The world learned of the winner of the World Boxing Super Series’ Bantamweight Muhammad Ali Trophy at or around 8:20 am ET this morning. After a beautiful entrancing battle between IBF champion Naoya Inoue and WBA champion Nonito Donaire, WBSS frontman Kalle Saurland crowned Inoue winner and new unified champion.
There was little suspense. Inoue, 26, fought 10 fierce rounds with a serious cut on his right eyelid, and emerged victorious over four-division champion Donaire. He moved to 19-0 behind scores of 117-109, 116-111 and 114-113. The 12 grueling rounds of fascinating violence possibly represent the last for the 36-year old Donaire (40-6, 24 KOs).
Admittedly, the thought rushed to my mind that by failing to add his 17th knockout, the expectation for many, Inoue’s name would undoubtedly be followed by “exposed” on social media before the end of his post-fight interview.
How could a fighter who advanced through the first two rounds of the WBSS in a total of 5:29 be exposed? In the quarterfinals, he demolished former champion Juan Carlos Payano in 1:10. In the semifinals, Inoue stopped then 19-0 Emmanuel Rodriguez at 1:19 of the second round to claim his IBF title.
Inoue experienced the rigors of 12-rounds with a solid-punching world-class opponent. One that didn’t hit the deck after tasting his vaunted power. I’d like to think we all learned more about his make-up as a fighter. A fighter who commonly lands in the Top 5 of most Pound For Pound lists.
The Fight, Dissected
Before most of America got out of bed Inoue reached the sixth round, having thrown a total of 290 punches. I began to wonder how the kid could look in territory he had only ventured into five times in his first 18 fights. He hadn’t been beyond the sixth round since September 2016.
According to CompuBox, in addition to the cut sustained in the fight’s second frame, Inoue had also been hit 61 times – 45 scored as power punches. Donaire competed with the young champion through the opening rounds, but his timing enabled him to land some power punches that certainly never occurred in Inoue’s first two WBSS fights. In fact, the cut resulted from a compact left hook landed by Donaire. Obviously we did not know how many rounds the fight was going to go, but we did know we would get to see how Inoue handles both adversity and the threat posed by an experienced opponent – that was growing in confidence.
What We Learned About Inoue
We learn something about Inoue’s adaptability in the second and third rounds where CompuBox credited Donaire with a 22-14 lead in landed power punches. The hunter becomes the hunted, and on his own territory.
Inoue adapts well and focuses on his in-and-out attack better to wisely avoiding being caught on the inside. He settles into his rhythm in the fourth, and set up a punishing fifth round where CompuBox credited him with an 18-7 lead in power punches. Referee Ernie Sharif moved in to watch Donaire closely, for the final 45 seconds, after Inoue hurt him with a right hand. Inoue connected with a series of big shots to close the round, as the fight appeared to possibly be reaching its end.
Patience Makes for Greatness
Inoue displayed his patience, prudently unleashing his attack on Donaire to open the sixth. He fought to capitalize on his momentum from the previous round, but left few openings for Donaire to take advantage of in any moment of carelessness. Despite the big fifth round, Donaire walked to Inoue and stood at mid- and close-range for a good part of the round.
The impressive part on Inoue’s behalf here is that he tried to continue his streak of early show-stopping sequences in the opening rounds. However, he quickly realized Donaire was more than what his easier route to the final round was unable to clearly show Inoue and his father and trainer.
In the sixth, he fought his fight. He blocked out the rising energy of the hometown crowd’s cheers. In this moment Donaire’s steadiness was uncertain, so Inoue rarely put himself in harm’s way to employ his staple body attack. He avoided Donaire’s jab and safely won another round.
Inoue’s sound judgment cost him somewhat, as Donaire’s competitive spirit and right hands returned in the three ensuing rounds. At this juncture, in the eighth, we learned Inoue is a warrior as he finished the round with a mask of blood from the cut. He withstood one of Donaire’s fiercest combinations at the :40 mark. In the ninth, Donaire’s final big rally of the fight, after a powerful right hand near 1:50, Inoue found some space to regroup, and then banged his gloves together to motion “come on” to Donaire.
Beyond theatrics alone, this gesture confirmed the big puncher’s first inclination will not be to run once he gets touched. Inoue is cognizant that as a P4P performer generating a great deal of buzz, others are watching, and this is no time to show weakness in the face of fire.
In the tenth round, we learn about Inoue’s heart and drive to compete in the moments where some may have thought he would begin to falter. Bantamweight is his third weight division while Donaire is coming down after campaigning at 122 and 126 pounds. After finding himself in the 10th round for the first time since 2016, Inoue adapts again, getting back to his fundamentals of jabbing and relying on his superior mobility. Utilizing the entire ring is not Donaire’s preference at this stage of the fight.
The Championship Rounds
The bell to start the 11th marked Inoue’s third appearance in the championship rounds of a bout. Both fighters needed to clearly seize control of the pivotal six minutes of action. Inoue instinctively recommitted to a previously absent component of game. During an exchange, he landed a sweeping left hook that instantly hurt the Filipino.
Donaire completely exited the pocket to deal with his discomfort caused by the rare body shot. Inoue rushed to attack, but referee Sharif shielded Donaire from further harm. The pain still caused the 36-year old to go down to the canvas.
Amazingly Donaire both beat the count and finished the round. Initially, the remaining time appeared to suggest an imminent stoppage for Inoue, but a well-timed left hook to the Japanese fighter’s head kept him at bay until the bell. Donaire opened the 12th round lively but with relatively little effectiveness. Inoue got going after a combinations of hooks, but while he did not let Donaire totally off the hook, he continued to work through the final bell.
The hard-fought bout included riveting action from each fighter, there was the big knockdown, and there were swollen faces and blood. The decision was unanimous, but the major takeaways are completely subjective. By the end of the day, Top Rank announced its signing of Inoue, along with plans for a return to America at some point. Surely within the first opponent or two being named, we all will begin to learn just what kind of monster Inoue really is – or isn’t.
Speaking of exposed, the outcome of Inoue vs Donaire puts a spotlight on a fight that continues to loom. Fans want to see Vasiliy Lomachenko in the ring against Gervonta Davis – at whatever weight.
Only Top Rank and Mayweather Promotions know when the time is right for the bout. Regardless of whether Donaire exposed Inoue or not, Davis needs to be tested by a fighter of Lomachenko’s ilk. The more Davis does inside the ring, the less fans need to be reminded by Leonard Ellerbe concerning Davis’ greatness.
Boxing will always be about what a fighter does under the bright lights, and not what a businessman in a suit says in front of them. We all hear just fine with our own eyes.