By Cliff Rold
There is a standard way to work one’s way up the ranks in boxing.
First, there are the fights to get the feet wet. Next comes the toppling of old veterans who might teach a trick or two before they fall down. A smart manager then looks for someone durable, someone who can flirt with victory and make their man the better in the long run.
Then contention and title chases ensue.
Sometimes, guys cut in line. Vasyl Lomachenko did it in 2014, falling just short of a title in his (depending on what one counts) second pro fight, winning one in his next, and defending before the year was out. That sort of push takes a special talent.
That talent has to have a special self-belief and big balls to make the effort at the brass ring before they’ve taken their time as an apprentice.
Japan’s Inoue is showing that kind of moxie. In April, in only his fifth pro fight, he challenged veteran Adrian Hernandez for the WBC title at 108 lbs. Inoue impressed, going through Hernandez for a knockout win. Hernandez, at the time, was regarded by some as the top of the class; Donnie Nietes was the most common alternate choice.
There is less argument at 115 lbs. Carlos Cuadras is moving up but the consensus remains with the former Argentine Olympian. Narvaez, even at 39, is a cagey, skilled, tough out. He is no easy mark for the younger man. If Inoue can pull of the win (and he has home court to do it), that would be one hell of a statement.
There are worse ways to spend a Tuesday. US fans with TyC on their cable systems can tune in for the card at 7 AM EST.
Let’s go to the report card.
Title: WBO Jr. Bantamweight (2010-Present, 11 Defenses)
Previous Titles: WBO Flyweight (2002-10, 16 Defenses)
Weight: 114.5 lbs.
Hails from: Trelew, Chubut, Argentina
Record: 43-1-2, 23 KO
Rankings: #1 (TBRB, BoxingScene, ESPN, Ring, BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 28-1-1, 12 KO
Current/Former World Champions Faced: 5 (Adonis Rivas UD12; Luis Lazarte DQ10; Brahim Asloum UD12; Carlos Tamara UD12; Nonito Donaire L12)
Title: WBC Light Flyweight (2014-Present, 1 Defense)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 115 lbs.
Hails from: Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan
Record: 7-0, 6 KO
Rankings: All at 108 lbs. - #1 (TBRB, BoxRec), #2 (BoxingScene, ESPN), #3 (Ring)
Record in Major Title Fights: 2-0, 2 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 1 (Adrian Hernandez TKO6)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Narvaez B+; Inoue B+
Pre-Fight: Power – Narvaez B; Inoue B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Narvaez A; Inoue B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Narvaez B+; Inoue A
Jumping two full weight classes, Inoue looked like he fills out well to the weight but what affect will the pounds have? He’s shown power so far, but will it have the same mustard we’ve seen so far at 108? Narvaez isn’t a big Jr. Bantamweight. He wasn’t a big Flyweight. He’s always had good whiskers. He didn’t fire back much, but he lasted the route with Nonito Donaire at Bantamweight. He won’t be as awed by Inoue, not even on the road.
Narvaez’s defense is what makes this so interesting. He’s unlikely to stop Inoue, but he can frustrate him with angles and unpredictable head movement. Once Narvaez makes guys miss, he’s there with awkward counters and quick attacks.
He hasn’t always faced the best guys, especially at 115 lbs. Narvaez gets underrated for that. In the US, his non-effort against Donaire also is a factor. His body of work says he’s been very good for a very long time. Inoue will have to be as special as his team seems to think he is to pull this off so early in his career.
Inoue is taking a big bite at the apple. Narvaez hasn't always tested himself the way one would like but he's passed his share of tough exams. Cagey and defensively skilled, he could frustrate Inoue in spots. Still, the feeling is Inoue is picking an aging titlist who is small for 115. It's a tough, but calculated, risk. Inoue's risk will pay off with a decision win but there may be some debate on the visiting side.
Report Card Picks 2014: 59-28
Inoue’s year to date, and challenge of Narvaez, is why Fighter of the Year voting isn’t done yet here at BoxingScene. An undercard performer is why Fight isn’t in yet either…whenever former Flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi (20-4, 10 KO) is fighting, a war can break out. This is no different. He and Pedro Guevara (23-1-1, 15 KO) are locked in for a vacant belt at 108 lbs. Yaegashi is attempting to win a title in his third weight class, dropping a division his last fight. Guevara is younger, hungry, and has less wear. Yaegashi is only months from being stopped for the first time in a physical affair with Roman Gonzalez. The pick is Guevara, the taller man with longer arms, to outwork Yaegashi in what could become a wild affair.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]