When Nonito Donaire and Naoya Inoue stepped inside the ring at Japans Super Arena to battle it out for the “World Boxing Super Series” bantamweight division “Muhammad Ali Trophy” fans were not sure what to expect. The consensus opinion was “Inoue will score another spectacular knockout” and since it only took him a little over five minutes to reach the final that opinion was certainly not out of line. Yet many gave thought to the Donaire of eight years ago, a fighter who dominated every opponent he faced much in the way Inoue has so far. While Donaire has looked sensational during his tenure in this tournament, he is certainly not the Donaire of a decade ago. At thirty six years old expecting him to perform like he would in 2010-2012 is unreasonable but of course old fighters always have that one last great performance in them. What no one expected was to witness not one but possibly two career defining performances.
The bout opened with Donaire pushing the action and Inoue backwards as he pumped his jab while imploring his natural size advantage. The third round would answer that looming question on “How will Inoue respond to adversity”, a Donaire right hand that cut Inoue over his right eye invited Inoue to provide that answer even if he wasn’t prepared to do so.
Once the fourth round started Inoue came after Donaire with authority and took control of the next few rounds with his jab, once Donaire was in range Inoue let loose one of his devastating hooks that earned him the moniker “Monster”. What landed on Donaire he took well and those Inoue missed would have stopped a welterweight.
The tide of the contest would be taken back by Donaire in round seven when he started to land clean flush punches on the chin of Inoue, at one time Inoue buckled and looked as though would be headed for defeat. In round eight Donaire would control the entire round placing Inoue against the ropes, evidently bothered by blood flowing into his eye which he later stated caused vision issues.
While he remained in control in round nine, Donaire was shook in the tenth by a huge Inoue right hand that sent the three division champion into “Seek and Destroy” mode.
It would be a hard body shot to the liver that dropped Donaire in round eleven and as he took a knee it appeared the end was near but Donaire rose up and fought back like the champion he is.
The twelfth and final round started with Inoue on the attack but Donaire bot to be outdone answered with hard right hands of his own. The two champions would fight until the final bell bringing approval from not only fans in person but watching worldwide.
When final scores were read Judge Robert Hoyle scored it 114-113, Judge Luigi Boscarelli 116-111 and Judge Octavio Rodriguez 117-109 all in favor of Naoya Inoue.
With the win Inoue now the owner of boxing’s “Muhammad Ali Trophy” improved to 19-0 (16) and is now the IBF, WBA super and Ring magazine bantamweight champion of the world. With his loss Nonito Donaire now stands at 40-6 (26).
We not only witnessed a unification bout fought on the highest level but found out Nonito Donaire has more in the tank left than boxing thought. What is more important boxing found out Naoya Inoue is everything we expected, while we knew he had serious power his chin and stamina are just as impressive.
If there were any doubts on Nonito Donaire at this stage of his career, going a full twelve competitive rounds with boxing’s “Boogie Man” should be squash them entirely and all questions on Inoue have been answered in full.
What is next for both fighters? I could make assumptions but for right now I’ll just appreciate the moment because it only added to what has been a stellar 2019 for the sport.