By Jake Donovan
The staff at Top Rank is willing to remain patient in its long-running pursuit of Naoya Inoue, although eagerness over such a “Monster” signing has falsely assumed as his services already being secured.
“We’d love to promote Inoue,” admits Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum, who has long enjoyed an excellent working relationship with fellow Hall of Fame honoree Akihiko Honda, who works closely with Inoue’s team. “After he’s done with his next fight, we certainly hope to sit down with his team and go from there.”
It’s a far cry from the commentary offered even two weeks ago, when it was insisted that Top Rank would add the prodigious talent from Japan to its stable.
Arum’s talks with reporters in the United Kingdom certainly didn’t help, as he suggested Inoue as a possible future opponent for Ryan Burnett, the former bantamweight titlist whom Top Rank signed in April. It generated headlines, which certainly helped drum up interest for Burnett’s May 17 fight in Belfast, the same town where Top Rank’s Michael Conlan will return for an August homecoming versus former amateur rival Vladimir Nikitin.
The latter fight was formally announced at that time, the reasoning for Arum’s trip to the UK. Reporters completely ignored the fact that Inoue was still days away from his semifinals bout in the World Boxing Super Series, with whose brass he remains under contract until he’s done with the tournament.
Inoue (18-0, 16KOs) recently captured a major title in his third weight division, a spectacular 2nd round knockout of previously unbeaten bantamweight titlist Emmanuel Rodriguez in mid-May. The bout advanced him into the WBSS bantamweight finals, where he will face four-division titlist and likely future Hall of Fame entrant Nonito Donaire.
The bout is slated to take place later this year, although an exact—or even roughly guessed—date and location has yet to be revealed. The fight will likely land in Osaka, Japan, but when it happens is of greater importance to outfits such as Top Rank, who can then open negotiations free of conflict.
Worth noting is the fact that both of the WBSS season one winners—Oleksandr Usyk and Callum Smith—currently fight on DAZN (the current provider for all three WBSS season two tournaments) through promotional deals with Matchroom Boxing. Such an alignment would be of benefit to Inoue should he not only win the tournament but decide to pursue a title in a fourth weight division, as DAZN is the home to unified 122-pound titlist Daniel Roman as well as unbeaten title claimant Rey Vargas.
None of that will discourage the brass at Top Rank, who have spent the past two years angling for a way to land the rising superstar.
“Look, he still has his fight with Nonito Donaire up next,” acknowledges Arum. “After that… we will see what happens.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox