By Nick Skok
Undefeated, top-ten pound for pound ranked fighter, Naoya Inoue will soon be moving up to bantamweight. I reported last month that a domestic affair with WBA “regular” champion Jamie McDonnell of England was in the works (and later confirmed) for May 25th, in what may be the toughest test to date for Inoue.
The way he approaches the new weight class hasn’t changed his overall preparation, according to his regular sparring partner Genesis Servania.
“No change in his style,” says Genesis through his manager Loren Goodman. Inoue and Genesis have been in the gym in Yokohama putting in the rounds.
While there is often the question of whether or not a boxer can carry his power to the next level when rising in weight, that apparently isn’t the case for Inoue.
“Inoue has improved power,” Genesis said.
Genesis knows a thing or two about power having been in a slugfest last September that saw him drop but lose an exciting fight with featherweight champion Oscar Valdez. His authority on the subject may now even supersede Shingo Inoue, Naoya’s father and trainer. Last year Naoya broke his father’s wrist while he was working the pads that Shingo was holding. Since then Shingo no longer holds those pads.
Inoue was always a big super flyweight. He maintained the weight longer than initially planned in hopes of securing a major unification fight with then undefeated Roman Gonzalez, who is promoted by Teiken Gym in Tokyo. The fight was planned for the initial Super Fly card but was unhinged after a shocking loss by Gonzalez at the hands of Sor Rungvisai. That result set up a rematch between those two while Inoue was left to find another dance partner.
With HBO now backing Inoue after the success of their initial Super Fly card, expectations were high that a major opponent could be lined up for the WBO champion. Talks had been on-again, off-again with IBF super flyweight champ Jerwin Anacajas. Ancajas and his team decided to go in another direction and sign with Top Rank who is not affiliated with HBO and had no intent on making an Inoue matchup on ESPN.
That left Kal Yafai, the WBA champ as the last option for an immediate big fight at the 115lb limit. Yafai and his promoter Eddie Hearn had been vocal last year about wanting to make a unification fight for Yafai. A deal didn’t seem out of reach for the powers that be as Hearn already has one his fighter’s exclusively aligned with HBO. However, Hearn preferred Yafai face Gonzalez, the older fighter, coming off of two consecutive brutal losses, compared to the fresher, younger, Inoue. You won’t hear it from them, just as you won’t hear them mention boxing’s new boogey man by name, but a duck hasn’t been so obvious as to Hearn pricing Yafai out of the Inoue fight they never wanted, on a stage as big as it’s ever been for the super fly class.
Instead, Yafai has been inactive since October and still has no return set. His calls for a unification and American debut are ringing again this year just as they were last, and he still prefers to face a fading Gonzalez. A Boxing Scene article published days ago quoted him as saying: “I am still desperate for it.” He continued: “I want that unification fight, I need that big name opponent now,” Yafai said. “I want to make my name in America.”
While it’s too little, too late for Yafai and his hollow calls reminiscent of Amir Khan’s pleas for a Mayweather showdown, Inoue has his eyes set on a third division title and bigger fighters who he hopes may underestimate his size and strength. If Genesis’s word is any indicator then Inoue’s KO streak will have a chance of continuing at bantamweight.
The boogeyman, “the Monster”, Naoya Inoue, will be the favorite May 25th to win but it won’t be because he is necessarily more powerful than McDonnell (though their KO ratios are vastly different). McDonnnell had been set to move up in weight and it will be interesting to see how much he has to work to get back to 118 while Inoue slides into the class with almost a sense of relief – no longer fighting to cut pounds for fighters who won’t get in the ring with him.
Nick Skok writes for NoSparring.com