Boxing is on a roll. A strong May continues into early June, with good-looking matchups coming from Cardiff, Minneapolis, and Melbourne this weekend. After that feast, boxing fans have the added bonus of a Tuesday treat from Japan to look forward to. June 7 is the date, and many reading this preview will need to set an early alarm or make sure their morning coffee break extends to lunch-time.
The highly anticipated rematch between Naoya “Monster” Inoue (22-0, 19KOs) and Nonito “The Filipino Flash” Donaire (42-6, 28KOs) allows us the opportunity to enjoy the two best bantamweights in the world sharing the ring for a second time. Can this bout live up to, or surpass, their first encounter which also took place in the Saitama Super Arena in November 2019?
On that occasion, the emerging superstar Inoue was given all he could handle by the wise veteran Donaire. Inoue won via unanimous decision but had to deal with a damaged eye socket, and a cut above his right eye as Donaire's vaunted left hook was able to find its target in the early stages of the fight. Inoue battled back impressively and effectively sealed his victory by flooring Donaire in the eleventh round with a trademark body shot.
Donaire somehow managed to hear the final bell and took many plaudits for a performance not many thought him capable of against such a formidable opponent. Inoue left with the win, two championship belts, plus the Muhammad Ali Trophy – Inoue vs. Donaire 1 was the World Boxing Super Series Final – but some questioned whether he really was the “Monster,” having been made to look somewhat vulnerable and failing to stop Donaire.
Tuesday's clash is again a bantamweight unification bout. Inoue remains the owner of the WBA and IBF titles, having defended them three times since the first installment of “The Drama in Saitama.” Inoue is also the holder of the Ring Magazine bantamweight title. Donaire rebounded nicely from the loss to Inoue by winning the WBC 118lb crown in his next fight – he's not expected to still be in possession of that belt when he leaves Japan but can “The Filipino Flash” deliver something truly special on Tuesday?
Now 39-years-old, it is a testament to Donaire's dedication to boxing that he is still fighting at this level at his age. There is a chance that the sequel with Inoue is the moment Father Time taps Donaire on the shoulder and says thanks for the memories. On the other hand, Donaire could take the knowledge gained from the first fight and continue his current two-fight knockout streak.
Indeed, since moving back to bantamweight after a short 2017/18 flirtation with the featherweight division (UD W over Ruben Garcia Hernandez; UD L to Carl Frampton), Donaire has delivered devastation in spades. Ryan Burnett had to retire injured but had felt the power; Inoue's orbital bone suffered while Stephon Young, Nordine Oubaali, and Reymart Gaballo were all ruthlessly stopped before reaching the halfway mark.
To counter the aging process, Donaire has adapted. He can still go punch for punch with opponents at times but indulges in this a lot less frequently now. Instead, we see a patient fighter who picks his moments. Donaire's timing now is deadly, meaning he can relax in fights, knowing opportunities will come his way without the need to engage or throw a hundred punches per round constantly. His reflexes and punch resistance aren't too diminished, and of course, he still has his great left hook in his arsenal.
Donaire is a live underdog in Tuesday's encounter. Controlling the overall tempo of proceedings may be the key to a famous win for him.
Naoya Inoue will be looking to deliver a headline-grabbing finish this time around. Hearing the final bell in their first fight, Donaire ended a run of eight early finishes for Inoue – a record that stretched back to 2016. After the fight, Inoue admitted that the second round left hook from Donaire, which fractured his right eye socket, left him seeing double for the remainder of the fight. Enduring this proved that with impressive punching accuracy and power, Inoue is one gritty individual.
Now 29-years-old the Japanese boxer should be in his physical prime. This will be his eighth bout in the bantamweight division, with many boxing fans becoming impatient for him to move up to super-bantam. The three-weight world champion is now a fully grown 118lber, and he made light work of Jason Moloney, Michael Dasmarinas, and Aran Dipaen – his three opponents since being taken the distance by Donaire.
Inoue fights in a patient, economical style. His power is so fierce that past victims have often been stopped just by one expertly thrown shot. Inoue's signature punch is his left hook to the body. It was a liver rattling punch that sent Donaire to the canvas in their first fight. His ring intelligence is not to be underestimated either. He can adjust, reset and adapt under pressure – that was a feature of the November 2019 classic. Inoue realized there were moments when he had to temper his desire to walk Donaire down. If he hadn't, the outcome could have been very different.
Inoue will need to bring this attitude again, along with his creative angles and combinations, if he is to score the convincing stoppage victory he desires when battle re-commences on Tuesday.
One aspect of this rivalry that I think is important to mention is the sportsmanship and respect between the two boxers. After Inoue lifted the Muhammad Ali trophy, he allowed Donaire to take it to his dressing room so his sons could get a close look at the impressive prize. After learning of Inoue's injuries, Donaire face timed him to wish him all the best for a speedy recovery. Small but impressive gestures from the boxers.
Both are mature enough to separate their fierce desire for victory from the temptation to engage in trash-talking or disrespecting the other man. Perhaps it is a cultural difference that gives us this different standard of behavior from many promotions that we see in the United States and the United Kingdom. I know it will never become the norm in boxing globally, but I enjoy seeing genuine respect between foes in the build-up to fights.
— 井上尚弥 Naoya Inoue (@naoyainoue_410) June 1, 2022
In order to gauge the feeling in Japan about Tuesday's rematch, I contacted Ed Odeven (@ed_odeven on Twitter). Ed is based in Tokyo and is currently the sports editor of the English language website japan-forward.com.
“Naoya Inoue's legions of fans are eagerly awaiting his rematch with Nonito Donaire. Anticipation is building as the countdown to the first round gets closer,” Ed told me. “The Monster's punching power was on full display in the decisive moments of his eighth-round TKO of Aran Dipaen last December at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan. The fight's outcome created a buzz for what's next. Inoue's career has been defined by knockouts. Donaire went the distance against him in a pre-pandemic November 2019 fight. The world has changed a lot since then, leaving Inoue's supporters to wonder whether his in-the-ring tactics against the Filipino will change as well.” (Editor's Note: Ed recently released his book “Going 15 Rounds With Jerry Izenberg” which is available HERE.)
It sounds like things are building nicely in Japan, with everyone eager to see how this rematch unfolds. Amazon Prime will be broadcasting the action to the Japanese audience, while ESPN+ is the place to be for interested parties in the United States. Top Rank's YouTube channel will show the card to fans in the UK and Ireland. The televised action begins at 0530 EST / 1030 BST on Tuesday morning, with the main event expected approximately two hours later.
Tuesday is still a few days away, but “The Drama in Saitama 2” will round off another big weekend of boxing in style. Get up early, go to work late or tell your employer you are otherwise detained until the early afternoon. You're going to be busy watching the Monster and the Filipino Flash doing their work once again.