Top Rank chairman Bob Arum recently outlined many of the company’s plans regarding its fall schedule for World Boxing News, but there are even more fights in the works than he had initially detailed.
There are plans in the works for the return of unified bantamweight world champion Naoya Inoue, dates for former pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko and featherweight world titlist Emanuel Navarrete and the long-delayed United States debut of heavyweight up-and-comer Tony Yoka.
Inoue, one of boxing’s pound-for-pound elites, is expected back in action late in the year, quite possibly in a title unification rematch with Nonito Donaire, Arum said.
“He is going to fight this year. We talk with (Teiken Promotions Akihiko) Honda all the time,” Arum exclusively told World Boxing News of Inoue’s Japanese co-promoter. “And we hope we’ll be able to do a fight in Japan in November or December.”
As for the opponent, Arum said he would like to make the sequel against Donaire.
“That is a good possibility,” Arum said. “But you got to understand — with Inoue, we follow the lead of Honda. So, again, they talked to me about the possibility of doing Donaire in Japan, so we’ll see.”
In November 2019, Japan’s Inoue outpointed Donaire in the hellacious fight of the year to unify the WBA and IBF 118-pound world titles in the final of the World Boxing Super Series tournament in Saitama, Japan.
Donaire (41-6, 27 KOs), a Philippines native fighting out of Las Vegas, came off that loss on May 29 and knocked out Nordine Oubaali in the fourth round at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, to take his WBC title. With the victory, Donaire, at age 38, broke his own record as the oldest fighter in boxing history to win a bantamweight world title.
Three weeks later, on June 29, Donaire was ringside at the Virgin Hotels Las Vegas to watch as the 28-year-old “Monster” Inoue (21-0, 18 KOs) dominated and knocked out mandatory challenger Michael Dasmarinas in the third round to retain his belts.
Donaire and Inoue, who are 16-0 in world title fights, both said before and after their bouts that they wanted to fight each other in a rematch.
Donaire had accepted a unification fight with WBO titlist John Riel Casimero that was due to take place on Aug. 14 but then withdrew over issues with Casimero’s enrollment in the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency’s random testing program as well as Team Casimero’s personal social media attacks on his wife/manager/trainer Rachel Donaire. Now, Donaire has turned his attention back to facing Inoue next.
“Nonito made it clear to me that that’s the fight he would like to have and that he has no problem going to Japan,” Ringstar Sports promoter Richard Schaefer, Donaire’s promoter, told World Boxing News. “Obviously, we are waiting to see. But for a fight like that, you need to have a live audience, and with the coronavirus situation in Japan and the (Tokyo) Olympics, I am told it’s a bit premature to talk about dates, sites, and money because you really don’t know what monies you’re dealing with. We will wait until after the Olympics are over, and then we’ll see if we can get that fight done for Nonito.
“Nonito felt very welcome in Japan when they fought the first time. The Japanese fans are great fans and very supportive. And Nonito has a lot of fans in Japan, and there were also a lot of Filipinos who came over for the fight.”
Turning his attention to former pound-for-pound king and three-division world champion Vasiliy Lomachenko, Arum confirmed that he would indeed headline Top Rank’s annual Heisman Trophy night card on Dec. 11 at Madison Square Garden in New York, the same city from which ESPN will broadcast the college football award ceremony just before the start of the boxing coverage.
A leading candidate to face Lomachencko (15-2, 11 KOs), 33, of Ukraine, is former world titlist Richard Commey (30-3, 27 KOs), 34, of Ghana.
They both lost their lightweight titles to Teofimo Lopez, who knocked out Commey in the second round in the only decisive loss of his career in December 2019. In his next fight, this past October, Lopez outpointed Lomachenko to take his belts in their unification fight.
Commey has fought once since losing to Lopez, bouncing back for a sixth-round knockout of Jackson Marinez on Feb. 13.
Lomachenko, who likely would get a rematch with Lopez if they both win their next fight, also bounced back with an impressive and one-sided ninth-round knockout of Japanese contender Masayoshi Nakatani on June 26 in Las Vegas. Nakatani had given Lopez a tough fight in a decision loss.
“Commey’s name has come up,” Arum said of a Lomachenko opponent. “We’re looking at who’s available.”
Arum added that free agent WBC lightweight world titlist Devin Haney (26-0, 15 KOs) is “also in the mix” as a possible opponent for Lomachenko.
If heavyweight Tony Yoka (10-0, 8 KOs), 29, the 2016 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist for France, wins his fight against Petar Milas (15-0, 11 KOs), 25, of Croatia, on Sept. 10 (ESPN+) at Roland-Garros – the home of tennis’ French Open — in Paris, Arum said his next fight would be on the Dec. 11 card in New York, where Yoka would make his American debut.
“Tony Yoka will be on the card. It will be a hell of a card,” Arum said. “We’ve talked with his lawyer and his French promoter (Jerome Abiteboul), and they are, of course, thrilled with that.”
Yoka entered into a co-promotional agreement with Top Rank in early 2020, and he was supposed to make his U.S. debut on March 14 of that year at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden on a Shakur Stevenson undercard. When that show was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Top Rank planned to move Yoka to Artur Beterbiev’s undercard on March 28 in Quebec City, Canada, but that was also canceled, delaying Yoka’s first fight in North America.
Arum also said that there would be another Top Rank card added to the fall schedule on Oct. 16 that will be headlined by Navarrete (34-1, 29 KOs), 26, of Mexico.
He will make his second WBO featherweight title defense against mandatory challenger Joet Gonzalez (24-1, 14 KOs), 27, of Los Angeles, whose lone loss came by decision to Stevenson for the vacant belt in October 2019. Arum said the fight probably would take place at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center in Reno, Nevada, the same site as Stevenson-Gonzalez.