It's official. After weeks of speculation, it has now been confirmed that Naoya “Monster” Inoue and Nonito “The Filipino Flash” Donaire will rematch their 2019 fight of the year contender. Three years ago, on that famous Thursday in Saitama, Japan, Inoue won a unanimous decision in a competitive and thrilling fight. The bout was the final of the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) bantamweight tournament and also served as a unification fight – Inoue adding Donaire's WBA strap to his IBF and Ring Magazine crown.
Prior to the contest, Inoue was on an eight-fight stoppage streak, and the expectation was he would keep that run going by getting rid of Donaire inside the distance. As it turned out, Donaire put up a stubborn resistance while having a few memorable moments of his own as the fight ebbed and flowed. Inoue had to overcome a fractured orbital bone and a cut above his right eye. It was unclear who would prevail until the Monster scored an eleventh-round knockdown via a trademark body shot. Despite the defeat, Donaire's reputation was enhanced; the veteran had given boxing's newest superstar the toughest night of his professional career, and whispers of a rematch between the pair have been circulating ever since.
Now to the present. The overnight news was the world's two best bantamweights will collide again in just over eight weeks time. Just as it did in November 2019, the Saitama Super Arena will host the event. June 7th is the date for your diary. Amazon Prime announced they will screen the fight in Japan – broadcast details for the rest of the world have still to be announced.
While we look forward to a tasty rematch, it is worth examining how both boxers have fared since that brilliant encounter 28-months ago.
Almost as soon as Naoya Inoue had lifted the Muhammad Ali Trophy to signal his WBSS win, American promotional company Top Rank announced they had agreed to a multi-year deal to co-promote Inoue with Ohashi Promotions. The idea was to have Inoue fight semi-regularly in America, with all Inoue bouts to be screened by Top Rank's US broadcast partner ESPN. It looked as if this would catapult Naoya from Japanese fame to global stardom. So far, this has yet to happen.
Inoue's recovery from the injuries inflicted by Donaire coincided with the global pandemic, which shut many sports down throughout 2020. Boxing was not immune to this, but events were taking place towards the end of that year, albeit in empty or sparsely populated venues. It was October 2020 by the time Inoue arrived in Las Vegas to headline his first Top Rank show. The Bubble at MGM Grand, so named as it was set up inside the Grand Ballroom as a Covid safe venue, hosted with only essential fight camp members and event staff being permitted inside. Inoue defended his belts against Jason Moloney of Australia via seventh-round stoppage.
The Monster was back in Las Vegas in June of 2021 – crushing Michael Dasmarinas in three pain-filled rounds as he tattooed the challenger with a relentless body attack.
Despite this impressive showing, the American project seems to be on hold for Inoue at the moment. Inoue boxed once more last year – beating Aran Dipaen of Thailand in Tokyo in December. The Dipaen bout seemed more of a stay busy affair, and it did not attract much global attention. Indeed, despite the promotional ties to Top Rank, ESPN did not screen the fight in America.
Nonito Donaire has only gloved up twice since the Saitama showdown. The pandemic prevented the Filipino Flash from boxing in 2020, but he got back to title-winning ways in the 118lb division in May 2021. Undefeated Frenchman Nordine Oubaali brought his WBC title to California and had it ruthlessly taken from him as Donaire demolished him inside four rounds at the mythical War Grounds in Carson. It showed that despite his advancing years and a lengthy layoff, Donaire was still very much world-class.
Nonito returned to the War Grounds in December and ended the hopes of undefeated challenger Reymart Gaballo. Like Inoue had done to his June opponent, Donaire ended Gaballo with a brutal body shot – it was a left hook of epic proportions.
Now we circle back and get to watch the two outstanding operators face off once again. Just like the last time, this will also be a unification bout. Inoue's Ring Magazine belt and two alphabet titles on the line, along with Donaire's portion of the 118lb merchandise. Just like last time, it should be another thriller.
While both men could have been more active since they boxed one another, there was always a feeling they were staying within striking distance of each other. The first fight was so good it would have been a crime had a second installment not taken place.
The rematch is on, and while the boxers prepare, hardening their bodies and minds for what is to come, we, the fans, get to wonder how things will unfold in June. Will Donaire, at nearly 40-years-old, be able to find a way to better his showing from two-plus years ago? Will Inoue take what he learned that night and make Donaire wish he hadn't returned for a second helping?
We will find out in a few short weeks. For now, we wait with anticipation. What a fight to look forward to.