May 24, 2019
The battle for the bantamweight (118 lbs.) division’s ‘Iron Throne’ has been narrowed down to two proud gladiators: ‘The Monster’ and ‘The Flash.’
In a few months from now, the bantamweight tournament of the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) will crown arguably the best 118-pound boxer in the world. After all the pounding and grinding, Naoya ‘The Monster’ Inoue and Nonito ‘The Filipino Flash’ Donaire Jr. have emerged as the finalists and will duke it out for the WBSS’ coveted Muhammad Ali Trophy and the prize money that comes with it.
At stake will be Inoue’s WBA (regular) and IBF bantamweight crowns and Donaire’s WBA ‘super’ diadem. Inoue barged into the finals by bamboozling in two rounds IBF titlist Emmanuel Rodriguez of Puerto Rico. Donaire earned his ticket to the last dance by knocking out last-minute substitute Stephon Young in six rounds.
Donaire, 40-5, with 26 knockouts, actually enjoyed a safer route to the finals. In the quarterfinals, he stopped Ryan Burnett in four rounds, or after the Irishman gave up due to an injured back. In the semifinals, Donaire was supposed to take on WBO champion Zolani Tete, but a bum shoulder forced the South African to withdraw from the tournament. The relatively inexperienced Young took over and Donaire predictably blasted him into smithereens.
Inoue, 18-0, 16 knockouts, barely broke a sweat in going 2-0 in the tournament. In his opening bout, the Japanese power puncher needed just 70 seconds to stop Juan Carlos Payano. Inoue then breezed through the finals with the aforementioned demolition of Rodriguez.
The stage is now set for the unification showdown between Inoue and Donaire. Inoue has been installed as the smart money bet owing to his aggressive style and immense punching power.
Yokohama native Inoue enjoyed a stellar amateur career, winning the gold medal in the President’s Cup in Jakarta and finishing second in the 2012 Asian Boxing Olympic Qualification Tournament. After amassing a record of 75-6 (48 knockouts) as an amateur, Inoue turned pro in October 2012 and has since won world titles in the light flyweight (108 lbs.), junior bantamweight (115 lbs.) and bantamweight divisions.
Inoue recently moved up to No.4 in The Ring magazine’s pound-for-pound list, trailing only Vasyl Lomachenko, Terence Crawford and Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.
Inoue, 26, may be the top pick to top the WBSS tournament, but truth be told he has not met anyone with the experience and skill-set of Donaire. Going into the WBSS bantam fest, Donaire was nothing more than a wild card pick, having lost two of his last three fights. But returning to the bantamweight division which he ruled with impunity in 2011, Donaire, 36, has rediscovered his groove. He looked devastating against Young, flattening the cocky American with his trademark left hook.
Donaire has faced better opposition and it goes all the way up to the featherweight (126 lbs.) division. He is no stranger to taking on power punchers, having faced the likes of Vic Darchinyan and Nicholas Walters. Inoue’s penchant to barge in like an uninvited guest is actually tailor-made for Donaire’s step-back/counter approach. Case in point: Pressure fighters/punchers like Darchinyan, Jorge Arce and Fernando Montiel were all creamed by Donaire’s well-timed counterpunches.
Filipino AJ ‘Bazooka’ Banal, who fought for the bantamweight title in 2012, concurs with this writer’s opinion. “Sigurado ako dyan kay Donaire,” said Banal. “Kuhang kuha talaga ang style ng Japanese, bagay kay Donaire. Knockout sa tingin ko ito kasi klaro talaga sa style nung Japanese.”
Donaire and Inoue both parade lethal left hooks and work the body well. Donaire, however, enjoys considerable advantages in terms of height (5’7” to Inoue’s 5’4”) and reach. Donaire owns a piston-like jab which will come in handy in keeping Inoue at bay, and a clubbing counter right hand that can also inflict serious damage. Before getting bludgeoned in the second round, Rodriguez landed some nifty right hands in the first round of his fight with Inoue. Donaire disclosed after the fight that he did notice some flaws on Inoue’s defense. Then again, for all his perceived defensive lapses, Inoue’s punching power has simply overwhelmed foes.
Whichever way you put it, the WBSS’ bantamweight championship finale figures to be worth the wait. If Donaire pulls off the upset, we might just see a new nickname for him: Monster Slayer.
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