If Naoya “The Monster” Inoue (now 9-0) ever comes west it may well be as the best fighter in the world, having remained in his homeland, Japan, profiting hugely from a regional scene in no need of American dollars to burnish the local gold, or it may be in search of the world’s greatest fighter, Roman Gonzalez; it’s all a question of ambition and how much this twenty-two year old has. Yes, Inoue is now twenty-two, no longer the youth I first wrote about but nor is he thirty-something like his generational (if not literal) pound-for-pound peers, Gennady Golovkin and Sergey Kovalev. While those men can likely count the remainder of their primes in months, Inoue’s could legitimately last another ten years. Nevertheless, he has already found the impetus to dust off not one, but two divisional number ones, light-flyweight Adrian Hernandez and super-flyweight Omar Narvaez. Against both he was utterly dominant and both his enormously experienced opponents were utterly bewildered. Like Roman Gonzalez, Inoue leaves even the best fighters available to him in a broken mess.
Still, a year out with injury can do strange things to a fighter especially one at Inoue’s age who is trying to make a weight as demanding as 115lbs, so it is understandable that Inoue had broken with recent habits and picked out a fighter of limited ability for the first defence of the bauble he won against Narvaez, fought today in Tokyo, Japan. A Filipino, Warlito Parrenas (24-7-1) could be counted upon to provide all the heart associated with boxers of his race but none of the apparent danger associated with warriors like Hernandez and Narvaez. But despite Parrenas’s brutal thirty second loss to Oscar Blanquetin June of 2012, Parrenas in fact appeared to pose some interesting questions. Big at the weight, he is also known for his heavy hands and since that 2012 disaster he has gone 7-0-1 with five knockouts.
The draw was a split, and came against Mexican David Carmona, who enjoyed home advantage. Had he won, Parrenas would have been in possession of one of the belts the WBO fire out of their headquarters like dollars from an ATM, but far more importantly the performance marked him out as an insistent, persistent stalker who was capable of checking Inoue’s unchecked chin and armed with just enough crazy to make it happen.
For all that, he has shown a vulnerability to accuracy and work-rate and Inoue has armies of both. He boxed the first with the same fluidity he had shown against Narvaez almost a year ago to the day, bubbling his way happily through a round that might as well have been sparring. Parrenas ate some hellacious shots but “Wars Cowboys” grinned sickly through the punishment as he attempted to find Inoue’s body with his sinister stalk. Inoue appeared to be enjoying himself, punctuating traditional one-twos with a beautiful left uppercut, an absurd punch that he happily doubled up on when the opportunity presented itself. I know of no fighter aside from Roman Gonzalez capable of finding this kind of variety so early in a contest. Ring rust? He looked like he had never been away.
A patience and maturity that bellies his tender years has always been a facet of Inoue’s game that has impressed me a great deal so what occurred in the first minute of the second round should not be misunderstood. Inoue did not press, he did not rush, he just continued to take the opportunities an out-classed opponent continued to present. Inoue was not chin-checked; Inoue was not made uncomfortable by his big pressure-opponent; nor was his unquenchable, flowing style compromised in any way shape or form. Rather he combined two the left-hook and right hand over the top to tear Parrenas’s legs from under him. The Filipino wasn’t smiling any more but rather attempting to gather his disobeying body to himself as the referee counted over him. Gaining his feet he leaned back to the ropes, throwing his right hand over the top strand like a man waiting casually for the bus while his face opened in apparent disbelief as he realised the referee was going to allow the contest to continue. His attention turned immediately to Inoue, who, terrifyingly, had taken up an old-fashioned sprinter’s stance, awaiting the referee’s signal for him to deploy the most disciplined mayhem upon his opponent’s broken spirit this side of Roman Gonzalez.
It was no surprise when Parrena was barrelled to the canvas, the fight waved off with round two just over a minute old.
Inoue finds five punch combinations the way other fighters find jabs. I wanted to see him get hit today, but apart from a slapping right hand from a desperate opponent flailing in the final seconds of his demise, this did not happen. So we still don’t know what we don’t know; what we do know is that only the very best fighters are going to be capable of living with him long enough while remaining competitive to test him. Functionally faster than I have ever seen him, Inoue looked comfortable at this weight, the drawn look that accompanied his ring-walk at 108lbs gone, perhaps forever. Stories of Inoue moving up to bantamweight imminently may yet prove insubstantial.
After the fight, Inoue declared himself interested in “strong opponents” and “unifications.” If he elects to stay in Japan, I suspect they will line up fellow strap-holder, the unbeaten Carlos Cuadras. This would be my preference as a meeting between the clear #1 and #2 in the division would crown a new lineal champion, and might – might – also see Inoue legitimately tested. Should he elect instead to leave his homeland for America, it will likely to be dispatch once more Omar Narvaez, the former super-fly #1 who is supposedly, inexplicably, interested in pursuing a rematch. That fight would be with a view to matching Roman Gonzalez either in Japan, or more likely, in the US, possibly as early as the end of 2016. It seems absurd to be even talking about a fighter with nine fights worth of experience taking on Gonzalez but in this sense if in no other, time is not on Inoue’s side. A big superfly, he may already be too large for the flyweight champion with all the complexities of a negotiated catch weight potentially in the offing. It is hard to imagine Gonzalez following Inoue up as far as 118lbs.
That said, while Inoue-Gonzalez is among the best fights in boxing, nor is it one either man necessarily needs. Gonzalez is making serious money for a flyweight in his continued wooing of American television and Inoue could retire a millionaire without ever leaving his native Japan.
One suspects, though, that these two men have business. After all, there can’t be two best fighters in the world, can there?