A Look At Naoya Inoue
By: Chris Henderson
Oftentimes fans of boxing tend to forget that some of the best boxers in the world are in the lower weight classes and in our “Little But Bad” series we spotlight a fighter at or below the 122lb division. Most of the time it’s not so much the fans fault for their lack of understanding on how good these guys are, because the truth is no one other than the purest of boxing enthusiasts seem to even know their names.
Naoya Inoue, 14-0 12KO, is a two-weight world champion, having held the WBO junior-bantamweight title since 2014 and previously the WBC light-flyweight title, also in 2014. Inoue, nicknamed “The Monster”, is known for his devastating punching power and brutal body attack.
Inoue turned professional in 2012, signing with Ohashi Boxing Gym. On October 2, 2012, he fought against Filipino national champion Crison Omayao and won his debut via a fourth-round knockout. After this victory, he won his next two fights against Thai national champion Ngaoprajan Chuwatana and Japan’s number one-ranked light flyweight boxer Yūki Sano.
On August 25, 2013, Inoue captured the Japanese light flyweight title from the WBA’s number three-ranked contender, and future WBA light flyweight champion, Ryoichi Taguchi. This was seen as Inoue’s toughest test thus far but in the end he dominated and battered Taguchi over ten rounds.
He then fought for the vacant OPBF light flyweight title on December 6, 2013 on the undercard of Yaegashi-Sosa. Inoue defeated Jerson Mancio with a 5th round TKO to claim the regional title. Earlier that day, his younger brother, Takuma Inoue, made his professional debut with a unanimous decision victory.
Inoue stopped Adrián Hernández to be crowned the WBC light flyweight champion in his sixth professional bout at Ota-City General Gymnasium on April 6, 2014. Hernández was a two-division champion who had previously gone 8-1 in world title bouts, but Inoue dominated the fight from beginning to end. Inoue’s sole defense of his light flyweight title came against Samartlek Kokietgym on September 2014. Inoue routed Kokietgym, winning every round on all scorecards and dropping his opponent twice before finally stopping him in the 11th round.
In November 2014, he vacated his light flyweight title in order to challenge WBO junior bantamweight title-holder Omar Andrés Narváez, the fight was scheduled for December 30, 2014. Narváez was 43-1-2 coming into the bout. His one loss had come by decision to Nonito Donaire in 2011. Narváez had won his first world championship in 2002, making twenty-seven title defenses of his belts since. Inoue arrived at the fight with a 7-0 record. However, the young challenger Inoue put Narváez down within a minute of the first round. He then proceeded to hurt Narváez over and over with carefully placed body shots. Inoue knocked out the long time champion in the second round to capture his second world title.
Inoue suffered an injury with the punch that put Narvaéz down the first time. In response to Inoue being sidelined, the WBO issued an interim title bout between two of its top-ranked contenders, David Carmona and Warlito Parrenas.
The winner would have the right face Inoue following his comeback. The fight was ruled a split draw after 12 rounds but Inoue chose to face Parrenas regardless in his comeback bout on December 29, 2015. Parrenas was blown out in a similar manner as Narváez. The referee waved off the fight in the second round, after Parrenas was dropped twice, giving Inoue a TKO victory.
Inoue would then face Carmona on May 2016, suffering another hand injury midway through the fight. Inoue would eventually win a comfortable unanimous decision (118-109, 118-109, 116-111). Nevertheless, Carmona was only the second fighter to go the distance with Inoue, after Ryoichi Taguchi. Inoue’s third defense came against Petchbarngborn Kokietgym on September of that same year. Inoue was unable to get a quick finish, but he unleashed a flurry of punches in the 10th round which led to Kokietgym being counted out.
On November 9, it was announced that Inoue’s fourth defense would come against Kohei Kono in December 30, 2016. Kono was a two-time junior bantamweight champion who had lost his WBA belt to Luis Concepción in his previous fight. Naoya’s brother, Takuma, was slated to challenge for a world title against Marlon Tapales on the same night but he pulled out due to a fractured right hand. Inoue stopped Kono in another commanding performance. Kono was dropped once by a left hook from Inoue before being stopped in the sixth round. This was the first time Kono lost a fight due to stoppage.
During 2016, Inoue repeatedly sought a unification bout against four-division champion and WBC champion Román González. However, González chose to face Carlos Cuadras instead in the second half of the year. González stipulated that the terms offered for an Inoue fight weren’t good enough, as Inoue was mostly unknown in North America.
Inoue’s fifth defense of his WBO title came against Ricardo Rodríguez on May 2017. Rodríguez proved to be yet another outmatched opponent, as Inoue comfortably won by stopping him in the 3rd round following a flurry of punches.
Following his easy win over Rodríguez, Inoue made in American debut when joined the HBO Boxing After Dark card “Superfly” set at the StubHub Center on September 9, 2017. The event is headlined by the González-Sor Rungvisai rematch for the WBC junior bantamweight title. It will also feature a WBC eliminator between Carlos Cuadras and Juan Francisco Estrada, in addition to Inoue’s debut in the US and first pro bout abroad. Originally, McJoe Arroyo was slated to be Inoue’s challenger but Arroyo wound up fighting Rau’shee Warren in an IBF eliminator instead. Inoue’s next fight would be against Antonio Nieves instead.
Inoue’s sixth defense of his WBO title was successful, as he hammered Nieves, who threw in the towel after six rounds. Nieves was rocked towards the end of round 2, but Inoue was unable to finish him as he headed back to his corner when he mistook the 10-second warning with the bell. Inoue scored a knockdown in round 5 after a left hook to the body. Nieves retired after round 6, when Inoue repeatedly landed that left hook to the body to no response from Nieves.
While fans revel at the accomplishments of guys like Vasyl Lomachenko here is a guy that himself as accomplished pretty much the same things as a professional yet seems to be overlooked due to popularity and simply being too small. Naoya Inoue is a name fight fans everywhere should get to know and remember because he has every tool needed to become a true great in the sport of boxing.
By: Chris Henderson