By Nick Skok
For Naoya Inoue, his career to this point has been contradicting. On one hand he has fought every fight but one within his native Japan, which is quite common for the majority of his pugilist countrymen. He’s also been a loyalist to his championship patron, the WBO, beating down mandatories one after another, defending his WBO super flyweight title seven times. This is also common as Japanese champions generally make their bones fighting whoever resides within their organization’s ranking system.
Japanese boxers naturally take this course because fans in the Far East, while appreciating some domestic rivalries, are more likely to count the number of successful defenses by a champion, like Japanese record holder Yoko Gushiken (13), as opposed to name brand matchups that are sought in Las Vegas.
It’s also one of the many factors why you’ll rarely see a unification fight in Japan although the mood seems to be subtly shifting after Ryoichi Taguichi unified the IBF and WBA light flyweight titles this past New Years Eve. I count eight Japanese champions, not including Inoue who just vacated his WBO belt to move up to the bantamweight division, but including Ryota Murata with his WBA “regular” title at middleweight, so its not as if there’s a lack of options for such matches.
The contradiction for Inoue resides of course in the other hand, as he finds himself in an extremely unique position, not only for a Japanese fighter but also as a champion in boxing, being ranked #7 pound-for-pound by Ring Magazine with room and time to ascend higher. The name brand recognition is rising for Inoue in Japan and abroad.
With that another title has been bestowed upon him as the latest boxing “boogeyman”. Its all too fitting that his actual nickname is “The Monster”, though that was originally conceived to describe his monster knockout power, with thirteen such victories over fifteen contests. Unfortunately, with numbers like those and a growing reputation, the boxer and his promoter have a difficult time acquiring quality opponents, even when champion. This delays potential star exposure and keeping the folklore of the boogeyman a consistent conversational topic at best.
The same struggle was seen with massive fan favorite Gennady Golovkin who had to fight the likes of Marco Rubio for an interim title to force the hand of more recognizable opponent and champion at the time. That matchup or the one with Daniel Geale, a so-called name recognized contender, are always stepping stone requirements annoyingly put in place to further prove that the newfound status of a knockout artist gaining steam isn’t just a fluke, though it also delays more coveted fights down the line.
Eventually the bough always breaks and fighters show up with the price to prove the boogeyman is a myth always rising. For Gennady Golovkin it was perhaps Englishman Martin Murray, who had only lost once beforehand and at the hands of certified champion Sergio Martinez. That performance truly gave him the signature win he needed after defeating journeymen Curtis Stevens and Matthew Macklin. For Inoue, it will be Jamie McDonnell of England, and whose taller physique and respected resume gives the fighter some confidence before heading to enemy territory in Tokyo. As with the former, the latter instance will see fans with one eye on the fight and another ahead to what could be next.
With that thought in mind, Ohashi-san, the gym president and promoter of Naoya Inoue, informed me in Yokohama “We aren’t looking beyond McDonnell.” I had been watching The Monster spar at Ohahsi Gym with a 5’9 Chinese boxer named Can Xu to prepare for the 5’10 McDonnell. The roster of sparring partners has gained buzz in the neighborhood as opponents have had more intrigue within the boxing community than Inoue’s recent opponents. Retired Japanese standout and former super featherweight champion Takashi Uchiyama, undefeated featherweight Raza Hamza (who was rumored to be knocked down by a left shot to the body), and Top Rank thumper Genesis Servania are among the few that have tasted the new bantamweight power I was told he now possesses.
Its almost hard to fathom Inoue having more power than he did after he broke his father Shingo’s wrist while he was working the mitts with him. Those kind of reports added to the legend and gave WBA super flyweight champ Kal Yafai and IBF champ Jerwin Ancajas pause before they both ultimately decided not to fight him. Who would agree to fight Inoue if he dispatches McDonnell like the odds favor him to? Ohashi-san then told me of his recent contact with the World Boxing Super Series.
Champion’s Zolani Tete and Ryan Burnett, along with the Emmanuel Rodriguez – Paul Butler winner for the vacant IBF title have been rumored to be among the contestants of a bantamweight edition of the WBSS, with Juan Carlos Payano, and even Guillermo Rigondeaux in the negotiation mix as well. All of these options would ensure that the exposure Inoue and his clan covets will be in reach as they try to catapult Japanese boxing to a level it has really never seen.
For boxing, the showcase of a young, exciting, pound-for-pound fighter in a single elimination style tournament made for crowning undisputed champions with unifications and monetary glory is the kind of captivating development that can continue the recent stretch of good health the sport has seen as it tries to fight its own internal demons…or boogeymen, which are better kept as children stories not boxing legend.
Contact the author @NoSparring