Naoya Inoue never underestimates any of his opponents, though he admits to finding additional inspiration upon scanning the crowd ahead of his most recent performance.
All of the claimants to the major bantamweight titles were in the house this past Saturday at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, where Japan’s Inoue (21-0, 18KOs) defended his WBA/IBF belts in a third-round knockout of mandatory challenger Michael Dasmarinas. Among those in attendance for the ESPN main event were WBO bantamweight titlist John Riel Casimero (30-4, 21KOs) and future Hall of Famer and recently crowned WBC champ Nonito Donaire (41-6, 27KOs).
The rare occasion of all three being in the same room didn’t go unnoticed by the evening’s headliner, who proceeded to deliver a pound-for-pound performance
“It was on my mind,” Inoue admitted to reporters of his intention to impress Donaire and Casimero. “It served as motivation to show to them that I am out here as the best bantamweight in the world.
Saturday’s showing certainly furthered the cause for Inoue, a three-division titlist, 2014 Fighter of the Year and current high-ranking pound-for-pound entrant. Many outlets already have him as the number one-ranked bantamweight in the world, though the position could be challenged by the winner of the recently announced August 14 unification clash between Donaire and Casimero.
Inoue already owns a win over Donaire, outpointing the four-division champ to unify the IBF/WBA titles in their Nov. 2019 war that was hailed by the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) as the 2019 Fight of the Year. Casimero entered the bantamweight title picture just three weeks later, scoring a knockout win over Zolani Tete to become a three-division and current WBO bantamweight titlist.
Donaire entered his third bantamweight title reign and seventh overall spanning four divisions following a stunning fourth-round knockout of previously unbeaten WBC bantamweight titlist Nordine Oubaali on May 29 in Carson, California.
The rescheduled mandatory title fight between Oubaali and Donaire was part of a Showtime-announced schedule that included Casimero in a showdown with secondary WBA titlist Guillermo Rigondeaux. Those plans were changed once Donaire regained a bantamweight title, and with both already expressing an interest in facing Inoue later this year. Such a bout would crown the first-ever undisputed bantamweight champion in the three- or four-belt era.
Inoue is all the way on board with such plans, even if it means not getting in another fight in between.
“I can wait out that fight,” insists Inoue, whose last appearance prior to Saturday came in a seventh-round knockout of Australia’s Jason Moloney last October in Las Vegas. “I don’t have a problem waiting until they fight and then face the winner.
“At bantamweight, those two are the only fighters who come to mind.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox