In an anticlimactic clash of champions coming 31 months after their 2019 Fight of the Year, WBA/IBF bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue scored a spectacular second-round TKO against Nonito Donaire on Tuesday night (June 7) in Saitama, Japan.
Showcasing his power, precision and perfect ring performance, the man nicknamed “Monster” captured Donaire’s WBC bantamweight crown in dominant fashion to become unified champion in the 118-pound division.
England’s Paul Butler (36-2, 15 KOs) currently holds the WBO title.
Entering the bout as the world’s No. 2 pound-for-pound boxer (after Terence Crawford), the three-division champion dropped Donaire with a solid right-hand shot in the final seconds of the opening round.
Inoue continued his assault in Round 2 and wobbled the future Hall of Famer with a crisp left hook, and then trapped Donaire in the corner. After landing a sharp jab followed by a right cross, Inoue unleased a wicked left hook that dropped a dazed Donaire a second time.
Despite beating the count, Donaire was clearly unable to continue and the referee called the fight off at 1:24 of the second round.
Inoue said, “In the very first round, I received a left hook from Nonito, and that punch made me wake up and stay focused. To be able to reach my status up at the top, I need to win this fight so I just decided…to finish this fight at this moment.”
In making his ring entrance, Inoue’s body language reflected a steely resolve and intense focus, whereas Donaire looked a bit pensive and cautious.
Unlike their epic slugfest in the World Boxing Super Series finals in November 2019 that went the distance, Inoue was determined his end the rematch quickly. In the first fight, Inoue suffered a fractured orbital bone and a broken nose early on, but finished strong to earn a hard-fought unanimous decision (114-113, 116-111 and 117-109).
Following that monumental battle, Donaire, 39, became the oldest bantamweight champion in boxing history and a three-time champion by scoring a fourth-round knockout against Nordine Oubaali in May 2021. “The Filipino Flash” then retained the title in December 2021 via a fourth-round KO of Reymart Gaballo.
Meanwhile, Inoue, 29, successfully defended his WBA and IBF titles by stopping Jason Moloney (via 7th round KO) in October 2020, Michael Dasmarinas (via 3rd round KO) in June 2021 and Aran Dipaen (via 8th round TKO) in December 2021.
Inoue’s dynamic and dominant performance tonight may earn him top status as the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter. It may also signal the end of a legendary career.
Donaire (42-7, 28 KOs) will turn 40 in November and has nothing left to prove in the ring after making 22 title appearances. He may join Manny Pacquiao in retirement as two of the greatest Filipino champions of all time.
For Inoue (23-0, 20 KOs), the obvious next step is securing undisputed status by challenging for Butler’s WBO belt.
Inoue declared, “My goal is to be the undisputed champion. If I can do that within the year of 2022, I would love to stay in this division.” He added, “If I can’t, I’m capable of raising my division [stepping up to super bantamweight].”
If and when Inoue decides to step up to 122 pounds, he could face Stephen Fulton (21-0, 8 KOs) or Murodjon Akhmadaliev (10-0, 7 KOs)—the two unified champions who may meet later this year to determine an undisputed super bantamweight champion.
In the four-belt era, no fighter has ever become undisputed champion in two weight divisions. Inoue has a shot to make history by beating Butler and then besting the winner of an anticipated Fulton vs. Akhmadaliev matchup.
After conquering the junior flyweight, flyweight and bantamweight divisions, Inoue could follow a natural progression to super bantamweight and face stiffer competition. But given his size (5’5”), 122 pounds may be his limit.
In easily dispatching Donaire, the only fighter to truly test him, Inoue is now primed to face elite fighters toward achieving even greater worldwide acclaim. Having competed in only three fights in the U.S. via a co-promotional deal with Top Rank, Inoue is expected to continue showcasing his superior skill set and crushing power on a global scale.
In view of his success to date and the peerless performance tonight, this fearsome young Japanese champion is a generational talent that could evolve into one of the greatest fighters ever seen in boxing history.