Before Nonito Donaire and Naoya Inoue squared off on November 7 in Japan, very few boxing analysts and insiders gave the Filipino the chance to even survive 12 rounds.
Entering the bout, Naoya was carrying a fierce reputation for mowing down or steamrolling all of this opponents, en route to an 18-0 record with 16 knockouts. He won most if not all of the rounds in his 18 fights, and usually looked like he just came from a spa after a fight.
But one thing was very clear: he was still untested in the pro ranks, or had yet to face stiff opposition. Emmanuel Rodriquez from Puerto Rico could have been Inoue’s ultimate test, but he got blown away by the Japanese in just two rounds in the World Boxing Super Series semifinals for bantamweight (118 rounds). Rodriguez’s record was 19-0 with 12 KOs prior to fighting Inoue.
So, I held on to one belief — even at 36 years old and no longer in his peak, Donaire would be Inoue’s biggest test, with the Filipino having more than a puncher’s chance to win.
Prior to the fight, a poll by The Ring magazine showed only two of 25 boxing personalities choosing the Japanese to stop or dominate the Filipino. That made my heart bleed, as our compatriot was clearly discounted.
But I still expected Donaire to at least put up a good fight, even as the thought Inoue could stop our compatriot with one well-placed left hook was still there.
Donaire and Inoue managed to land their best shots against each other, with the Filipino opening a cut over the eyed of the Japanese in the second round with a left hook, and sending Inoue reeling with a straight right in the ninth round. In the 11th round, Inoue forced the Filipino on all fours from a liver shot, and managed to rain combos on Donaire in at least three occasions. As to how both fighters survived each other’s best shots — the left hooks and right crosses — still surprises me, since less resilient fighters would have easily crumpled or gave up.
The type of back-and-forth action of Donaire-Inoue is typical in a fight between two equally matched fighters, or two rising stars, two established champions, or those who are no longer in their peak. But one protagonist that night, Donaire, was already past his prime and given little chance to even survive 12 rounds against the Japanese, who is called “The Monster.”
But I think it is better to call Inoue “Godzilla” and Donaire would have easily been King Kong since he gave the Japanese his hardest fight, and literally made him spill blood to earn the victory.
I even heard over social media Inoue suffered a fractured orbital bone, which is no a joke.
If Donaire and Inoue were really King Kong and Godzilla in Saitama on fight night, half of Japan would have been surely devastated by the intensity of their battle.
Donaire turning out to be King Kong who almost beat Godzilla at Saitama was enough vindication for our compatriot, who obviously was regarded by many boxing analysts and personalities as another meal for the monster to devour on fight night.
After bout, however, the protagonists still showed they were also compassionate humans, with Inoue going to the Filipino’s corner after the fight to give him tribute, and the Japanese allowing Donaire to take home for a while the Muhammad Ali trophy. Apparently, Donaire promised to his two sons he would bring home the trophy.
Inoue would also call Donaire a “very, very strong opponent” and a “true champion.”
Donaire could still hold his head high even in his defeat to Inoue, as very few (including me) thought he could become King Kong on fight night. So, the Filipino could retire on the high note from Saitama, while the Japanese takes his Godzilla-like ways to a bigger boxing stage.
And the Japanese may be praying Donaire is the first and last King Kong he will ever face.