SO Naoya Inoue will challenge veteran Omar Naravez of Argentina for the WBO super-flyweight title next month (December 30, in Tokyo). Inoue is a wunderkind of Japanese boxing, having won the WBC light-flyweight belt in only his sixth paid fight in April. Still only 21, Inoue’s now going for his second world title, and while there are a lot of lower weight divisions close together, it’s still a notable achievement if he pulls it off.
Inoue has relinquished his light-flyweight (108lbs) title because of weight problems and has, somewhat unusually, bypassed the flyweights (112lbs) to invade the super-flies (115lbs). This could well be smart matchmaking on behalf of the Japanese talent’s handlers. Narvaez is 39 years old and has plenty of miles on the clock. He’s almost certainly more beatable than some of the terrors atop the flyweight division, such as the big-hitting Nicaraguan Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez. If Inoue beats Narvaez, then he can always defend against Gonzalez in a superfight somewhere down the line – by which time he will have accumulated a bit more experience.
And it’s not as if bypassing a weight class is unheard of in boxing history. Two other examples come to mind. Roberto Duran was a dominant lightweight champion through most of the 1970s, and there was talk that he might challenge fellow-Panamanian Antonio Cervantes for the WBA light-welter belt. (This was after Cervantes had lost the title to Wilfred Benitez then regained it when Benitez was stripped for failing to give him a rematch).
Duran would have been heavily favoured to beat Cervantes but it never happened; not because Roberto was scared, but because there were fights at welterweight that promised to pay much better – against the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Carlos Palomino. So Duran went from 135lbs to 147lbs at title level without contesting a 140lbs belt.
More recently, the same journey was undertaken by Shane Mosley. In the late 1990s the man from Pomona cleaned out the lightweight division and, ignoring the light-welters, set his sights on the “Golden Boy”, Oscar De La Hoya, who then held the WBC 147lbs title. It was a huge California rivalry and Shane had beaten Oscar in the amateurs (albeit when both were just kids). The wisdom of Mosley’s move was proved when he toppled De La Hoya in a June 2000 cracker at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Mind you, Mosley’s weight jump wasn’t quite as impressive as it seemed (although still a worthy achievement): as an amateur he’d campaigned in the light-welters (139lbs) before boiling himself down to 135lbs in the pros. So he was really jumping up just the one weight class against De La Hoya (who, let’s not forget, had won his first world pro belt at 130lbs).
Naoya Inoue may have the talent to be world champion at several weights, but as a little man he’ll be hard pushed to emulate the reputation of Duran or Mosley.