WBA “Regular” bantamweight title holder Jamie McDonnell (29-2-1, 13KOs) of Doncaster, England faces a huge test on Friday as he travels to Japan to take on one of the new generation of boxing mega-stars. Waiting across the ring at Ota-City General Gymnasium in Tokyo will be home favourite Naoya “Monster” Inoue (15-0-0, 13KOs).
Already a two weight world champion, 25-year-old Inoue is launching his campaign in the 118lb division having previously laid waste to all who came before him at 108 and 115lbs. For many, Inoue is poised to terrorise the lower weight classes for years to come with his authoritative jab, educated footwork and vicious body punching. Has McDonnell travelled to Japan to be a lamb to the slaughter?
The 32-year-old Englishman is certainly an underdog but him and his team have left nothing to chance in approaching this test. Gym and strength and conditioning work at home took up the early part of his training regime before the camp moved on to Dubai for two weeks of intensive preparation immediately before departing for Japan. McDonnell spoke to his local newspaper The Doncaster Free Press: “Dubai has been brilliant. Training in the heat has been really good for me. We’ve come out here and the full focus has been getting in the best possible shape for this fight. It started back home with the work in the gym and with the strength and conditioning work at the university but it’s all come together here and I’m feeling in the best possible shape of my career.”
Another plus for McDonnell going into this contest is having trainer Dave Coldwell in his corner. Coldwell has a clever tactical mind and his fighters are always well prepared. The most recent example of this is Tony Bellew’s victory over David Haye. While that contest revealed Haye to be on his last legs, Bellew couldn’t afford to be reckless early. Coldwell’s plan worked as Haye effectively punched himself out early before being caught in Bellew’s traps from round three on. I suspect that Coldwell will have armed McDonnell with some similarly smart information on how to get the better of Inoue.
While that is easier said than done, McDonnell has some factors which may be in his favour. Experience is definitely going to be important – McDonnell has had double the pro fights than his opponent and is used to boxing in the bantamweight division – Friday’s fight will be his seventh defence of his current title.
He is also significantly bigger than Inoue (5’10 to 5’5) and has a larger reach (72 inches to 66). If Coldwell’s gameplan is to utilise these physical advantages and keep the fight at range against the newcomer to 118lbs then we may see an intriguing contest.
In order to do this McDonnell will need to work at an incredible level – luckily for fans of Jamie his engine is one of his best assets. He is one of these fighters who seems to get stronger the longer a contest goes on. As Inoue will no doubt be looking to work his way in McDonnell may have some opportunities to counter with some more heavy handed shots while using his jab to keep the fight on his terms distance wise. As well as great fitness, this will require flawless concentration as one mental mistake could open the door for Inoue, and that could end the fight.
Naoya Inoue, despite only having 15 professional bouts under his belt is already a fixture on most pound-for-pound lists. Debuting in 2012 “Monster” captured the WBC 108lb title in his sixth outing. One defence of this belt followed before Inoue quickly jumped to the 115lb division and won the WBO title – wrecking experienced Omar Narvaez in just two rounds. All of this happened in 2014. Since then he defended his super-flyweight title seven times, stopping all but one of his opponents and now he is aiming to do something similar at bantamweight.
Inoue’s signature is his body punching ability. He has serious power from both wings and can launch fast attacks from just about any position. Having seen and heard his body shots sinking in from fairly close up (vs. Nieves (see video above) in California last September) I can safely say that it is not advisable for any opponent to get involved in a shoot-out with Inoue.
Having mentioned McDonnell’s height advantage earlier in this piece, it must be countered by saying his long body could prove to be a disadvantage against Inoue. If he is in range his body will look like a massive target to the Japanese star – Inoue will not need a second invitation to launch his bombs to the torso.
This is how I see the fight being decided. McDonnell will give a great effort but will be undone in round nine as the effects of Inoue’s body punching slow him down sufficiently for another body shot to end the contest. Whether or not you recognise the WBA “Regular” belt as a world title the fact will be that Inoue will have hit the ground running in his third weight class.
And what a time to be joining the party at bantamweight. The World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) recently announced that one of the weight classes for their 2018/19 edition is 118lbs. WBA “Super” champion Ryan Burnett, IBF boss Manny Rodriguez and WBO king Zolani Tete have already signed up for the tournament. The winner of McDonnell-Inoue is heavily rumoured to be the next man gaining entry into this elite field. If, as expected, Inoue is that man then we will quickly get to find out how good he really is. It is a mouth watering prospect and adds another angle of intrigue to tomorrow’s fight.
Thankfully the fight has been picked up around the world and should bring in a large audience, despite the unusual start time for many of us who will be watching. Sky Sports will broadcast to the UK (1pm local time) and users of the ESPN+ app in America can watch via that outlet (7am ET).
McDonnell vs. Inoue means that the boxing weekend will kickoff earlier than usual for most of us. The Englishman deserves a tonne of credit for accepting Inoue’s challenge and will give a solid account of himself. Ultimately though it will be “Monster” who prevails. Inoue’s star will continue to ascend in the land of the rising sun, and across the planet, on Friday as he picks up a belt, gains entry to the WBSS and puts the entire bantamweight division on notice.