Michael Griffin is entrusted with maintaining order in yet another high-profile assignment.
The veteran ring official has been tabbed as the referee for the WBA/WBC/IBF bantamweight title unification rematch between Yokohama’s Naoya Inoue and Las-Vegas based Fil-Am star Nonito Donaire. The fight takes place Tuesday evening local time at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, the same site that held their epic first fight which saw Inoue prevail via unanimous decision in November 2019.
The sequel comes with an entirely different officiating crew, none of whom are from Japan or the Philippines. Joining Griffin are ringside judges Jean-Robert Laine (Monaco), Patrick Morley (Illinois) and David Sutherland (Oklahoma).
Of the four, judge Laine has never worked a fight involving either fighter. The 30-year ring official from Monte Carlo is fairly consistent, though was one of two judges who scored for John Ryder over Daniel Jacobs in their super middleweight title eliminator this past February 12 in London. Laine and judge Mike Fitzgerald both scored it 115-113 for the locally-based Ryder. Marcus McDonnell (115-113) scored the bout for Jacobs, though the final outcome was more disputed than controversial.
Montreal’s Griffin was the third man in the ring for Inoue’s first title win, a sixth-round knockout of then-WBC junior flyweight champion Adrian Hernandez. Inoue (22-0, 19KOs) was entering just his sixth pro fight when taking on the division’s top-rated fighter, tearing through the visiting Mexican with relative ease in their April 2014 bout at Ota-City Gymnasium in Tokyo.
Griffin has never worked a fight involving Donaire. His placement in this fight carries peace of mind for those who recall the shoddy officiating performance of referee Ernie Sharif in the first fight.
Sharif was rightly criticized for his poor handling of a pivotal sequence in round eleven. Inoue clearly hurt Donaire with a body shot but was physically blocked by the third man upon attempting to inflict more damage. Donaire eventually took a knee, where Sharif appeared to reach the count of ten but managed to allow the bout to continue.
Inoue went on to win a twelve-round, unanimous decision to win the WBA bantamweight title and defend the IBF belt in the November 2019 World Boxing Super Series bantamweight final.
Judge Morley is the only official among the four to have scored at least one fight involving each fighter.
The Chicago-based official was one of three judges who had Donaire losing a twelve-round, unanimous decision to Carl Frampton in their April 2018 encounter in Frampton’s hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland. All three judges scored the bout 117-111, with little dispute over the outcome.
Morley was one of three judges whose services were ultimately not required in Inoue’s second-round knockout of Walter Parrenas in his December 2015 defense of the WBO junior bantamweight title.
Judge Sutherland has officiated just one fight involving Donaire, his October 2006 twelve-round decision win over Oscar Andrade predating Donaire’s first flyweight title reign. Sutherland scored the bout 116-111 in favor of Donaire, interestingly on a show where Glenn Donaire—Nonito’s older brother—dropped a technical decision to then-unbeaten IBF flyweight champion Vic Darchinyan, whom Nonito iced just two fights later in July 2007 for his first title win.
Tuesday’s championship fight will mark the first time that Sutherland has been involved in a fight featuring Inoue, a three-division champion and highly rated pound-for-pound entrant.
Inoue has made four overall bantamweight title defenses, three of which has come as the unified WBA/IBF titlist. In his most recent start, Inoue stopped Aran Dipaen in the eighth round of their title fight last December 14 at the famed Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo, Inoue’s first fight in Japan since beating Donaire more than two years ago. Wedged in between were a pair of knockouts in Las Vegas.
Donaire rebounded from the loss to Inoue by once again making history.
The four-division champion became a three-time bantamweight titlist in a fourth-round knockout of unbeaten WBC titlist Nordine Oubaali last May 29 at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. Donaire broke his own record as the oldest fighter to win a belt at the weight, doing so at age 38. He has since celebrated his 39th birthday and defended his title, returning to Dignity Health for a fourth-round knockout of unbeaten interim WBC titlist Reymart Gaballo in their December 11 title consolidation clash.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox