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Is It Time For The Monster? Will Inoue Be A Breakout Star in 2018?

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Naoya Inoue, The Monster, spent his first thirteen fights far away from the prying eyes of American fans. While it may have looked like Inoue’s coming-out party was held in the Stub Hub Center, mashing a competent-plus Antonio Nieves into a thin paste, his path to American prominence began much earlier.

At just 24 years old, and born just three days before your present author – a fact which elicits both shame and admiration – Inoue has done so much already. He compiled an amateur record of 75-6 by age 19, and in his sixth pro fight, just four days before his 21st birthday, won the WBC junior flyweight title over Omar Narváez. He defended that title just once, and before the year was out he won the WBO super flyweight title.

He injured his hand in that fight, forcing him to take a year off. That didn’t stop the aptly named Monster from knocking Narváez out in the second round. When he returned, he began a string of now six consecutive defenses. He has only been the distance twice, once in his third pro fight, and once again in his second defense of the WBO superfly strap when he again hurt his hand against David Carmona, where he still won a canyon wide decision.

Despite not having the extensive amateur backgrounds of fighters like Vasyl Lomachenko and Guillermo Rigondeaux, both of who were challenging for world titles very early in their pro careers, Inoue has made a point of taking the most difficult fights he can find. He is, as you can imagine, deeply feared and avoided. This hasn’t stopped him from positioning himself as not just a titleholder, but a potential breakout star in 2018.

Inoue is fun to watch. To my eye, he is one of the top ten pound for pound fighters in the sport. His footwork is near flawless and still improving, as he’s begun showing a southpaw stance when the mood strikes him, perhaps simply to ward off the boredom that comes with always being better than his opponents. He constantly cuts the ring and he constantly hits you hard. His jab is precise and meaningful, freezing his opponents in place. Once they are frozen, Inoue subjects them to spirit-breaking body shots and slicing straights that always seem to find the target. Any liver shot he lands will end a fight. Inoue’s power invites comparisons to the biggest hitters in the sport, and his stalking, methodical style has me comparing him to current Ring pound-for-pound number one Gennady Golovkin. While he is fast, he doesn’t let go long strings of combinations. He prefers to throw controlled, three to four punch combos that are devastatingly accurate.

In July of 2012, Inoue told Nikkan Sports that he did not want to simply win a title and defend it against bums. He said he wanted the best in the sport, even signing an agreement with the Ohashi Boxing Gym demanding he never fight meager opposition. This sort of ambition, while probably made public to increase his value, is rare in boxing. Few fighters want to not only win titles, but prove their superiority by fighting and beating the best there is. Bad Left Hook and ESPN are saying that Inoue is likely moving onto bantamweight in 2018, which means he would probably be out for Superfly 2, and wouldn’t fight the winner of Srisaket Sor Rungvisai vs Juan Francisco Estrada. It does mean that he would be taking on what is likely an even bigger challenge.

Zolani Tete, last seen delivering the fastest knockout in championship boxing history (near as I can tell anyway), awaits Inoue. Tete stopped Siboniso Gonya in eleven seconds to retain his WBO title, which wasn’t all that surprising given Tete’s pedigree and Gonya’s inexperience at a championship level. The South African is a downright massive bantamweight, standing at 5’9” with a reach of 72 inches. After Tete defends his belt February 10th against the aforementioned Omar Narváez, we can guess that Inoue will want to win a belt in his third weight class.

Inoue, who stands 5’5”, would certainly be up against it fighting a guy with a physical frame designed to carry at least another 20 pounds, but this is the path Inoue has always walked. He started out fighting at 108, and has simply moved up as he’s matured, seeking new challenges along the way. It wasn’t so long ago that Guillermo Rigondeaux, a petite man even for super bantamweight, was fighting Hisashi Amagasa, a nearly 5’11” 122 pounder. Rigondeaux beat him to the point that some ringside observers were genuinely worried about Amagasa’s long term health.

It’s still too early to say if Inoue could gut out the bantamweight division, but I’d bet on him being able to do it. On top of the power, Inoue is fast – even for a super flyweight. In a fight with Tete, he’d definitely have the speed advantage, and despite the disparity in size I’d lay down a large sum betting on his power. After all, you don’t become a two-division world champion by being limited. After Inoue dispatches of relative unknown Yoan Boyeaux, we’ll soon find out what the future holds for the young and rising star.

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About Thomas Peter John Penney

Thomas Penney is a freelance writer. He writes about boxing for NY Fights, and whoever else will have him. Send tips to tpjp28@mun.ca.

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