Move over whoever you are. New WBA bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue is an unbeaten “Monster” and one of the top five pound-for-pound best fighters on the planet. Right now. And here’s a secret… He’s about to get scary.
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There were two certain rules to watching a Mike Tyson fight. Forget about the bathroom or putting popcorn in the microwave before the fight, for you just might miss someone getting KTFO. Committing both cardinal sins prior to Naoya Inoue Vs. Jamie McDonnell in Japan after pirating your way to a broadcast? Check. Figuring McDonnell was a really big bantam with a good corner who hadn’t been stopped in 33 fights was a mistake… there won’t be any feel out rounds with Inoue. Ever.
Stating in his pre-fight warm-ups that he felt “very strong… like I was punching differently”, it didn’t take long for 118 lbs of newly programmed destruction to transform into Godzilla in Japan. In a way, Inoue (pronounced “in a way”) looked very much like his alias “Monster”, but we haven’t really seen him spit fire or go radioactive yet. What’s crazy is we now have a 25 year-old, three-weight world champion and I’m able to say that about him.
Here’s what we know. Naoya Inoue was a 75-6 amateur causing problems from Iran (of all places) to Indonesia to Khazahkstan. He knocked out damn near fifty foes along the way, suggesting a KO artist who was never to be confused with a con. He doesn’t know how to not attack anyone.
As our own Colin Morrison dropped in “Monstered”, Inoue will now be confronted with the likes Ryan Burnett and Zolani Tete in the World Boxing Super Series (which is a godsend to boxing), after basically going “Meh…” at the prospect of keeping the WBC super flyweight belt to challenge Srisket Sor Rungvisai or Juan Francisco Estrada. He’d belt both of them and he knew it. He would’ve beaten the hell out of Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez in 2017. Not last November– but last March. There would’ve been no need for a rematch. And now, he’s a year better than he was then.
RING better start rethinking where he belongs pound-for-pound, because he looks to be behind only Lomachenko, Crawford, Spence and Garcia (Mikey). That’s it. His frame looks like it will carry him all the way up to super featherweight, and what he does at bantam will let us know.
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As of now – and perhaps even for all time, Manny Pacquiao is the greatest fighter from the Asian peninsula ever. What Manny accomplished in divisional prowess while adding dimensions of craft may never be duplicated, but Naoya has a unique chance to carve his own niche. If Bruce Lee could box and went bipolar at the sound of the bell, well, you’re looking at him.
I’m not one of these guys that believes in sacred cows or generational untouchables. I watched Kobe Bryant take Michael Jordan to another level. Inoue (16-0, 14KOs) is already a superior flyweight/super flyweight to Pacquiao, and whatever he does with Zolani Tete in front of him is likely to draw comparisons with Pacquiao’s diabolical dismissal of Lehlo Ledwaba.
What a videogame “Pac-Man” Vs “Monster” would be at 118, for they were roughly the same age when Pac competed there. For those thinking its too soon to put Naoya in the same breath with Manny– let’s talk around this time next year. In breaking down the Japanese star’s mechanics and intangibles, he’d slay a refined Jedi in Burnett and chop down a Sith Lord with double blades in Tete.
The speed and technical precision that an elite lower weight class fighter has to navigate is unlike what heavier fighters face. It’s more difficult; and for the rare greats, the game slows down as they get stronger, which can seperate an assassin like the “Monster” from other elites. This is a superstar.