By Joe Koizumi
Photos: Naoki Fukuda
Unbeaten Japanese prodigy Naoya Inoue (19-0, 16 KOs), 118, defeated five-time champ Nonito “Filipino Flash” Donaire (40-6, 26 KOs), 117.5, by a unanimous decision over twelve hard-fought rounds, and won the WBSS bantamweight final and unified the WBA/IBF belts before a full-packed crowd of 22,000 on Thursday at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
“Monster” Inoue had Donaire on the deck with a vicious body shot midway in the eleventh, but failed to finish the affair due to Nonito’s determination and durability. Truly it was a good fight.
Octavio Rodriguez (Panama) and Luigi Boscarelli (Italy) saw the see-saw bout 117-109 and 116-111 respectively in favor of Naoto, while Robert Hoyle (US) saw it much closer 114-113 for him. The referee was Ernest Sharif (US).
The good loser Donaire, ten years his senior at 36, said just after the hard battle, “Naoya has proved he is a true champion. No one had withstood my punishment like Naoya.”
The ultimate victor of the WBSS tourney Inoue jubilantly said, “I couldn’t finish him as I predicted as he was so durable and tough. It is a great experience for me that I could fight such strong opposition. He was sometimes very effective with his invisible punches from dead angles. I suffered a cut for the first time in my career and occasionally had a tough time coping with the aggressive Donaire. As our corner believed I had accumulated points in the middle of the bout, I paced myself for some rounds from the seventh in order to fight strong and win the last three rounds. It paid off well.”
In the opening session, Naoya took the leadoff as planned, showing his superior hand speed to the veteran soldier with quick jabs, sharp left hooks and fast footwork. Nonito, however, connected with a trademark left hook and opened a gash under the right eyebrow in round two. The third saw Filipino Flash coming forward with left hooks, which Monster averted with his shifty mobility and kept jabbing while moving and retreating.
It was Inoue that threw more jabs to the Filipino willing mixer who threw roundhouse left hooks but often missed the target as Naoya kept moving side to side in round four. The Monster, in the fifth, turned loose with solid overhand rights followed by crisp left hooks that almost toppled the veteran champ. Donaire attempted to retaliate with inaccurate big punches, while Inoue landed a good shot at a time without punching in combination.
Though steadily piling up points in the first half, it wasn’t an easy fight for Naoya at all since he was still streaming blood from the right optic and the right nostril.
His father and chief second Shingo Inoue (who has coached Naoya since he was six) gave an instruction then and there, saying, “Take care of your pace. Pace yourself for some rounds, and then go to show a last surge big.” It means that his corner then intended to win certainly rather than dare to knock him out by taking a risk.” It might be a good shift of strategy since Donaire was a still dangerous counterpuncher.
Nonito, whose left optic looked puffed with his absorption of Naoya’s accurate shots, became aggressive to sweep three sessions from the seventh, as he tried to turn the tide with his strong aggression. The Filipino Flash connected with left-right combinations followed by left hooks to have Monster bewildered in round eight. Donaire, in the ninth, displayed his best as he occasionally caught Inoue with solid overhand rights to have him almost lose his balance. Inoue desperately grabbed Donaire to temporarily avert his aggression and survive a crisis. Inoue then showed that he was clever enough to cope with the situation of the fight and he could take punch even by receiving the Filipino Flash’s best shots.
Boxing is interesting. After winning three rounds in succession, Donaire, visibly slowing down after his desperate aggression, had to absorb Inoue’s last surge.
Naoya remarkably turned aggressive in the tenth, when he effectively connected with double or three overhand rights to the temple the five-time champ that he had respected since he was a young amateur boxer. The eleventh saw Inoue land a trademark body shot to the belly of Donaire, who was staggering like a sleep-walker and then knelt down due to pain.
The referee seemingly made a couple of mistakes at this situation. When Donaire, after taking the lethal body punch from Inoue, was retreating, showing his body side to Inoue, the third man inexplicably stopped the aggressor Naoya to score another body shot to bring home the bacon.
Why? Probably he might intend to prevent Naoya from hitting from the back, but if so, he should have called a knockdown and have started counting even if Donaire was still sleep-walking. The ref seemed to waste some seconds before he began counting. Also, it was also his fault to have allowed such a damaged Donaire to go on when he very barely raised himself because he wasn’t ready to resume fighting. What the ref should have done was to count him out then and there. Naoya missed a knockout victory in his record.
Naoya made his best effort to finish the damaged veteran in the last two sessions, but he was smart enough not to be so wild that he might take a come-from-behind big shot from the Filipino Flash.
Hideyuki Ohashi, the promoter/manager of the Monster as well as former WBC/WBA world 105-pound champ, reviewed the great fight. “Naoya has proved he has a strong chin, stamina, and heart. It might be good that he went the distance in such a hard-fight with such a strong veteran as Donaire.”
Naoya also said after his victory, “I wish to avenge my brother Takuma’s loss to Nordine Oubaali by fighting him in a unification bout.”
Tod Duboef, Top Rank president in attendance, made a post-fight press conference with Naoya beside him. He announced that Top Rank would execute a multi-year promotional agreement with Inoue and he would campaign in the US from next year on. Naoya is ambitiously willing to follow Manny Pacquiao’s footstep. Good luck.