Japan’s Naoya ‘Monster’ Inoue came through an engaging war with Nonito Donaire, dropping the ‘Filipino Flash’ with a vicious body shot, in the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight final on Thursday to unify the 115 lbs division.
Inoue scooped a unanimous decision 111-116, 113-114, 109-117 on the scorecards after a brutal and bloody back and forth fight with warhorse Donaire in which both men showed near superhuman levels of grit, guts and guile. the night ended with Inoue unifying the WBA and IBF titles, as well as acquiring the ring belt and trophy.
Tokyo man Inoue, 26, is one of the most talked-about fighters in the sports, having won world titles in three weight divisions and ascended the pound for pound rankings by racking up 16 blistering knockouts form 18 wins against zero defeats.
Two of those early victories had come in 1st and 2nd round knockouts in the WBSS, which aims to pit the best against the best in the weight class in a tournament for the Muhammad Ali trophy.
Philippines-born, Las Vegas-based Donaire provided maybe the toughest test for Inoue on paper in his career so far. A former four-weight world champion, including at two weight classes above at featherweight, he had perhaps benefitted from an easier route to the final, winning a technical knockout win on an injury and a late replacement.
Donaire’s reputation was well established going into the fight, but at 36 it was widely expected to be a proud last stand from a former great champion.
When the action began at the Super Arena, Saitama, Donaire, the naturally bigger man, immediately took the fight to Inoue. The veteran walked down and stalked Inoue and matched the Japanese man punch for punch in the exchanges in the early rounds.
Inoue took control in the middle of the fight, and wobbled Donaire in the fifth with a huge counter straight right. Donaire fell back onto the ropes and absorbed punishing power punches as Inoue proceeded to load up with heavy shots. Donaire was forced to use every bit of his 45-fight experience to hear the bell.
The older man appeared tired after the halfway point, unable to defend against Inoue’s crisp counter right and his eyes began to swell from the accumulative punishment. In the seventh, Donaire fell over Inoue while reaching in landing a punch, underlining his fatigue.
Donaire dug deep and produced a huge eighth round in which he rocked the champ, and followed that up with some relentless work which produced a grizzly laceration above the right eye and under the eyebrow of Inoue.
The action continued to see-saw in the championship rounds. A vicious body shot from Inoue almost finished the night in the 11th round. A sweeping left to Donaire’s midriff forced the Filipino to jog around the ring before falling to his knees in the far corner, wearing a look of sheer agony.
Slow-mo replays showed the harrowing effects of the punch, but Donaire somehow made it to his feet just as the referee reached a count of ten, and despite being near enough immobilized by the shot and having to suck up even more shots, he somehow saw out the round to reach the 12th.
The attrition didn’t let up form either side in the final round, both men battering each other until the final bell sounded. At the end of a pulsating fight of the year contender, Inoue’s hand was raised with scored of 111-116, 113-114, 109-117.
Inoue was presented with his full collection of belts and the Muhammad Ali trophy by Fighting Harada, the country’s legendary former flyweight and bantamweight world champion, but both men had gained levels of respect surpassing any tangible reward.