By Jake Donovan
Naoya Inoue enters the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight finals in similar fashion to how he advanced to the semifinals—in swift and violent fashion.
The unbeaten wunderkind from Japan is now a triple-division champion after a 2nd round knockout over previously unbeaten Emmanuel Rodriguez in their semifinals clash Saturday evening at SSE Hydro in Glasgow, Scotland.
Rodriguez managed to extend Inoue into uncharted territory, stretching the unbeaten pound-for-pound entrant into the second round for the first time in three fights as a bantamweight. He made it to that point by slickly avoiding Inoue’s left hooks and most lethal power shots in the opening round.
That strategy was never going to last long, nor was attempting to trade punches.
Inoue put Rodriguez down on the canvas for the first time in the Puerto Rican’s career barely 30 seconds into round two. Rodriguez wisely stayed down for most of the mandatory eight count, but already bore the look of a finished fighter.
Two more knockdowns would make it official.
A right hand shot sent Rodriguez down mere seconds later, his nose bloodied and seemingly done for the night. He bravely arose, only for Inoue to finish what he started.
“I came out looking to perform aggressively,” insisted Inoue (18-0, 16KOs) of the performance which made him a legitimate three-division titlist. “I always felt like I could knock him out and that’s what I fought for.”
He would get that wish, with combinations to the body and up top doubling over Rodriguez in collapsing to the canvas for the third time on the night. The soon-to-be-exiting champ once again attempted to beat the count, this time with the referee wisely halting the bout.
Rodriguez (19-1, 12KOs) claimed the title last May in a 12-round whitewash of former beltholder Paul Butler on the road in England. His lone successful defense came in the WBSS quarterfinals round, barely outlasting previously unbeaten Jason Moloney to prevail by split decision in their 12-round thriller last October in Orlando, Florida.
The win came just two weeks after Inoue kicked off WBSS season two, needing just 70 seconds to obliterate former bantamweight titlist Juan Carlos Payano last October in Japan.
Inoue now advances to the finals. Awaiting him is four-division champ and reigning two-time bantamweight titlist Nonito Donaire, who was seated ringside.
“He came in here and did what he needed to do,” Donaire stated in joining Inoue in the ring. “This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. We both felt it was our destiny and this is what boxing is all about—the best fighting the best.”
Inoue may very well be the best of anyone in the sport today. He entered the fight having enjoyed title runs at junior flyweight and super flyweight before moving up to the 118-pound division last May. His debut in a third weight division was also brief, destroying England’s Jamie McDonnell in one round to claim a secondary title at the weight.
Saturday’s win now gives him a full title in a third weight class, and a strong argument for boxing’s pound-for-pound best. At the very least, he remains a strong favorite to win the WBSS tournament although he expects the forthcoming unification bout to be a bit more difficult than his previous three bout at this weight.
“Nonito Donaire is a terrific fighter,” Inoue acknowledged of the future Hall of Famer. “He can box well, he can punch well. I am confident I will beat him, although I’m not quite sure of my strategy just yet.”
The bout streamed live on DAZN USA and aired live on Sky Sports in the United Kingdom. Headlining the show, local favorite Josh Taylor (14-0, 12KOs) challenges for his first major title. The unbeaten contender—whom represented Great Britain in the 2012 London Olympics—squares off versus unbeaten 140-pound titlist Ivan Baranchyk (19-0, 12KOs).
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox