Bob Arum expected a large contingent of Japanese fans to pack Mandalay Bay Events Center on Saturday night to witness Naoya Inoue’s return to the United States.
Like every other scheduled bout in boxing, Inoue’s bantamweight championship unification fight against the Philippines’ Johnriel Casimero was postponed indefinitely last month due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Inoue-Casimero might be delayed longer than some other bouts because coronavirus-related travel restrictions could keep Inoue from leaving Japan for the United States for an extended period even after American cities reopen.
Whenever Inoue fights in the U.S. again, Arum believes that the Japanese knockout artist will become one of boxing’s biggest attractions worldwide. Inoue, who is co-promoted by Arum’s Top Rank Inc., has fought just twice outside of Japan – once in Carson, California, and once in Glasgow, Scotland – since making his pro debut in October 2012.
“I think he is gonna be a huge star,” Arum told BoxingScene.com, “both in the United States and around the world.”
The 27-year-old Inoue (19-0, 16 KOs) already is a three-division champion and a mainstream star in his homeland. The IBF/WBA bantamweight champion also is commonly rated among the top five fighters, pound-for-pound, in boxing.
Inoue’s 12-round, unanimous-decision victory over five-division champ Nonito Donaire (40-6, 26 KOs) on November 7 in Saitama, Japan, was voted “Fight of the Year” for 2019 by the Boxing Writers Association of America.
“He comes to fight,” Arum said. “He’s crowd-pleasing. You’ve got some guys out there who are great fighters, but they’re not very crowd-pleasing. This kid, a 118-pounder, with the power that he has, is really unusual. And you saw in the Donaire fight, even when he can’t utilize the power because he’s in with a terrific boxer, like Donaire is, he has a way to press, to come through and to win the fight.”
ESPN was supposed to televise the 12-round bout between Inoue and Casimero (29-4, 20 KOs), the WBO champion, as the main event of a doubleheader last month.
Assuming Las Vegas re-establishes itself as a top tourist destination once this pandemic ends, Arum envisions Inoue becoming a gate attraction there.
“We’re all in unchartered waters, and we have to see how this plays out,” Arum said. “But obviously, one of the reasons we were so enthused about Inoue was that he would bring over a lot of Japanese fans to watch him fight. And also, there are a lot of Japanese Americans living in the United States, who know Inoue and would be great customers at his fights. There’s a Japanese restaurant in Las Vegas that [my wife] Lovee and I go to all the time, and all they wanna talk to me about is Inoue.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.