INOUE KOs KONO — Naoya “The Monster” Inoue stepped up to 12-0 at the expense of Japanese hardman Kohei Kono (now 32-10-1) in Tokyo, Japan today. Kono had never been stopped as he stepped into the Ariake Colosseum ring while much of America slept, but he can say that no longer. His back was twice acquainted with the canvas, and in the most devastating fashion.
Kono, who was ranked #8 in the division (Naoya is #1), looked lively early, bobbing and weaving in as Naoya prodded him politely with the jab. Kono was looking to inflict his all-action style on Naoya, a pound-for-pound candidate, who had few problems in repelling him but, in truth, it was a joy just to see Kono exhibit so little fear. His guard was carefully raised, sure, and he was very alive to the possibility of shipping body punches, but he was ready and able to deliver a fight plan. Often, when Naoya is in the ring, the other man simply looks to survive.
This fight plan resulted in a sensational start to the second as the underdog cornered and battered the superfly kingpin; Naoya calmly weathered the storm and reclaimed control of the waters with a sickening left hook to the body; Kono spent some time holding on.
Unimpressed by his opponent’s power, Naoya simply raised his hands and waited when Kono decided to punch, before unwinding a corkscrew uppercut in a future echo of the fight’s ending. It was the body punches, though, that were doing the real damage, that sent Kono back to the ropes involuntarily bent at the waist; by the end of the second, the fight had a feel of the inevitable about it despite Kono’s glowing heart.
Naoya attacks across more planes than any other fighter in the world, barring Vasyl Lomachenko. Standing square to his opponent’s left he is capable of landing a no-look left hand to the body. He can throw meaningful punches with either hand regardless of where he is balanced. He seeks openings that most other fighters ignore because of the inherent risks of throwing them, for example, a trailing uppercut from the outside while positioned for a blow with the other hand. It makes guarding against attacks literally impossible and only with a good offense barracking a good defence can they be avoided. Even then, the punches remain the consideration of the attacker, not the defender. It is likely that Naoya will remain unbeaten for as long as he continues to make good punching choices. In short, he is already sensational but will continue to get harder to beat as he gathers experience.
All of this and more was demonstrated in the third. Kono, as a true fighter always will, came out smoking in response in the fourth. Naoya was forced again to wait for Kono to burn out or melt under the virtual threat of Naoya’s punches; when neither really occurred, he emerged to take the play away from Kono on his own patch, inside, where the two swapped such blows as the available space would allow. It was Kono’s best round and he may even have won it although a crackling eight punch combo in the final seconds convinced me to hand it back to Naoya.
That combination signaled that fun time was over for Kono. Naoya banged in repeated right-handed uppercuts in the fifth, even going so far as to showboat the punch before landing a jab. Boxing very close to Kono now – their lead feet often parallel – he took, as well as dished out punches, but the result was a weary look from Kono as he trailed to his corner.
He re-emerged like a wounded tiger ready to kill or be killed. This is a new experience for Naoya, more used to having fighters quit before they are speared, but Kono is another kind. He winged punches at his tormentor through the first seconds as Naoya studied him, fencing with a steamless jab. As Kono bored forwards, Naoya selected his punch, threw one, two, three of them and Kono was down, flat on his back, head underneath the bottom rope, arms spread, the very picture of a mortally wounded soldier. The fight seemed over; Naoya even mounted the second rope in celebration. But Kono was gathering himself. First he made it to his backside, reclining on his left buttock, propped on his left hand, seemingly deep in thought, then, all at once, he stood. Naoya looked surprised and perhaps even a little impressed. Then, with the inevitability of gravity, he closed; it was a sight, and not a pleasant one, to see The Monster close in on the loose-limbed Kono, not quite defenseless, but struggling for poise. Naoya peppered him, then rattled him with a bone-juddering uppercut. Kono tottered, Naoya sent him over once again with a right. The referee did not even begin the count. The celebration of both fighter and crowd was postponed until the dangerously knocked-out loser had regained his feet.
Naoya Inoue steamrolled quality opposition at 108lbs, but has been notably less destructive at 115lbs, though hand trouble may be as much a factor as the size of these new opponents. Tonight, however, he steamrolled a quality fighter at the poundage. The puzzle isn’t quite complete because Kono is no puncher. It must be noted that he was landing and that a bigger hitter might have made things considerably more interesting. Nevertheless, the pieces are falling into place.
Superfly is teeming with talent. Naoya seemingly has the tools to place himself in the discussion as to the identity of the best fighter in the world.
Not least the divisional #2 and pound-for-pound #1, Roman Gonzalez, a fighter with qualities enough to push Naoya and more. Promotionally, there are few problems in making this fight and one has to ask, if not now, when? They share a division, are the two best fighters in that division, and while Naoya is entering his prime, Gonzalez, hopefully, has yet to see the exit to his.
Should this fight fail to materialize, Khalid Yafai, Carlos Cuadras or Srisaket Sor Rungivsai would all make fine opponents. There is money enough behind Naoya that some or all of these men should be interested in meeting him.
Cash aside, I’m not sure they will like what they are going to get.
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