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Naoya Inoue: Superstar

John Gatling

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Saturday, May 18, 4:24pm

It’s official. Naoya Inoue is now a Top 5 pound-for-pound fighter and RAPIDLY closing in on #1.

Within seconds after watching new IBF bantamweight champion and Japanese rising sun Naoya Inoue (18-0, 16KOs) dethrone Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-1, 12KOs) via chilling 2nd round massacre to reach the WBSS finals, where he’ll face Filipino star Nonito Donaire, I posted the above on my Facebook account and it wasn’t a reaction.

It was a response; one that felt like a responsibility. The current RING Top 5 pound-for-pound fighters in the world reads like this: 

#1. Vasiliy Lomachenko

#2. Terence Crawford

#3. Canelo Alvarez

#4. Oleksander Usyk

#5. Errol Spence Jr

I personally think Spence is no less than #2 and would see Crawford at #4. Inoue absolutely has to be #5. If you think Nicholas “Axeman” Walters chopped up Donaire a few years ago, all he has waiting for him is a 26 year-old version of Godzilla who goes by the name of “Monster”.

Every generation has a legend. Before this particular fight with Rodriguez, I thought Inoue fit the description but would use this fight as a litmus test. Rodriguez, also age 26, a solid champion never close to being knocked down or shook in his sterling career, scouted like a more irascible Puerto Rican countryman Felix Verdejo at 118 lbs, and I knew he’d bring the fight directly to Inoue with no fear. After an incredible training camp deemed “flawless” by his handlers, Rodriguez entered the ring as a super featherweight and came out on fire. Inoue is a small bantamweight and a big super flyweight. Understand that.

A straight right with maximum power struck Inoue in the opening seconds and got his attention. Behind a high guard and apex desire, Rodriguez was determined to force his unbeaten size and nature on Inoue and won the round. Even gave the impression he may have caused doubt. This is when something like “future icon” and another dimension appeared. 

We have a special feature entitled “Who Won The Weekend” here at NYF, and I started to call editor-in-chief Michael Woods to not even bother. This guy won the future. Inoue did something very rare these days– and only something Loma, Spence, Canelo or Crawford would have done in that 2nd round; he threw caution to the wind, believed in his defense, threw punches with Rodriguez and trusted his power, and proceeded to drop the champion with a right hand more impressive than the one WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder used to befall Dominic Breazeale. It was in the skill applied. 

With killer instinct I’ve not seen since Aaron Pryor, Inoue assaulted and finished Rodriguez with the type of body shot that had everyone screaming Bud Crawford is #1 after what he did to Julius Indongu. This was far worse and infinitely more impressive. A lower weight class fighter has to show so much more technical proficiency and detail to excel. Inoue is an orthodox Manny Pacquiao from 2009 at 118; only his balance is better and he’s decidedly sharper and far nastier. In possession of an aura reminiscent of a dark hero, Madison Avenue is next. This is not a great fighter, Naoya Inoue is a special fighter.

Senior correspondent for NY Fights and author of upcoming book, "The Fist Club." Conscious indie recording artist "T@z" and humanist advocate for the Green Party.

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