FOR the umpteenth time, the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) highlighted why it must become a regular fixture in the sport as Naoya Inoue and Nonito Donaire served up a thriller over 12 rounds inside Saitama’s Super Arena in Japan.
After 36 minutes of action that featured several momentum shifts, Naoya Inoue added the WBA bantamweight title to the IBF championship he took into battle when he won a unanimous decision via scores of 114-113, 116-111 and a misleading, 117-109. The 26-year-old also claimed the Muhammad Ali Trophy after his victory in this latest WBSS final.
But this was one of those fights where the loser’s efforts were just as impressive as the victor’s. Particularly when one considers that Donaire, 36, was considering his future as recently as last year when he lost to Carl Frampton at featherweight.
Indeed, when he announced his plan to strip weight and drop to bantamweight, few observers felt it was a wise move. But after wins over Ryan Burnett and Stephon Young en route to the final, he again rolled back the years against one of the most feared fighters in world boxing.
Inoue – known as “Monster” – set about the veteran late in the opening round and scored with two meaty left hooks.
But Donaire rallied heartily in the second, showing his class with his lead hand and trailing combinations. Inoue fired back – that left hand again on target – before the favourite suddenly found himself nursing a nasty cut by the end of the session. It appeared that a left hook from the “Filipino Flash” had done the damage and, in rounds three and four, the old maestro threatened to take control.
But Inoue, now 19-0 (16) and set to be unveiled by Top Rank as a new signing, refused to yield. Through the middle rounds as the pair traded, it was his shots that appeared to carry the greater danger. But he showed respect to Donaire – and a nod to the counters regularly finding the target – by opting not to wade in attempt to get him out of there.
Yet another booming left hook seemed to hurt Donaire in the ninth but, in keeping with the theme of the fight, the underdog summoned his reserves and volleyed back, a right hand in particular rocked Inoue to his boots.
The thrills and spills were not over yet. In the 11th, Inoue, somehow still energetic, ploughed a frightful left hook into Donaire. He felt it on impact, and as the agony increased, he sought escape first by jogging away from Inoue and then by taking a knee. He pluckily got to his feet and even found time to land sharp left hook on the inside that momentarily wobbled Inoue.
Donaire fared well at the start of the 12th, too. But Inoue, younger and quicker, finished the contest looking like the winner. And so it proved.