Yesterday in Yokohama, Japan, Naoya Inoue crushed the Frenchman Yoann Boyeaux in three short rounds having announced pre-fight that this would be his last contest at 115lbs.
His final opponent at the super-flyweight limit was not a pleasing one. Boyeaux is not among the best ten fighters in his division which should be considered the minimal requirement for fighters with pound-for-pound status. In fact, he has never even completed the twelve round distance. The three contests he boxed over the completed ten round limit were all disasters, two losses and a win changed to a no-contest when he tested positive for drugs.
So, yes, far from pleasing, but Inoue is now in that rarefied air breathed by the likes of Vasyl Lomachenko and Gennady Golovkin in that he’s unmissable in that he’s doing things other fighters just aren’t capable of. This fight was must-see and there was one other aspect of interest; Boyeaux was much bigger, in possession of a longer reach and greater height. Where Naoya is headed, that is something he’s going to run into far more often; so how would he handle it?
With great ease is the answer. Boyeaux tried some fascinating things in the first round, including a feinted left hook paving the way for a swinging right hand, but Naoya was unfazed, gloves high, up on his toes, bringing steady intelligent pressure. I did think the Frenchman’s lead in reach did provide more in the way of options, and although most of the three-piece he landed at 1:49 remaining in the first landed on Naoya’s gloves, this is a glimpse of the future. The Japanese has terrorized multiple divisions with the virtual threat of his counter-punches, but it might be that that time is coming to an end.
Still, he won the round with ease, using a series of two, three and four punch combinations to stun and rattle his opponent back and away. There is nothing in boxing quite like a fighter who is both bull and matador in full flow, and this was Naoya. There was something inevitable and terrible about the doorstop left-hook he landed towards the round’s end and Boyeaux earned his money reclaiming his feet.
With the kind of maturity and savvy that would bring a tear to the eye of a 1940s New York cornerman, Naoya went after the body in the second round, while also finding time to win the battle of the jabs.
By the beginning of the third, Boyeaux had nowhere left to go tactically. Inoue landed a withering left to the body – a punch he throws as well as any Mexican when his left foot is outside a retreating opponent’s right – and Boyeaux took a moment to think about it before taking a knee, clearly in agony. Again, he bravely got to his feet, but it was clear that “The Monster” had seen enough.
Low hands and swagger now would have drawn a tirade of abuse from our imagined New York cornerman, but I’d suggest that Naoya had already earned the right to such arrogance. More awful body punches thudded home and again Boyeaux was down. As he rose this time the Japanese crowd applauded him to his feet. With The Monster closing though, he now literally ran away. When another fuselage to the body dropped him for a third time, the referee waved the contest.
Naoya Inoue’s super-flyweight career was over.
It has not been overwhelming. When Naoya destroyed divisional number one Omar Andres Narvaez just eight months after stopping the 105lb kingpin Adrian Hernandez, I thought we were about to see the birth of something truly special. It may be that this is still the case, but certainly Naoya has been guilty of treading water. This has not been entirely his fault. It is difficult to get even top class fighters to commit because they are essentially committing to a loss by taking the fight. Naoya’s people were interested in getting the excellent Khalid Yafai over for unification, but the invitation was declined; the reason seemed to be that Yafai was being offered only “normal” money for what he clearly regarded as an abnormal assignment.
This has left Naoya beating up alphabet mandatories. Why it is that the fighters presented as such by alphabet organizations are woefully under-qualified and rarely among the best at the poundage is a matter for another day, but it speaks to Naoya’s inner qualities that he is able to remain motivated for chanceless opponents like Boyeaux; but what will this new challenge awaken within him?
For his first championship level move into a new weight class, Naoya fought no preliminaries; he went straight for the jugular of the most dangerous man in the division. The identity of such a man is always a matter of some debate, however, and at bantamweight the question is more complex than in most. TBRB, of which I am a member, names Northern Irishman Ryan Burnett the best in the division.
Burnett-Naoya will not materialize. Burnett’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, has been clear that he will not put his fighter in with anyone truly dangerous until he has “built Ryan Burnett’s financial legacy…I want him to have his house all paid off.”
Whether or not the strap Burnett is in possession of is primarily to be used as a tool for its owner to secure a “financial legacy” or whether it is to be defended against the best in the world is probably a matter for the IBF or WBA. Suffice to say that Hearn’s ruling out dangerous opposition certainly rules out Naoya.
Interestingly, however, Hearn wasn’t talking about Naoya when he made that statement. He was talking about Zolani Tete, who is set to match former Naoya victim Omar Andres Narvaez in early February. Tete is a brilliant operator, a vicious puncher and much avoided. If he and Naoya met, ostensibly in Britain where Tete is promoted by Frank Warren, it would be nothing less than a bantamweight superfight and the winner would likely be impossible to avoid, Burnett’s financial situation non-withstanding.
What seemed the most natural fight for this budding superstar, against Shinsuke Yamanaka, seems a non-starter with a Yamanaka-Nery rematch likely for March. The winner seems a cinch to be matched with Naoya should he keep winning, billed either as Japan’s revenge, if Nery repeats his August knockout of Yamanaka, or as a Japanese superfight should the veteran turn the clock back.
But word from Japan is that Naoya wants Tete. This is typical of the man. If there is anyone out there yet to be turned on to this wonderkid, now twenty-four, tune in.
2018 could be his year.
Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.