This Friday night in Ota, Japan, “The Monster” Naoya Inoue will attempt to bag a strap at a third weight in adding Jamie McDonnell’s WBA trinket to the titles he has picked up at light-flyweight and super-flyweight. It will be just his sixteenth professional contest.
McDonnell, out of Yorkshire, England, has a professional record of 29-2-1, has gone unbeaten for a decade and has been waving about one or another of the various alphabet straps at bantamweight for half of that time. Ranked number five in the world at 118lbs. by the TBRB, he is one of the more difficult opponents Inoue could have chosen for his third coronation in what promises to be an interesting night’s work for both men.
McDonnell is a colossal bantamweight. Inoue’s nickname, “Monster” has always struck me as fitting not just for his electrifying collection of withering combinations or his quick-footed orthodox rushes but for the size advantage he has generally enjoyed in the ring. A fighter of enormous proportions at 108lbs, everything about him appeared drawn when he weighed in for a light-flyweight contest although his youth and vitality appeared to spare him the worst ravages of extreme weight-making.
When Inoue exited that weight division in 2014 it was with all the enthusiasm of a sprinter escaping a burning building; he skipped 112lbs all-together, running for the comfort of the 115lbs division where he looked more human on the scales. Inoue still, often, enjoyed a seeming size advantage in the ring, though it should be noted that the man doing the punishing often looks the larger. Whatever the truth of the matter, 118lbs, where the Japanese will now do his work, will be his most natural fighting weight to date.
This is both a gift and a curse. In the plus column it must be writ that Inoue will likely be boxing, for the first time, without the confines of a weight-making camp. That is, with hard training all but guaranteed to guide him to the neighborhood of the required poundage, Inoue has enjoyed a pure boxing camp for perhaps the first time. There has been no desperate sweat to see off those final few pounds; the Naoya Inouoe who comes to the ring on Friday night will be the best Naoya Inoue we have seen.
More negatively for the pound-for-pounder, Inoue will be dwarfed at this new poundage. McDonnell was 118lbs when he turned professional in 2005 and he was a half-pound lighter last year when he met Liborio Solis for the second time. He did struggle to make this weight in that fight but his 5’10 battlement and the 72” reach mounted thereon has been tightening up to the poundage for thirteen years; he has belonged at bantamweight. Like the great Al Brown before him, he’s a natural at a weight where his height and reach are unnatural.
So his advantages are many. First, he stands 5” taller than his Japanese opponent. At 118lbs that is an enormous, almost prohibitive advantage.
In 1980 when the great Salvador Sanchez (5’6”) was presented with the enormous but inexperienced Pat Ford, he just did not know what to do. The difference in height was so huge that one of the true greats of the sport was unsure how to approach the problem in a live combat situation. He ceded the early rounds in a state of apparent confusion and only saved his title with a late rally and a majority decision in his favor that remains slightly controversial.
The difference that night might have been reach rather than height; Ford enjoyed an advantage of around 6”. McDonnell enjoys a similar advantage.
In summary then, McDonnell is an experienced world-class fighter who enjoys a chilling physical advantage. Inoue is a relative novice exploring a new weight division for the first time.
This fight is not a foregone conclusion, and boxing may be sleeping on an approaching shock of enormous proportions.
Nevertheless, McDonnell’s accepting this fight has been greeted, in some corners of British boxing, with a flutter of incredulity. Even those that know him have been keen to ask the question, why take this fight? Why travel all the way to Japan to meet one of the world’s best in an apparent mission impossible? McDonnel’s trainer is Dave Coldwell, a man riding the crest of an unlikely wave after Tony Bellew’s brilliantly engineered victory over David Haye. He has spoken well in answering this question.
“It’s not about the money,” he told the BBC’s Mike Costello recently. “[McDonnell] has been unbeaten for ten years and he’s still not spoken about as a top British fighter. He wants a fight that is going to give him that. He really, really, really is up for this fight. As soon as I told him [who Naoya Inoue was] he told me ‘I want it.’”
Whether or not you find it charming or ridiculous that McDonnell had no idea who Inoue was is a matter of perspective, but it is a fact that McDonnell has almost no interest in boxing outside of his own career. This, in a sense, is a boon. He lives in a bubble of his own making and it is a shield that goes unspoilt by the machinations of the wider world. McDonnell, it is said, feels no pressure despite the monumental task that is before him, and his disinterest in Inoue’s reputation is certainly a major reason for this.
Inoue, for his own part, seems relaxed about the literal enormity of the problem McDonnell presents.
“It’s the first time I’m going to face a fighter that tall,” he told Boxing Mobile Japan. “But it’s the same when meeting any fighter for the first time. There’s always something new to contend with.”
His team have gone out of their way to import training partners of comparable dimensions from the European circuit. This sparring will stand him in good stead.
McDonnell’s most recent outing was the aforementioned rematch with Liborio Solis which ended in disaster when a clash of heads brought the fight to an end in the third. McDonnell’s sixth successful title defence, it was to be his “last fight at bantamweight” according to the fighter himself. Circumstances have called for him to tarry.
His first fight with Solis had also been a difficult night where a dearth of speed and a badly bloody nose led to Solis dominating. McDonnell got the nod on all three cards but my feeling, and it was shared by many in the sport, was that Solis was unlucky.
Inoue, too, is going to have an advantage in speed. Unlike Solis, he throws punches with vicious torque and murderous intention. Inoue has spoken of his respect for McDonnell but his expectation is that the fight will be finished with “one punch.”
I’m not sure about that. I’ll be honest, I don’t think Inoue’s unbeaten record is up for grabs, but he might not be the monster in this ring. McDonnell is huge and I do think Inoue will find himself bouncing punches that were previously fight-winners off a teak-tough belt-holder who is ready to mount the title-defense of his life. McDonnell has toiled on a series of undercards executing the style of an elite workman, and for all that he was a little lucky against Solis, he has consistently drawn my admiration.
He can be physical, operates a fine a jab and, when it’s uninjured, has a good right hand to match.
So one punch won’t do it.
But I think a late knockout on the part of the Japanese is the most sensible prediction, probably via a body-shot. He won’t be the first fighter to set out to devour McDonnell’s rack of ribs, but he will be the best and, after some tenderizing, I think he’ll break them up. If it goes that way, Inoue will have added a third strap only four contests later than Vasyl Lomachenko – and with no early loss marring his professional career, he will arguably be in possession of the most impressive record in boxing currently.
Furthermore, the winner of this one will join bantamweight number one Ryan Burnett, number two, Zolani Tete and number seven, Emmanuel Rodriguez, in the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament.
Inoue could emerge from that extraordinary grouping of brilliant fighters as both the bantamweight and pound-for-pound number one.
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