The statement made by Naoya Inoue heading into his last fight in December is now official. The 24-year-old Japanese pugilist vacates his WBO belt and moves north of the super flyweight class to join the bantamweights.
The Yokohama-based Inoue made the announcement earlier this month at a formal press conference. On the dais with him were his father/trainer Shingo Inoue and Hideyuki Ohashi, promoter of the fighter and head of Ohashi Promotions.
Team Inoue announced the unbeaten boxer will face none other than long-time WBA ‘regular’ belt holder Jamie McDonnell in his 118-pound debut. The event is scheduled to take place at the Ota-City General Gymnasium that is one of the largest sports complexes in Tokyo.
Inoue (15-0, 13 KOs) certainly has good memories regarding the venue as he won his first world title there in April 2014 when he massacred Mexico’s Adrian Hernandez in five one-sided frames for the WBC belt in the light flyweight division.
This was only his sixth pro fight but because of his eye-catching performance against the top-rated Hernandez some of the veteran fight writers in Japan started to talk about him as one of the most talented and skilled prizefighters the island had ever seen. Members of the media quickly stamped him with the nickname ‘Monster’, a moniker that relates to the intense, highly-sophisticated aggression he uses to flatten his opponents.
After one defense, the then-21-year-old Inoue decided to abandon his green-and-gold belt and moved up two classes where he demolished WBO champ Omar Narvaez in two heats. The Argentinian titlist, who went the distance in his lone defeat at the hands of P4P shortlisted Nonito Donaire back in 2011, was the consensus #1 115-pounder at the time.
Inoue made seven defenses of his WBO title at super flyweight including a masterpiece performance over former champion Kohei Kono, whom he check-mated in six frames in late December 2016. Naoya also appeared on The Ring magazine’s P4P top-10 during his run at 115 but lost his momentum after he struggled to secure highly-ranked dance partners in the weight.
That is part of the reason the Japanese wunderkind decided to move towards his third title belt. Truth be told, McDonnell is only a secondary titlist by the WBA while the ‘super’ champion by the governing body is Northern Ireland’s Ryan Burnett.
McDonnell (29-2-1, 13 KOs, 1 ND) is a well-trained Briton who always gives his all in the squared circle. The 31-year-old Doncaster native first secured the IBF belt at 118 pounds with a controversial 12-round majority decision over then-unbeaten Mexican, Julio Ceja in 2013.
After he got stripped of the belt for failing to negotiate a fight with mandatory challenger Vusi Malinga, McDonnell turned his attention towards another sanctioning body and pocketed the vacant WBA ‘regular’ belt that he has defended successfully six times.
The tall and rangy titlist’s best wins came against former champions Tomoki Kameda and Liborio Solis. McDonnell decisioned the former twice in 2015 while getting a controversial nod over the latter late 2016. A 2017 rematch with Solis ended in No Decision in three rounds after an accidental head butt opened a nasty cut on the left eyebrow of the defending champ early in the third.
McDonnell looks to be a good choice for Inoue in his debut at the weight. The Englishman has a belt and a resume long enough to call him a top fighter in the 118-pound class. Stylistically, it could be interesting to see how Inoue can move through the long arms and somewhat quick legs of McDonnell. Once he is in, though, it could easily turn out to be a short night.
The weight difference will be a new experience for Inoue. Jamie has a large frame at bantamweight. In fact, the Doncaster-native titlist has already thought himself about moving up to a higher division.
Inoue is reportedly a fighter with a tendency of rehydrating well over the weight limit in between weigh-ins and the start of his bouts. Still, he must be careful with taking on fighters in higher categories. He could ask former pound-for-pound champ Roman Gonzalez about how dangerous it can be to face a naturally bigger guy in a division well above where he started.
That said, McDonnell can very well be an ideal opponent for the Japanese. He does not carry dynamite in his gloves and while he has good work-rate, he also has holes in his defense, a deficiency the challenger can easily exploit with his quick and accurate counter-attacks.
A win on May 25 can set a higher goal for Naoya Inoue. As he stated during this most recent press conference, he would likely travel to UK-soil to face WBA ‘super’ champ Burnett in the future. There is also WBO titlist Zolani Tete, a South African bomber who has issues with finding willing opponents thanks to his massive punching power.
We shall see what the next move of Mexico’s Luis Nery can be, a fighter who was able to unseat long-time WBC-ruler and fellow Japanese Shinsuke Yamanaka last August. Nery is now under heavy criticism for missing weight coming into his recent rematch with Yamanaka. The unbeaten Mexican, who also had issues with a positive doping test after the first fight against the Japanese, is now suspended by the Japan Boxing Commission as well as by the World Boxing Council for his poor actions surrounding the rematch.
Who knows, maybe the vengeance of ‘The Country of The Rising Sun’ towards Nery could come in the form of a ‘Monster.’ But first, this monster has to handle the challenge of a new weight and a willing belt holder in Tokyo.
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