Naoya Inoue went into the World Boxing Super Series Final amidst predictions of an early knockout of Nonito Donaire due to an eye-watering track record.
‘The Monster’ had plowed his way through the eight-man tournament field in just over five minutes. Beating two world champions in the process.
Juan Carlos Payano and Emmanuel Rodriguez were dispatched with minimal fuss. Enabling Inoue to enter the finale in super shape for what would prove to be his toughest test.
On paper, that’s exactly what Donaire posed. A multi-weight world title-holder with a legendary place in the sport secured.
At 36, and with five losses on his record – three in his last five bouts – many feared for Donaire heading into the Japan headliner.
It turned out to be quite a rumble.
Inoue and Donaire bashed each other up. With the hard-hitting favorite suffered damage unseen before during his championship-laden career.
Somehow, Donaire managed to hang in there for the duration, stripping a whole heap of gloss from the cloak of invincibility Inoue once possessed.
Going the distance for the first time in three and a half years, questions could now be asked regarding Inoue’s weight class ambitions.
Beginning his career at 108 pounds, similar to a certain Manny Pacquiao, comparisons had already been made between the two.
But caution must now be thrown into the equation. Something former pound for pound king Roman Gonzalez, for one, can relate to.
‘Chocolatito’ had gone from 105 to 112 pounds with dominant and exceptional ease, looking a million dollars in the process.
Accolades and big-money deals followed on US soil before it all began to unravel. Gonzalez hit 115 pounds, which was agreed prior to his run in America. He immediately struggled.
Carlos Cuadras laid the blueprint down to defeat Gonzalez. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai then completely ripped it up.
Was it all simply down to weight? – It had a hell of a lot to do with it.
Rebuilding his career, Gonzalez has since scored two victories, but it’ll be a long road back. For Inoue, there are some big decisions to make.
Bantamweight looked a solid limit for Inoue until Donaire. But since Donaire, you have to question how much the war might have taken from him.
Certainly, any further move up would be highly detrimental. Therefore, attempting to fully become undisputed at 118 pounds has to be the order of the day for Inoue.
Recently linked to the likes of Vasyl Lomachenko at 126 or Guillermo Rigondeaux at 122. Both would be a tough ask. A rematch with Donaire now seems the most likely outcome.
Inoue can make a mandatory defense of his unified straps next before taking on Donaire again. That’s provided the Filipino can overcome Nordine Ouabaali for the WBC strap.
A three-title rematch would be a massive fight, especially if taking place in the United States. It gives Inoue a potential stronghold on the division ahead of another career-defining night.
How much he emptied into the ‘Drama in Saitama’ – recently named as WBN Fight of the Year – is anyone’s guess, though.