LESS than two weeks after the World Boxing Super Series provided one of the fights of the year with its 140lb final, the tournament may just go one better with its bantamweight decider.
Yet while Josh Taylor and Regis Prograis provided a gruelling 12-rounder in London on October 26, the fight scheduled for tonight (Thursday November 7) in Saitama, Japan could well be over much quicker.
That’s because both participants have established a reputation for big punching.
Japan’s IBF king Naoya Inoue has won all 18 fights, 16 inside the distance, while winning world titles in three divisions (light-fly, super-fly and bantam).
Opposing him is WBA Super champion Nonito Donaire, a US-based Filipino whose 40-5 record includes 26 wins inside the distance. Donaire has held world belts at no fewer than five weights: fly, super-fly, bantam, super-bantam and feather.
But then Nonito has been around a long time: a pro for 18 years, he turns 37 on November 16. After peaking around 2012 – when he was The Ring’s fighter of the year – he was outboxed by Guillermo Rigondeaux and let his weight drift up to 126lbs before making a surprise move all the way down to bantam for this tournament.
Many predicted his ageing body wouldn’t cope with the weight shedding, but here he is in the final, albeit by two strokes of good fortune. He got past Ryan Burnett in the quarter-final when the Belfast boxer’s back gave out in round four; and then when semi-final opponent Zolani Tete withdrew injured, Donaire knocked out late sub, inexperienced Stephon Young in six rounds.
Inoue, 26, has simply blown away his WBSS opposition in a grand total of 329 seconds. He flattened seasoned Dominican Republic southpaw Juan Carlos Payano in the first round of their quarter-final, then dropped Emmanuel Rodriguez (Puerto Rico) three times for a second-round KO in the semis.
On neither occasion did it seem the Japanese was rushing, or loading up on power shots. He boasts a natural power that has rightly earned him the name “Monster”.
More importantly, he has retained his punch while moving up from his early days at 108lbs. By contrast, Donaire’s most spectacular finishes came at no higher than 118lbs, when he was crushing Vic Darchinyan and Fernando Montiel nearly a decade ago.
Donaire, the taller man by 2 1/2ins, more or less admitted his best chance of victory lies in a longer fight. He said: “It has been predicted that the keys to the fight are speed and power and the one who makes a mistake first will lose. On the other hand, we both have boxing brains, so it can be a long game like chess.”
Inoue for his part feels he will be best served by jumping on the older man in the early going. He said: “I’m prepared to fight for 12 rounds with Nonito Donaire, but if I see an opening, I will aim for a knockout.
“I have been watching Donaire throughout his career and was stealing his moves when I was starting out in boxing. I have a lot of respect for him, but now it’s time for a change of generations.”
The respect is mutual, with Donaire calling Inoue an amazing fighter – before adding, “I saw flaws in his semi-final and I think I can definitely create a game plan against him and win.”
But to have any hope of victory, Donaire has to stand up to Inoue’s ferocious power – and that’s a big ask. Nonito did last the distance with Carl Frampton (l pts 12) at featherweight, but Jamaica’s Nicholas Walters stopped him in six rounds at that poundage, flooring him twice into the bargain.
That doesn’t bode well for his chances against Inoue, who is not a slugger but an accurate boxer with good timing. So while it’s possible the Filipino’s experience might allow him to survive a few rounds, Inoue will surely catch up with him for a spectacular victory by the halfway stage of this 12-rounder.
It could be a double celebration for the Inoue family as younger brother Takuma Inoue challenges France’s Nordine Oubaali for the WBC bantamweight title on the same show at the Super Arena.
Inoue, 23, won the interim WBC belt at the weight last December before Oubaali picked up the real thing (vacant) by outpointing Rau’Shee Warren in January. Oubaali’s defence against Arthur Villanueva (w rtd 6) in July is the only fight either man has had since.
The Frenchman, a 33-year-old southpaw, has won all 16 fights with 12 coming early, although he’s more a wear-them-down type than a one-punch banger.
Inoue has won all his 13 contests, but only three early wins shows he does not possess his elder brother’s power. He does, however, boast plenty of experience despite his young age, boxing a 12-rounder (for the Orient and Pacific super-fly belt) in only his fifth pro fight. (In Japan, fighters showing promise often get moved very quickly).
Oubaali also has plenty of seasoning, having boxed in two Olympic Games before turning pro in 2014 at the advanced age of 27. And he’s won both his world title bouts on the road, in Las Vegas (Warren) and Kazakhstan (Villaneuva).
He won’t be fazed by going to Japan. He will, though, struggle to contain a decade-younger opponent so the pick is for Inoue to come through a tough battle on points.
THE VERDICT Whoever wins, this one doesn’t look likely to last very long.