Naoya Inoue solidified his status as the best super bantamweight in the world with a unanimous decision victory over Nonito Donaire in a thrilling fight that is one for the ages. Inoue now is the Super Bantamweight World Champion of the World Boxing Association (WBA), in addition to earning the coveted Muhammad Ali trophy in the final of the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS).
The fight took place at the Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, and the fight itself was a thriller from beginning to end, with some questions in mind as to who’s hand was going to be raised after twelve grueling rounds between two of the best fighters in the world. Inoue’s hand was ultimately raised, as the scorecards came in 114-113, 116-111, and 117-109 in his favor.
There were not many niceties or minutes of feeling out in the fight, as it erupted midway through the first round when both Donaire and Inoue were holding their ground and trading body blows and head shots. Donaire continued pushing Inoue back in the coming rounds per part of his game plan – which no fighter has been able to do yet against the power punching phenom.
Donaire was landing his signature left hook, which even appeared to stun Inoue a bit in the second round. Donaire opened a cut on Inoue in the second round from that left hook – the first cut of Inoue’s career – which immediately showed everyone that the future Hall of Famer is not a shot fighter and he came to upset the heavy odds against him.
In the early rounds Inoue was landing good punches also, despite seeming a bit caught off guard by the aggressive veteran, as well as having to deal with blood flowing from above his right eye. He started to really come on just as Donaire was slowing a tad in the latter half of the fourth, however, and Inoue continued to press his advantage while having his moments but Donaire was still giving him troubles with his footwork, timing, and upper body movement.
Inoue got to Donaire late in the fifth round with an overhand right that hurt him, with the veteran holding on to finish the round right when it looked like it might all be suddenly over. It was a pretty even fight heading into the second half, but Donaire had lost his momentum from earlier on with the younger man being the fresher of the two and his power starting to show more.
Donaire would rally back yet again in the eighth round though; drawing blood from the right eye of Inoue only to have “The Monster” rally back himself and finish with a good round after Donaire looked like he was taking over the momentum of the fight once again.
In the ninth round Donaire hurt his man yet again but this time Inoue was in serious danger, with his legs wobbling as he almost went to the canvas. Donaire would not let Inoue hang onto him, being the cagey veteran that he is, but surprisingly backed off letting Inoue recouperate – perhaps saving energy for the championship rounds in the process.
The fight was very heated in the tenth round, with Inoue catching a burst of energy while likely knowing that it was a close fight due to being wobbled in the previous round. Inoue landed some monstrous shots – stunning Donaire late in the round to once again take back control of the fight.
The eleventh round was a contender for round of the year as Inoue landed a left hook to the liver that caused Donaire to take a knee on the canvas. It looked like he was not going to get up, as he perhaps got a bit of a long count, but he rose to stun Inoue with his signature left hook right when Inoue was trying to take his man out.
The fight closed out in exciting fashion, with Inoue sealing the victory as he pressed Donaire backwards and the veteran looking beaten up and weary for the first time in the fight. There is no doubt that Donaire put it all on the line in this one and was pushing through boundaries many thought he would not or could not at this point in his career.
Congratulations to Inoue, who secured his 19th professional victory while getting extended the limit and tested heavily by a future Hall of Famer in the “Filipino Flash”. The old boxing adage goes “every great fighter has one great fight left in him” and that was truly the case in this candidate for fight of the year.