Naoya Inoue was merely a spectator for Shakur Stevenson’s win this past Saturday, though couldn’t help but envision how his own fight will look in this very venue just seven days later.
The unbeaten three-division and reigning unified bantamweight titlist soaked in the environment at The Theater at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, which hosted the June 12 edition of Top Rank Boxing on ESPN. The same site will present Inoue’s mandatory title defense versus IBF number-one contender Michael Dasmarinas (30-2-1, 20KOs), at a time when venues in Las Vegas are once again allowing full capacity.
“It was good to be surrounded by fans,” Inoue told BoxingScene.com of his experience on site. “Last time I fought, there wasn’t an audience. It will feel good to have a crowd again. I expect to perform even better this time around.”
Headlining the June 12 show for which Inoue was in attendance, Stevenson (16-0, 8KOs) claimed a 12-round shutout of Jeremia Nakathila in their interim WBO junior lightweight title fight. The night marked the first time that the entire venue was open, with its May 22 show running at roughly 30% total capacity of the 4,500-seat arena.
Still, any fans in attendance are more than what Inoue was forced to experience in his most recent outing. The 28-year-old from Yokohama, Japan scored a one-sided 7th round stoppage of durable contender Jason Moloney last Halloween behind closed doors at MGM Grand Conference Center. The event occurred at a time when most of the United States was still adhering to strict COVID-19 protocol, with only a handful of locations across the country allowing large gatherings—and even those events met with social distancing restrictions.
In his outing prior to beating Moloney, Inoue unified the WBA and IBF bantamweight titles in a spirited 12-round decision win over Nonito Donaire atop a November 2019 show in front of more than 20,000 in attendance at Saitama (Japan) Super Arena. Needless to say, it was a much different feeling for his first post-pandemic ring appearance.
“It was a little weird not having anyone in attendance,” noted Inoue, who has grown accustomed to fighting in front of massive crowds back home in his native Japan. “But it still felt like a fight. They had the lighting and the (décor), it wasn’t like fighting in a gym like others have said.
“But I am excited to have fans back, I believe I will be even better in the ring.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox