Installed as a 10-1 favorite to upend Nonito Donaire, it’s clear that the oddsmakers are confident in Naoya Inoue’s talent at the elite level.
Yet, it’s possible that the unbeaten three-division titlist from Japan still doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
“He’s just that great,” Juan Carlos Payano (21-3, 9KOs), the former bantamweight titlist told BoxingScene.com of his old conqueror.
Inoue (18-0, 16KOs) and Fil-Am superstar Donaire collide in the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) bantamweight finale this Thursday in Saitama, Japan (DAZN-USA 5:00am ET/Sky Sports 12:05pm GMT/Fuji TV 7:57pm JST), though the finalists have taken vastly different paths in arriving at that destination.
Donaire (40-5, 26KOs)—a four-division titlist who turns 37 later this month—emerged as an unlikely two-time bantamweight titlist following a 4th round stoppage of previously unbeaten Ryan Burnett, who suffered a back injury and was unable to continue. His path to the final round was cleared the moment fellow titlist Zolani Tete suffered a shoulder injury and was forced to withdraw from their April semifinal clash. Donaire settled for late replacement Anthony Young, whom he defeated via spectacular 6th round knockout.
Inoue’s road to the final round was far more destructive. A 2nd round knockout of previously undefeated titlist Emmanuel Rodriguez in May was preceded by his tournament-opening highlight-reel 70-second wipeout of Payano, a two-time Olympian from the Dominican Republic and former bantamweight titlist who has never been dominated in that fashion. Even in a recent stoppage loss to unbeaten Luis Nery this past July, Payano was holding his own until getting drilled late in the fight.
Prior to the WBSS tournament, the Dominican southpaw—who relocated to Miami, Florida in 2010—suffered just one defeat as a pro, a narrow points loss to Rau’Shee Warren in their June 2016 rematch, 10 months after defending his title in an equally close win in Aug. 2015. Warren is among the slew of world class athletes to have shared the ring with Payano through 470 combined fights over the course of his boxing life,
None, he insists, are as good as Inoue.
“I have fought the best in the world in the pros and amateurs,” notes Payano, who went 425-21 as an amateur. “He is by far on a different level altogether.
“No one is going to beat him.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox