Andre Ward wasn’t quite ready to elevate Naoya Inoue to the top spot on his pound-for-pound list Tuesday.
As much as the ESPN analyst tried to avoid overreacting to Inoue’s annihilation of Nonito Donaire, Ward wouldn’t flippantly attribute the Japanese superstar’s success to Donaire’s age, either. Donaire is 39, but Ward considers the 29-year-old Inoue’s impressive performance during his second-round, technical-knockout win more reflective of Inoue’s greatness.
“I gotta think about it,” Ward told his broadcast partner, Bernardo Osuna, toward the end of an ESPN+ stream of Inoue’s second-round stoppage of Donaire from Saitama, Japan. “I mean, he’s already number two at ESPN, but I gotta think about it. I don’t try to make knee-jerk reactions. I gotta look at my list. I gotta process, but he’s going up. How can he not go up?
“People will say, ‘Oh, Nonito’s older.’ Well, he didn’t look old in his last fight. So, you can only judge a fighter based on what they’ve done in their last fight. Nonito was always gonna be dangerous, as long as he’s in a boxing ring and has gloves on. He just didn’t get a chance to get started tonight with this guy.”
In his previous fight, which occurred December 11 in Carson, California, Donaire knocked out fellow Filipino Reymart Gaballo in the fourth round of his first defense of his second reign as WBC bantamweight champion. “The Filipino Flash” knocked out then-undefeated French southpaw Nordine Oubaali in the fourth round six months earlier in Carson to win the WBC 118-pound crown a second time.
On Tuesday night, Inoue (23-0, 20 KOs) first sent Donaire to the canvas when he landed a right hand to the side of Donaire’s head toward the end of the first round. The 29-year-old Inoue couldn’t capitalize on dropping Donaire (42-7, 28 KOs) because the first round ended before the action could resume.
In the second round, however, Inoue hurt Donaire with several shots, until his left hook knocked Donaire down again. Donaire beat referee Michael Griffin’s count a second time, but Griffin stopped their bout at 1:24 of the second round because Donaire didn’t appear fit to continue.
“He started landing big shots very, very early,” Ward said. “Even though he wasn’t throwing the shots hard, that’s the kind of explosiveness that he has. Nonito landed a few shots as well. Inoue said, ‘I got caught with a left hook. And that’s what woke me up.’ But Inoue’s power proved to be too much. Nonito was reacting every time Inoue landed clean, and there was nothing he could do about it. And Nonito is a guy who’s not gonna run or hold or try to get out of the way. He’s going to fight fire with fire, and that is a bad idea when you’re facing ‘The Monster,’ Inoue, because this is what is going to happen. And unfortunately, it happened to a great, great champion tonight.”
Las Vegas’ Donaire lost by knockout for only the second time in his 21-year, 49-fight professional career. Donaire’s first knockout defeat came against Jamaica’s Nicholas Walters, who stopped Donaire in the sixth round of their WBA featherweight title fight in October 2014.
Donaire experienced a resurgence during his return to the bantamweight division after losing a 12-round unanimous decision to Northern Ireland’s Carl Frampton in their fight for the vacant WBO interim featherweight title in April 2018. His only loss before Tuesday during that stretch was a points defeat to Inoue in their initial meeting, the Boxing Writers Association of America’s “Fight of the Year” for 2019.
“I think he can continue to fight on, Bernardo,” Ward said. “I’m not sure that he should. But I’m gonna support my friend and I’m gonna support this great champion, no matter what he does.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.