Can they do it again?
While the result was little in doubt when the final bell sounded in 2019, what happened over the course of twelve rounds left an impression. Naoya Inoue may have won as many as nine rounds against Nonito Donaire to unify a pair of titles and win the World Boxing Super Series. Those nine didn’t come easy. Inoue battled through a broken nose and orbital bone, scoring a knockdown late and proving his grit and chin were as potent as the offense that had dazzled since nearly his debut.
It was the Fight of the Year, a classic crossroads affair between youth and experience. The rematch still has those ingredients (ESPN+, 5:30 AM EST).
Both men are undefeated since the first contest. Among three wins, Inoue posted an impressive knockout of Jason Moloney. Donaire won yet another belt in a decorated career with a sizzling knockout of Nordine Oubaali. They will meet again, to unify further, as clearly the two best bantamweights in the world.
Donaire, enjoying his second stay in the class, is 7-1 at the weight over his career. Inoue is the only man to defeat Donaire at 118 lbs. Inoue is 7-0 in the class. Donaire is the only man to last the distance.
Can Donaire avenge defeat? Can Inoue finish the sequel?
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Title: Ring Magazine/IBF Bantamweight (2019-Present, 4 Defenses); WBA Bantamweight (2019-Present, 3 Defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 118 lbs.
Hails from: Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan
Record: 22-0, 19 KO
Press Rankings: #1 (TBRB, ESPN, BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 15-0, 13 KO (17-0, 15 KO including sub-title fights)
Last Five Opponents: 122-10-1 (.921)
Notable Outcomes, TBRB and/or Ring Rated Foes: Ryoichi Taguchi UD10; Adrian Hernandez TKO6; Omar Narvaez KO2; Kohei Kono TKO6; Jamie McDonnell TKO1; Juan Carlos Payano KO1; Emanuel Rodriguez KO2; Nonito Donaire UD12; Jason Moloney KO7
Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: None
Titles: WBC Bantamweight (2021-Present, 1 Defense)
Previous Titles: IBF Flyweight (2007-09, 3 Defenses); WBC/WBO Bantamweight (2011-12, 1 Defense); WBO Super Bantamweight (2012-13, 3 Defenses; 2015-16, 1 Defense); IBF Super Bantamweight (2012); Lineal World Jr. Featherweight (2012-13, 1 Defense), WBA Featherweight (2014); WBA “Super” bantamweight (2018-19, 1 Defense)
Height: 5’7 ½
Weight: 117 ¾ lbs.
Hails from: San Leandro, California (Born in Philippines)
Record: 42-6, 28 KO, 1 KOBY
Press Rankings: #1 (Ring), #2 (TBRB, ESPN, BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 17-4, 12 KO, 1 KOBY (19-5, 13 KO, 1 KOBY including interim title fights)
Last Five Opponents: 96-1-3 (.975)
Notable Outcomes, TBRB and/or Ring Rated Foes: Vic Darchinyan TKO5, TKO9; Moruti Mthalane TKO6; Raul Martinez TKO4; Wladimir Sidorenko KO4; Fernando Montiel TKO2; Omar Narvaez UD12; Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. SD12; Jeffrey Mathebula UD12; Toshiaki Nishioka TKO9; Guillermo Rigondeaux L12; Simpiwe Vetyeka Tech. Dec. 5; Nicholas Walters TKO by 6; Jessie Magdaleno L12; Carl Frampton L12; Ryan Burnett RTD4; Naoya Inoue L12; Nordine Oubaali KO4
Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: Hernan Marquez TKO8; Jorge Arce KO3
The Pick: Donaire appears to be fighting with more ease in his last two fights than was often the case in his prime. It’s the wisdom of experience and a seeming enjoyment of his task, and those ingredients might make Donaire more dangerous in the rematch than he was in the original. Donaire knows he can hurt Inoue. Particularly in the early rounds, Inoue will have to be alert and careful.
Inoue knows he can hurt Donaire too. He could have stopped him in the eleventh round last time with slightly different officiating and Inoue will recall that the body shots were the ticket. Against an older fighter, body work is rarely an unwise investment.
Inoue has many of the same advantages he did the first time. He’s still younger, still quicker, and his feet can still aid in navigating the minefield of avoiding the Donaire left. While Donaire rebounded from the Inoue loss with two excellent outings, he hasn’t been hit back by someone like Inoue since. The reverse is also true but for a fighter now 39, the punishment can multiply faster.
The thinking here is Inoue will be more defensively responsible, more tactical early, and more aggressive to the body. Donaire will give Inoue plenty to think about and has a real chance at the upset but the smarter pick is the younger man. Inoue finishes what he started this time, probably in the second half of the fight. It won’t be boring.
Rold Picks 2022: 26-6
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com