Naoya Inoue knew as early as the second round of their fight that he probably wouldn’t be able to knock out Nonito Donaire.
That’s when Inoue realized that he had suffered a serious injury, which a doctor determined was a fractured orbital bone around his right eye. He had to protect the right side of his face, which made Inoue change his strategy.
“Just thinking back to the injury, it’s bringing back shivers,” Inoue told BoxingScene.com through a translator. “I had to basically adjust my fight plan from knocking him out to winning a decision.”
Inoue also suffered a cut above his right eye in the second round, which worsened throughout their 12-round, 118-pound title fight last November 7 at Saitama Arena in Saitama, Japan. It was the broken orbital bone, though, that caused the IBF/WBA bantamweight champion tremendous pain during the final of the World Boxing Super Series’ 118-pound tournament.
“It was like shockwaves coming through where it was broken,” said Inoue, who’ll battle Jason Moloney on Saturday night. “After that injury, I was seeing double vision. I saw two Donaires in the ring until the 12th round [ended].”
Inoue (19-0, 16 KOs) fended off the hard-hitting Donaire (40-6, 26 KOs) in what amounted to the most difficult fight of his eight-year pro career. He won a unanimous decision, but Donaire drilled Inoue with a right hand in the ninth round that Inoue acknowledged affected him (https://www.boxingscene.com/inoue-images-my-family-son-got-me-through-trouble-9th-round-with-donaire--152805).
Inoue later dropped Donaire with a left hook to the body during the 11th round. That knockdown accounted for the difference on judge Robert Hoyle’s scorecard (114-113), though judges Octavio Rodriguez (117-109) and Luigi Boscarelli (116-111) scored nine and eight rounds, respectively, for Inoue.
The 27-year-old Inoue needed approximately three months to recover from his fractured eye socket, but Inoue’s injury didn’t require surgery.
The three-division champion initially was supposed to box WBO champ John Riel Casimero (30-4, 21 KOs) in a title unification fight April 25 at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
Once that card was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Inoue and the Philippines’ Casimero went in different directions. Casimero stopped Ghana’s Duke Micah (24-1, 19 KOs) in the third round September 26 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
Inoue will square off against Australia’s Moloney (21-1, 18 KOs) in the main event of a seven-fight card ESPN+ will stream from MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas (7:30 p.m. ET; 4:30 p.m. PT).
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.