It takes a lot for the humble yet confident Naoya Inoue to break character.
The level of trash talk that has come from fellow three-division and reigning bantamweight titlist John Riel Casimero has yet to do the trick. Instead, Inoue focuses on the stuff that matters which for this week means the next defense of his unified WBA/IBF bantamweight titles.
“Right now, I’m just focused on this fight, living in the moment,” Inoue told BoxingScene.com ahead of his mandatory title defense versus IBF number one ranked challenger Michael Dasmarinas. “I’ve heard what he’s had to say and choose to not pay attention to that kind of talk.”
Japan’s Inoue (20-0, 17KOs) and Philippines’ Casimero (30-4, 21KOs) were due to collide last April 25 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, only for the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic to shut down the event and the boxing schedule as a whole. The sport resumed later that June, though largely without fans in attendance for most of the rest of the year.
The top two rated bantamweights ultimately went their separate ways. Casimero defended his WBO title in a rousing third round knockout of Duke Micah last September, dragging Inoue’s name through the mud long before and well after the win in hopes of drumming up enough interest to revisit such a fight.
Inoue has fought just once since the pandemic, scoring a one-sided seventh round stoppage of top-rated contender Jason Moloney (21-2, 18KOs) last Halloween at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. The unbeaten pound-for-pound entrant—who has also held titles at junior flyweight and junior bantamweight—fights for the second straight time in Sin City, honoring his mandatory versus Dasmarinas (30-2-1, 20KOS) atop an ESPN telecast from The Theater at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas.
Less than two months later, Casimero enters a dangerous showdown versus two-time Olympic Gold medalist and former lineal junior featherweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux. Their bout takes place August 14 on Showtime, with hopes that wins by both will allow their respective teams to pick up where they left off prior to the pandemic and provide the sport with a bout to determine bantamweight supremacy.
Such a fight remains a short-term goal of Inoue. Also is his sights is a potential rematch versus four-division and newly crowned WBC bantamweight champ Nonito Donaire (41-6, 27KOs), who scored a fourth-round knockout of unbeaten Nordine Oubaali on May 29 to win the belt.
Inoue pushed through a fractured orbital bone to drop and eventually outpoint Donaire in their November 2019 unification bout, claiming top honors in the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament in the process. The two were cordial throughout the promotion and in the immediate aftermath, remaining respectful of one another to this day.
It’s a far different dynamic in the growing rivalry between Inoue and Casimero, though the harsh words will continue to only come from one direction. On the other side, receipts are being saved for when they are able to reschedule their long-awaited championship showdown.
“When the time comes to fight him, I will use it as motivation,” notes Inoue. “I will remind him in the ring of everything he had to say about me.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox