Sometimes, in our wild and crazy world Louie Armstrong might struggle to still call wonderful, the uncommonly brave will find platitude in adventure and search for gold. Not necessarily that which can be adorned around the neck in admiration or glory, rather, the kind placed in front of another generation for a triumph unknown, and a bow in front of a crowd yet to take form.
Nonito Donaire (40-6, 26KOs) lost to Naoya Inoue (19-0, 16KOs) in the finale of the World Boxing Super Series in Saitama, Japan and took home the much coveted Muhammad Ali Trophy to honor divisional supremacy.
He did this, despite losing to the new unified IBF, WBA (Super) and Ring Magazine champion via narrow unanimous decision because of a “Monster” performance from the “Filipino Flash” and future Hall of Fame fighter. He did this, because of every single reason why boxing is called the “Sweet Science.”
“Lastly, to my family, my heart. I am a warrior on my shield. I came to Japan to take the Muhammad Ali Trophy. I promised my sons they would see it in the morning. And with tears in my eyes, I humbly asked Inoue to borrow it for a night. Not for me, but for my word.”
That tore me up, Kleenex style. It reminded me of a scene out of Troy, as King Priam makes his way into the lair of Achilles, who in total and complete humility in the face of his son's murderer, asked for the body, if only to place two coins on his eyes ‘for the birdman'. I still don't know who the birdman is, but I do know what that Muhammad Ali Trophy represents for the victors' spoils on the night of conquest.
Just ask Josh Taylor and a Regis Prograis who can't even fathom such a thing. Donaire, at a very ripe 36, doesn't make this request if his effort isn't Herculean. Inoue, new Top Rank superstar-in-the-making at just 26, doesn't so much as hesitate, for he knows he faced a dragon.
Anyone that got their way calling for a ban to boxing following the untimely demise of Patrick Day denies us Inoue Vs Donaire. Day's spirit undoubtedly shined down on this almost spiritual fortnight. On October 5, I sat at ringside next to former Ring Magazine and Boxing Illustrated Editor-in-Chief Randy Gordon (Gordon's latest NY column here) for Gennadiy Golovkin Vs Sergey Derevyanchenko, an excellent fight, and listened to “The Commish” rave about the prospects of Regis Prograis Vs Josh Taylor on October 26.
He thought that fight would be so good that it would rival Aaron Pryor Vs Alexis Arguello in historic greatness. And it did — it just didn't surpass it.
On September 28, I sat in a jam packed movie theater in Times Square to watch Errol Spence Jr and Shawn Porter risk their lives for the championship of each other during their epic encounter. This, on the heels of Manny Pacquiao and his 40-something summer madness over Keith “One-Time” Thurman, where a vintage “Pac-Man” found a way to remind us of the wunderkind that shocked Miguel Cotto.
Inoue Vs Donaire easily eclipses them all, in a grainy TV screen connected to a huge cable box that beams old Atari-like ESPN graphics in your living room. That it was so old-school under the futuristic neon lights of the outstanding WBSS made it all the more riveting; especially considering I'd already known Inoue (pronounced “in a way) had won and watched it on DAZN from my cellphone. I'd ran into Donaire in Las Vegas just prior to the start of Pacquiao Vs Thurman at MGM Grand in Las Vegas and greeted him with warm dread. It bothered me; more so because he could feel it and I didn't know how to hide it. The fact that I didn't break sleep or wake up early enough to see it live due to the extreme time difference (I had no idea when it started nor did I care, I just knew Donaire was going to get beaten up) tells the biased story: Donaire, who's SHOT, somehow, made it to the Finals and that's all he's done. He's DONE.
We don't really know humility without it. That almost starts with a first glimpse of the fighters themselves, as Donaire dribbles to the ring as a Filipino New York Knick, while Inoue dons the mask of a Japanese “Batman” to solidify a Gotham scene. The fight itself feels like its being fought in a brightly lit and flamboyant back alley not far from Manhattan's Financial District, with nearly all high rollers there to witness the battle having placed heavy underground wagers on Inoue. It just felt gothic and cult classic from the start, and by the end of the first round I know I'm wrong about Donaire and not-so-sure of Inoue. Not that the “Monster” didn't look like “Monster,” it's just that Donaire seemed to not only remember 2012, when he was arguably the world's best fighter, but he was acting as if Guillermo Rigondeaux, Nicholas Walters, Jessie Magdaleno or Carl Frampton never happened. His balance and focus stout, Donaire presented himself as the alpha in there; everything he threw had acid on it with a textbook flair of authority.
Inoue, for his part, was not the big super flyweight anymore; more or less dealing with a ruthless version of “Rudy” and a very big bantamweight in the “Filipino Flash”. Because supreme confidence in its prime was facing a fierce pride full of dignity, Inoue and Donaire gave us such a rare, darkly iridescent form of pugilism that it has to be 2019's Fight of The Year. They punched with each other, exchanged thunderous jabs, hooks, slipped and dodged shots and shifted strategies mid-round and round to round. It was a total 80's fight in a category all its own.
You know its historically great when it cannot be compared to another or shouldn't be.
Inoue, whose jab conjures “Bazooka” Ike Quartey, saw plenty of duress. He was bombed in round 2, rocked in round 9 and raised hell every minute of every second that he could. To see him cut and bleeding and raising his hands after the 10th was something out of “Rocky IV,” somehow. The 11th round was easily the best round of the year, as Donaire found a way to exceed a comparison to Wladimir Klitschko's gusty grit against Anthony Joshua in April 2017. Just a tremendously proud performance from both men.
In this world culture so divided, so full of selfish conflict and non-gratifying temptation with more want, surprisingly – but gladly, it's boxing and the World Boxing Super Series that came to the rescue.
Who says the future can't learn from the past or vice versa? As “The Greatest” once said, “Don't count the days, make the days count.” It's good to know Donaire's kids know they have a great father.
It's great to know Inoue is a great fighter.