It wasn’t the one-sided beatdown by Naoya Inoue that many had predicted, but boxing fans and pundits got something better: a modern bantamweight classic between Inoue and Nonito Donaire.
In the main event of the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight finals, Inoue faced arguably the toughest test of his career against Donaire, emerging victorious by unanimous decision to unify the WBA and IBF titles. Inoue got the win with scores of 116-111, 117-109 and 114-113.
To start, Inoue managed to score some clean left hooks on Donaire, but the veteran did not succumb to Inoue’s early offense like so many other fighters have in the past. Donaire scored his own big punch in the second round when he cornered Inoue and connected on a left hook that opened up a cut above Inoue’s right eye.
The cut didn’t deter Inoue for most of the next five rounds as the two fighters traded punches left and right. The eighth round saw the momentum swing entirely in Donaire’s favor when he landed a series of punches that opened up the cut above Inoue’s right eye even more, causing blood to scatter all over his face. Donaire then staggered Naoya Inoue with a big left hand in the ninth round, but Inoue smartly used his head movement to avoid any further trouble.
What followed for the last three rounds was Inoue not only taking control of the fight, but also scoring his first knockdown of the fight. At the end of the 10th round, Inoue landed a pair of right hands to Donaire’s chin and later dropped him in the 11th round with a huge left hook to the body. The crowd at the Saitama Super Arena was on its feet by the end of the fight, praising the 12-round battle both pugilists went through.
Inoue dropped Donaire with this body shot in Round 1️⃣1️⃣, but Donaire picked himself up.— DAZN USA (@DAZN_USA) November 7, 2019
The heart of a WARRIOR for the Filipino Flash pic.twitter.com/U9lolqvAO6
More than anything, the fight ended up being a passing of the torch of sorts in more ways than one. Donaire, who has held world titles in various weight classes throughout his Hall of Fame career, and Inoue shared a special moment after the fight when Inoue went to his opponent’s corner and exchanged some positive words in a moment of sportsmanship. In addition, the Muhammad Ali Trophy was handed to Inoue by Japanese legend Masahiko “Fighting Harada,” often recognized by many as one of, if not the greatest Japanese boxer in history.
The fight concluded Inoue's incredible run through the World Boxing Super Series field. Before facing Donaire, Donaire had only fought for less than six minutes by scoring quick knockouts over Juan Carlos Payano and Emmanuel Rodriguez in the tournament quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively.
As for Inoue’s own future, he’ll likely be heading stateside as he has reportedly signed a multi-fight deal with Top Rank Boxing and is expected to fight in the United States in 2020.