By Jake Donovan
Mere months after Naoya Inoue enjoyed a triumphant ring return following a lengthy layoff, it appears that another trip to the injury list in his immediate future.
The unbeaten wunderkind from Japan retained his super flyweight title for the second time, but was forced to go all 12-rounds with David Carmona in claiming a unanimous decision win Sunday evening in Tokyo, Japan.
Scores were 118-109 (twice) and 116-112 for Inoue, who re-injured his right hand midway through the fight.
If there was such a thing as covering the spread in boxing, Carmona managed that much in his second attempt at a major title. His first shot at this very same belt ended miserably suffering a 7th round knockout in his Dec. '13 bid versus Omar Narvaez, whom Inoue slaughtered in two rounds towards the very end of his 2014 Fighter of the Year campaign to become a two-division champ.
Inoue paid the price through injuring his hand, which required surgery and resulted in a full year between fights. He triumphantly returned last December, scoring a 2nd round stoppage over Warlito Parrenas, whom just five months earlier fought to a draw with Carmona.
Naturally, the expectations were for more of the same in this mandatory title fight. While the bout can't be described as competitive, Carmona enjoyed more moments of success than most believed would be the case. A part of it was attributed to Inoue injuring his right hand somewhere in the middle rounds - or at least showing the first signs of something being amiss.
Still, the challenger was holding his own in the early rounds, regardless of how they were being scored. Sensing it would take a little extra, Inoue ramped up his attack and rained down combinations upon Carmona, who tapped into his proud Mexican heritage and did his best to respond.
The difference in power was evident, but only for as long as Inoue's hands were healthy. That luxury disappeared midway through the fight, Carmona wisely picking up on his opponent's sudden handicap and doing his best to turn the tide. It was enough to eventually win four rounds on one card, more rounds than Inoue had lost through his entire career to this point.
Inoue was limited to a one-handed boxer throughout the second half of the contest. He'd occasionally throw straight rights but for the most part had to rely upon his superior skill set to carry him through the day.
However, he wouldn't be the supremely gifted boxer that he is without trying to offer that little bit extra in each fight. It clicked in during the final three minutes of the bout, catching Carmona off guard just as the challenger sensed he could perhaps even add another round on the cards. Inoue bit down and tried his best to rack up his sixth straight knockout win.
Instead, Inoue had to settle for just the second points victory in his young career, The lone other occasion came in his fourth pro fight, already scheduled for 10 rounds and a regional title in turning away Ryoichi Taguchi, who is now a junior flyweight titlist.
Five knockout wins followed, including clean finishes in all four major title fights prior to Sunday evening. Carmona becomes the first to extend Inoue the 12-round distance, but snaps a five-fight unbeaten streak in falling to 20-3-5 (8KOs).
Inoue rolls to 10-0 (8KOs), but his worldwide domination tour could be put on hold, depending upon the severity of his injury.
The network brass at American cable giant HBO have teased the possibility of showcasing his talents, undoubtedly in search of a fitting rival for World flyweight champion and pound-for-pound king Roman Gonzalez. Rumors of his first fight somewhere in the Americas (if not necessarily on HBO) were to come in a contractually obligated rematch with Narvaez. From there, he would enter the mix against any of the top players at super flyweight, or even flyweight such as Gonzalez or Juan Francisco Estrada perhaps looking to move up three pounds.
Any such plans are momentarily on hold, until it can be determined when one of boxing's very best will once again be fit for combat.
The 12-round junior flyweight title fight aired live on Fuji TV in Japan, paired up with Akira Yaegashi's thriling split decision win over Martin Tecuapetla.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Follow his shiny new Twitter account: @JakeNDaBox_v2