“The Monster” overwhelmed Nonito Donaire in their rematch Tuesday night.
Japanese superstar Naoya Inoue dropped Donaire once apiece in the first and second rounds and stopped the 39-year-old Donaire quickly in their highly anticipated bantamweight championship rematch. Referee Michael Griffin stopped their scheduled 12-round, 118-pound title unification fight at 1:24 of the second round, once a disoriented Donaire got up from that second knockdown in the main event at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
“[In] the very first round, I received the left hook from Nonito,” Inoue said during his post-fight interview, “and that punch made me wake up and I stayed focused for the [rest of the] fight. … To be able to reach my status up at the top, I needed to win this fight. So, I just decided to finish this fight at this moment.”
Inoue (23-0, 20 KOs) retained his IBF and WBA “super” bantamweight titles and won the WBC belt from Donaire (42-7, 28 KOs), a Las Vegas resident who was born in the Philippines. The 29-year-old Inoue – one of boxing’s best, pound-for-pound – needs only the WBO crown owned by England’s Paul Butler to become boxing’s first fully unified 118-pound champion of the four-belt era.
“My aim is to be the undisputed champion,” Inoue said. “If I can do that within the year of 2022, I would love to stay in this division. But if I can’t, I am capable of [moving up to 122 pounds] and fighting for a belt.”
The second bout between Inoue and Donaire didn’t at all resemble the memorable battle Inoue won on points 2½ years ago at Saitama Arena.
After flooring Donaire late in the first round, a left hook by Inoue wobbled Donaire 30 seconds into the second round. Donaire tried to fight out of that trouble, but another left by Inoue rocked Donaire about 55 seconds into the second round.
A left hook by Inoue then buckled Donaire’s legs with just over 1:50 to go in the second round. Another left hook dropped Donaire again with 1:38 to go in the second round.
Donaire got up, but Griffin stopped the bout because Donaire was badly hurt.
Inoue’s power affected Donaire several times in the first round as well.
He connected with a left hook 1:05 into the first round. Inoue then countered Donaire with a left hook as Donaire came forward with 1:20 to go in the opening round.
A right hand by Inoue landed to the side of Donaire’s head with a minute remaining in the first round.
They traded hard shots in the final minute of the first round, but it was Inoue’s right hand to the side of the head that dropped Donaire with just over 10 seconds to go in the first round.
That was the first sign that their rematch wouldn’t last nearly as long as their competitive 12-round bout in November 2019.
Their first fantastic clash was named “Fight of the Year” for 2019 by the Boxing Writers Association of America. Inoue suffered a fractured orbital bone around his right eye in that bout, but he won a 12-round unanimous decision in the final of the World Boxing Super Series’ bantamweight tournament at Saitama Super Arena.
A rejuvenated Donaire responded to his loss to Inoue by knocking out previously unbeaten WBC bantamweight champ Nordine Oubaali in the fourth round of his following fight in May 2021 at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. Donaire defended his WBC belt six months after that impressive victory by recording another fourth-round knockout of fellow Filipino Reymart Gaballo last December 11 at Dignity Health Sports Park.
Inoue produced three relatively easy knockouts between his wins against Donaire, who lost by knockout for just the second time in his 21-year, 49-fight professional career. Donaire’s only other knockout loss came against Jamaica’s Nicholas Walters, who stopped Donaire in the sixth round of their WBA featherweight title fight in October 2014.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.