by Cliff Rold
Hardcore boxing fans have been waking up early in the morning to watch Naoya Inoue for a few years now.
The former Jr. flyweight and Jr. bantamweight titlist is the sort of dynamic offensive fighter who stands out no matter the size. For some of his fights, like his title winning effort against Omar Narvaez in 2014, some American fans could tune in on TyC, an Argentine cable channel available on some cable packages. There weren’t a lot of television option and many were stuck waiting to see his fights after the results were already in on YouTube. Last year, Inoue debuted in the US on an HBO card airing in the evening. No problem there, but what to do when the man nicknamed “The Monster” returned to fighting in his native Japan?
This Friday, a whole new avenue opens up.
Boxing fans on the fence about adding another cost option to their budget are going to quickly find the ESPN+ app hard to resist. At 7:15 AM EST on Friday, the app will air Inoue versus Jamie McDonnell. While the title they are fighting for is the WBA’s secondary divisional belt, there are real stakes at play. Inoue is expected, if he wins, to enter the 118 lb. version of the World Boxing Super Series.
That is a field that already includes three titlists in the class: Ryan Burnett (WBA “Super”), Zolani Tete (WBO), and Emmanuel Rodriguez (IBF). Burnett and Rodriguez are undefeated; Tete hasn’t lost since 2012. The looming tournament is as mouth watering in terms of potential as the cruiserweight WBSS field has proved to be.
The last time Jamie McDonnell faced a champion from Japan on the verge of stardom, he beat Tomoki Kameda twice. Can he upset the apple cart one more time and maybe force his own way into the WBSS field?
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Title: WBA bantamweight (sub-title; 2014-present, 6 defenses)
Previous Titles: IBF bantamweight (2013, stripped)
Height: 5’9 ½
Hails from: Doncaster, Yorkshire, United Kingdom
Record: 29-2-1, 13 KO
Press Rankings: #2 (Ring, ESPN), #5 (TBRB, Boxing Monthly) #7 (BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 6-0, 3 KO, 1 ND (all WBA sub-title fights)
Last Five Opponents: 151-19-5 (.877)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Lee Haskins L8; Stuart Hall UD12; Julio Ceja MD12; Tomoki Kameda UD12, UD12; Liborio Solis UD12, ND3
Previous Titles: WBC light flyweight (2014, 1 defense); WBO super flyweight (2014-18, 7 defenses)
Hails from: Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan
Record: 15-0, 13 KO
Press Rankings: At 115 - #1 (Ring), #2 (ESPN); At 118 - #1 (BoxRec), #4 (Boxing Monthly)
Record in Major Title Fights: 10-0, 9 KO
Last Five Opponents: 144-24-4 (.849)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Ryoichi Taguchi UD12; Adrian Hernandez TKO6; Omar Narvaez KO2; Kohei Kono TKO6
The Case for McDonnell: McDonnell is taller, wider, and has a considerable advantage in reach. He also has a tested chin and is used to fighting full-bodied bantamweights and Jr. featherweights. McDonnell employs good lateral movement and has a steady, educated jab. Fighting on the road, he will want to assert his physical advantages early to make sure the judges are watching both sides of the ring from early on. That doesn’t mean he can be careless. Inoue is very likely to carry his power, to the head and body, up the scale with him. McDonnell might not be as physically strong even as the naturally larger man. The UK stalwart, as he showed in fights like Solis and Kameda, doesn’t mind standing and fighting. If he stays in the trenches too long with Inoue, he might regret it.
The Case for Inoue: Probably just hitting his full physical prime, Inoue is a scary combination of speed and punching power; the sort of fighter whose punches just sound different when they land. Getting in to position to land might be a struggle early. McDonnell is probably the best fighter he’s faced since Narvaez on paper and his jab and durability will be issues. Inoue is going to have to get past the jab and, if the chin isn’t there waiting, he’ll have to invest to the body. Inoue does that well; his body shots are precise and fast, reminiscent of the great Roy Jones ability to whip in shots to the flanks at just the right spot with an unsettling explosiveness. Inoue also has an excellent jab that he turns over with power into a left hook. Inoue, when he has a man on the run, sometimes can find himself chasing rather than trapping opponents. Cutting off the ring against a seasoned foe like McDonnell could be a must if the longer man settles into the contest.
The Pick: McDonnell deserves credit, no matter if this was the best financial deal, for going on the road here. He’s not been shy about traveling, coming to the US to defeat Kameda in both their fights. It might not get rewarded but McDonnell is a game guy. He’s better than the foes Inoue has been up against the last few years, and McDonnell is battle tested against arguably better opponents than Inoue has been facing as well. If he handles Inoue’s early power well, McDonnell could make this a long night. It’s hard to see him making it a winning one. Inoue is faster, has more power, and he’s arriving at what is probably going to be his defining weight as a professional. McDonnell is good. So far, Inoue looks like more than that. Inoue is the pick on a late stoppage in a fight worth adding a little more to the monthly boxing budget to see.
Rold Picks 2018: 17-9
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]