Take me to your leader: Naoya Inoue moves up to bantamweight
The American debut of undefeated two-division champion Naoya Inoue, 15-0 (13), last summer was a much bigger deal than what boxing fans stateside could ever imagine, and the occasion still may not have been fully realized. It wasn’t nearly the biggest fight of his young career but a showcase of the Japanese phenom known as “Monster.” Considering the manner in which it went down, the only thing missing from his dominant stoppage win over Antonio Nieves was an Akira Ifukube composition to enhance the arrival. Every body shot Inoue unleashed seemingly reverberated to those in attendance like the footsteps of a waking giant but there would soon be a lasting silence by the end of the bout, rendering the true purpose of Inoue’s American debut into ruin.
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai’s knockout of Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez was deafening, that same night in Carson, California, and it dashed the hopes of not only Inoue getting the biggest fight possible but it broke the hearts of all Japanese boxing fans, who had dreamed of a match-up with two of their Monsters. Gonzalez captivated Japan before the Nicaraguan great helped paved the way for boxing’s little big men to get better exposure in the U.S., and even though he technically wasn’t one of their own, the Japanese gave him the same distinction given to athletes whom capture their imaginations. To them, “Monster” isn’t a nickname made to strike fear or demonize but to celebrate an explosive young talent. The moniker isn’t exclusive, as “Chocolatito” was synonymous with “Monster” in Japan.
“Monster is something of thrill, surprise, power, dominance, overwhelming,” described Yuriko Miyata, a writer for the Japanese publication Boxing Magazine. Miyata, who is from Osaka and now resides in Redondo Beach, California, proceeded to clear up the Japanese way of labeling athletes as “Monster” with an explanation to which Americans may relate, “We don’t call Ichiro (Suzuki) Monster. We call (Hideki) Matsui Monster.”
Of course, the Japanese don’t say Monster but “Kaibutsu” and once he signed Inoue to a promotional contract, promoter Hideyuki Ohashi labeled the prodigy forever. Inoue has had great success since making his pro debut in October 2012. He captured the WBC junior flyweight title just two years and six fights into his career. After skipping the flyweight class altogether, Inoue’s run at junior bantamweight has prevented Ohashi’s prediction from becoming a misnomer. In 15 fights, Inoue’s ledger already proves he’s good, and, under the confines of his home island, he’s perhaps already an all-time great in its people’s eyes. That said, how great the Monster truly is remains to be seen.
This Friday night in Ota, Japan, Inoue will make his return to the ring under new circumstances that will eventually help the measure of his greatness. His debut at 118 pounds was inevitable after squeezing his body down to junior bantamweight perhaps one year too long, in hopes of getting the Gonzalez fight. However in this new venture, there is already a road paved on which the proverbial Godzilla is sure find his King Ghidorah at its end. The second season of the World Boxing Super Series is approaching, and the bantamweight division will be featured in its eight-man tournament format. On the condition of him winning this Friday night, Inoue confirmed that his plan is to enter the WBSS in a story written by Akira Homma in the latest issue of Boxing Magazine. Three world titleholders have already signed up for the WBSS – Ryan Burnett (WBA), Zolani Tete (WBO) and Emmanuel Rodriguez (IBF) – and Inoue’s addition would only better the already impressive line-up of combatants. First Inoue must get past one hurdle until he can officially join the tourney, and it isn’t one to overlook.
Jamie McDonnell, 29-2-1 (13), will serve as the first test for Inoue in the bantamweight waters, and the British 32-year-old will have a considerable height and reach advantage. in Japan, McDonnell’s size is a major concern, especially with the recent actions of another foreign fighter coming into their territory to topple a local favorite. Perhaps it’s just paranoia after what Luis Nery did to deserve a lifetime ban from Japan, after showing up grossly overweight in his rematch with Shinsuke Yamanaka but, with McDonnell chugging a large water bottle and refusing to weigh in for the medicals, maybe there is something to worry about. During the promotion, you will be told the fight is for McDonnell’s WBA bantamweight title – which is a fact – but it’s merely a junior varsity belt to the one his fellow countryman Burnett holds. The American rights to broadcast the fight were picked up by Top Rank and it will be featured on its exclusive ESPN+ subscription platform, set to stream live at 7:00 a.m. ET/4 a.m. PT, Friday morning.
“I have to keep my prime until my son can recognize me in the ring,” Inoue said in Homma’s story. He just had his first-born less than a year ago, and Inoue also revealed his desire to enter the WBSS as added motivation. Undefeated featherweight prospect Raza Hamza and junior lightweight Leigh Wood were brought in for sparring, to mimic the size Inoue will have to deal with against McDonnell. Trained by his father, Inoue, like all fighters with big things ahead, maintained he isn’t looking past McDonnell and is taking him as seriously as any opponent. Coming off two fights in a row now inn which he hasn’t faced a dangerous foe, Inoue has showed it doesn’t really matter with whom he’s in there. The Monster always comes out in him.