Japanese Wonderkid Naoya Inoue (115lbs) blew out Karoon Jarupianlerd (also 115lbs) in ten rounds today in Zama, Japan, falling short of expectations despite a complete domination of his Thai opponent. Such is the weight of expectation that hangs around the neck of a pound-for-pounder who moves to just 11-0.
In part, this rod is made for Naoya’s own back. Karoon (now 38-8-1) is not inspiring opposition, and for Naoya to have gone from blasting out divisional number ones Omar Narvaez and Adrian Hernandez to thrashing solid but unspectacular fighters like Karoon is always going to lend itself to disappointment. Karoon’s decent record on paper is rather undermined by his own opposition which held a combined ledger of 41-31-2 going into combat with him in 2016. Karoon feasts on sub-journeymen and professional losers and he was always going to be in unfathomable waters stepping in with Naoya.
Still, Naoya does the fighting and his promoter picks the fighter; and for all that this is a shame, it’s always a treat to see him in action. Still just twenty-three years old, Naoya has all the time in the world to pick off name opposition and the skillset to do it. Flashes of that genius were on show today.
Naoya opened jabbing his way forwards, opening up Karoon’s body for a stiff lead right. His right hand lead to the body/left hook to the liver combination may be the best two-piece in the business and he had no problems deploying this in the first round, ominous indeed for Karoon.
The Thai wasn’t just there to make up the numbers, however, and when Naoya came inside in the second, covering up and waiting for his opportunity to punch, he played his part, throwing his own body punches and establishing the work-rate he would hold to throughout. That digging left to the body re-surfaced though, as did Naoya’s brand of jazz, slipping a left, improvising a right uppercut underneath Karoon’s glove before slipping a right. This is improvisation of the highest order, a Toneyesque punch that shows exceptional awareness in a fighter of so little experience. Some men are born to it.
Karoon landed jabs to open the third, but the Japanese punished him for this ignominy, blasting a startling left hook over the top and re-opening his body attack; a lead right-uppercut from the outside, the hardest punch in boxing to land, was the bruised cherry atop a tenderized cake. In the fourth Naoya took a much more mobile approach, hands low, body loose, jabbing and moving. Karoon, who had committed to a crowding fight plan, seemed pleased by this and I thought he did a little better in a closer round, but one that Naoya still very clearly won, thanks not least to a booming right at the bell.
This is a part of what makes Naoya special. A fighter might believe that he has seen the worst of the liquid offense pouring his way only to have him change up and move out, or step down from his bicycle and move in. What is most shocking about these relaxed changes is that Naoya doesn’t compromise his own sharpness in employing them. He might look for range and timing in the first, like most fighters, but he does not seem to need that augmentation when he changes the range at which he is boxing.
The fourth was also a reasonable round for Karoon who got some pressure on and landed some body punches of his own. When Naoya complained to referee Mark Nelson (out of Minnesota) about low blows and Nelson correctly chose to ignore him, Naoya responded in a more fitting manner, blasting shots to Karoon’s face as the two went head to head, exchanging body blows. Back to stepping in the fifth, Naoya stayed off his toes but moved off smartly until he was caught with a smart right hand inside and square, once again blasting back with that vicious body attack. Slowly, through the round’s full span, Karoon’s hands began to drop; the process of his knockout had now begun in earnest.
This earnestness was underlined by a repeated right hand over the top in the seventh. Determined to protect his battered body, Karoon was leaving his most important organ, his brain, open for surgical strikes. Still working well, he was made vulnerable to the best punches of a deadly opponent.
Missing shots in the eighth that he was landing (at least on Naoya’s guard) in the first, Karoon was reduced to shuffling forward onto Naoya’s jab like a cigar-store cowboy. Karoon grimly nodded his appreciation as Naoya caught him to the body, his heart not in doubt, his wilting apparent.
By the beginning of the tenth he was shipping not just straight rights but all of the many punches in Naoya’s arsenal. Bravely, stubbornly, almost angrily fighting back, that anger became all that was left him as Naoya scythed him away for the first time. Sensing the terminal weakness in a shattered opponent, the Japanese began to punch and did not stop; it would be wrong to call the punches Naoya reigned down upon Karoon unanswered, but they were answered with nothing of significance as the facade of resistance began to crumble. Stiff-legged, tottering back, Karoon swallowed two laser-guided bombs masquerading as right hands and crumbled almost gratefully to the canvas. Up at nine, he was waved off by the referee as he turned his back and trundled towards the ropes.
Naoya had won every round, had shown some wonderful skill but boxed well within himself. A short conversation with the proprietor of the excellent asianboxing.info seemed to confirm my thinking. In fact he went a little further in suggesting that Naoya had treated the contest as little more than a spar. I do know what he means. There was absolutely no sense that Karoon, who comported himself well, presented any danger to Naoya, as expected, but Naoya did not, perhaps, take full advantage of that fact.
The name that is most associated with Naoya’s is Roman Gonzalez, out next week against Carlos Cuadras, the super-flyweight #2 ranked behind only Naoya himself. The suggestion that Naoya, not Gonzalez, should be the fighter sharing the ring with Cuadras aside, if Gonzalez wins, he will be the only man left standing that can test the Japanese superstar. My own sense has always been that despite his much deeper experience, Gonzalez might be a little too small for a fighter as excellent as he but naturally bigger; now I’m not so sure. Naoya has had his injury woes and has looked less than the deadly animal he appeared 2014 against better opposition than that which he has faced since. But are we being fleeced? Naoya wouldn’t be the first fighter to save his very, very best for his very, very best opponents and nor will he be the last.
It’s a fact though that Gonzalez has looked better than Naoya these past twelve months – and against significantly better opposition, at that. He’s built a case for the world’s best super-flyweight, but with a big job still to do.
Japanese Wonderkid Naoya Inoue