Naoya Inoue & Nonito Donaire: What’s Next For Both Men?



Naoya Inoue & Nonito Donaire: What’s Next For Both Men?
PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images

When it’s time to pass the torch, it can result in someone getting torched.

That’s what happened to future first-ballot Hall of Famer Nonito Donaire on Tuesday when Naoya Inoue, in perhaps the most impressive performance of his career, knocked out Nonito Donaire in two rounds to add a third 118-pound belt in their highly-anticipated rematch at Saitama Super Arena in Japan.

While their first fight was 2019’s unanimous choice for the fight of the year, it was no contest in this one. Inoue (23-0, 20 KOs) was in control from the opening bell, hurting the legendary Filipino with nearly every punch that connected, including a razor-sharp right hand in the closing seconds of the first that dropped Donaire to the canvas.

Inoue then followed up with a stiff left jab and back-to-back one-two combinations that backed Donaire toward the ropes before he unleashed a left hook that knocked him flat on his back, prompting Michael Griffin to wave off the fight at 1:24 of round two.

What’s next for Inoue?

Paul Butler (34-2, 15 KOs), the WBO bantamweight titleholder, is the only man standing between Inoue and undisputed history. The Englishman is a draw in his country, but not to the extent that Inoue is a star in Japan. Of course, it would be convenient for Inoue to fight in his home country again. The event would be a massive hit and generate a lot of money. But he has also fought in Scotland and the United States. Why not stage the fight in England?

Some say Inoue is helping fuel boxing’s modern renaissance. And by traveling to different countries and fighting their top combatants within his weight class and winning, he will do exactly like that. Furthermore, Inoue will be a global icon, not just a Japanese superstar.  Butler described Inoue’s recent destruction as “frightening.” But the 33-year-old isn’t running away from “The Monster.” Instead, he wants the freak to come to him.

“Yeah, 100 percent [I want to fight Inoue],” Butler. “Listen, the point of this sport is to become a world champion. When you achieve your goal, you set yourself another goal. Mine is to unify the division, become undisputed.

“That’s a very small minority of boxers that get to win a world title; not many even get to box for the undisputed. I’d be daft not to take that one, mate, absolutely daft. He’s arguably one or two, pound-for-pound great, and he’s absolutely huge in Japan, so why not?”

Butler (34-2, 15 KOs) defeated Jonas Sultan by unanimous decision to win the interim version of the WBO bantamweight title on April 22. He was subsequently elevated to full champion after his original opponent, John Riel Casimero, was stripped due to his use of a sauna, which is against the British Boxing Board of Control protocol. Butler understands, however, that Inoue is on a far different plateau than Sultan.

“He’s a complete fighter,” Butler said of his future adversary. “He’s one of the best I’ve seen in 20 or 30 years. But listen, you’ve got to test yourself against the best sometimes. I’ll look back on my career and say I won two world titles, and I got in there with Inoue; I challenged myself with the best. If I win, I win, or if I lose, I lose; I can walk away from the sport.”

What’s next for Donaire?

Retirement. And that’s not meant out of disrespect. Donaire turns 40 in November and has won world titles in four weight classes: flyweight, bantamweight, junior featherweight, and featherweight. He has nothing more to prove and is one of the greatest Pinoy fighters in history.

At the very least, Donaire (42-7, 28 KOs) is deserving of a farewell fight. After losing to Carl Frampton in 2018, the consensus in boxing was that his career was over. But Donaire shocked the world when he dropped back down to 118 pounds and went on another memorable run, winning two more world titles. His legacy is secured. But the future belongs to Naoya Inoue.