor their rising son.
“I’m focused on displaying my best possible performance in my May fight first,” said Inoue, who has since turned 24-years-old. “And then beyond that, there’s a possibility for me to go to America, so I’d like to do the best I can. Whatever kind of a fight it would be, fighting in America would be big motivation for me and hopefully, I’ll be able to get up to the next stage in a good fashion through that.”
There were rumblings of another caveat when it came to Inoue’s career going forward and, this time, it wasn’t just hearsay. Hideyuki Ohashi – president of Ohashi Gym and Inoue’s promoter – revealed that Inoue’s ability to make 115-pounds is becoming tougher for his growing body and his days at the weight class are numbered. With no clear signs of Gonzalez going up to bantamweight anytime soon (he’s already small for a 115-pounder), Inoue’s hope of fighting the Nicaraguan great may have gotten a death blow unless it’s his very next fight. (Early reports indicate Gonzalez will rematch Srisaket in September but this has yet to be finalized.) With no other opponent known to those stateside, fighting in America could be pushed back as well but another big fight is looming in the distance for Inoue.
Shinsuke Yamanaka’s 12 successful defenses of the WBC bantamweight title is one of the longest current reigns in boxing and undoubtedly the biggest domestic fight that can be produced in the Land of the Rising Sun would be a challenge from Inoue. Fighting in America would be a nostalgic earmark for Inoue’s career but a clash with Yamanaka would be an important passing of the torch, effectively pushing back any and all overseas hope. Beating Yamanaka would make a giant splash for The Monster and ripples of such a win could – and should be – felt stateside.