The result may already be water under the bridge, but the bridge of Naoya Inoue’s nose is arguably still hurting to this day.
Japanese puncher Inoue incurred a broken nose, a fractured right orbital bone and a hideous cut on his right eye after going through 12 hellish rounds opposite Nonito ‘The Filipino Flash’ Donaire Jr. in their recent unification battle for the WBA-IBF bantamweight (118 lbs.) titles. For the record, Inoue won via a unanimous decision, but he definitely got more than what he bargained for against Donaire.
Donaire, 36, was given only two chances going in: slim and none. When Inoue staggered Donaire in the closing seconds of round 5, he seemed on his way to another devastating knockout victory. Then again, Donaire was far from being a willing accomplice. The former four-division regular champ had no plans to just roll over and receive the ten-count; he came roaring back and almost toppled Inoue in the 9th round.
Inoue actually tempered his gung-ho approach early in the fight, exhibiting prudence and employing some movement. Donaire was just as patient, but his counter right hands exposed Inoue’s defensive lapses. Inoue offered a devastating left hook to the body, but whenever he lowered his left arm to attack downstairs Donaire nailed him with some nifty counter right hands. Donaire’s legs were no longer that agile, but his nifty head movement and step back maneuvers repeatedly frustrated Inoue’s hostile advances.
In the 9th round, Inoue was forced to feverishly hold on as Donaire hurt him with a series of right hands. Donaire was holding his own and even appeared to surge ahead as he took the 10th round. Sensing the fight was slipping away from him, Inoue launched a ferocious attack in the 11th round and floored Donaire with a debilitating left to the body. Donaire seemed done for the night, but he somehow mustered the strength to get back on his feet and finish the fight.
Inoue (19-0, 16 knockouts) won in the scorecards of all three judges, but his aura of invincibility took a hit. Shortly after the contest, Top Rank Promotions announced that it had signed the Japanese superstar to a multi-fight deal that will kick off in 2020. Top Rank head honchos hinted at a March 2020 United States appearance, but Inoue’s return may be delayed as he needs additional time to heal from the injuries he sustained.
Inoue, 26, is reportedly interested in fighting WBC bantamweight champ Nordine Quabaali in a unification bout. Frenchman Quabaali, 17-0 with 12 knockouts, defeated Inoue’s brother Takuma and Inoue clearly has revenge on his mind.
Yet another possible opponent for Inoue is WBO bantamweight king Zolani Tete, who is booked to meet Filipino John Riel Casimero on November 30. South African Tete (28-3, 21 knockouts) was supposed to face Donaire in April in the semifinals of the World Boxing Super series bantamweight tourney but withdrew after sustaining a shoulder injury. The southpaw Tete is a clever boxer-counterpuncher who owns a dominant right jab and a diverse offense. A 5’9” and with a 72-inch reach, Tete easily dwarfs Inoue.
A second serving of Inoue-Donaire is still on the table. The first meeting was a Fight of the Year candidate and many are hankering for an encore. Donaire, who turns 37 on Saturday, is fighting on borrowed time and is all too willing to jump back into the cauldron again with Inoue.
Truth be told, Donaire (40-6, 26 knockouts) has nothing more to prove, having won regular titles in the flyweight, bantamweight, junior featherweight and featherweight divisions. Donaire’s showing against Inoue was far from being a ‘Flash is back’ performance. It was more of a “Flashback,” with Donaire showing occasional brilliance.
Donaire has actually lost 2 of his last 4 fights, but he resuscitated his career by going the distance with Inoue.
Donaire will be an even bigger underdog should he meet Inoue again. In fact, every fight at this stage in Donaire’s career is a potential swan song, but he will continue to belt it out fully convinced that he still has what it takes to carve out a winning composition.