NAOYA INOUE is now so well respected in boxing circles that the hipsters, the self-proclaimed ‘historians’ and the so-called afficionados – annoyed that their long-time favourite fighter is suddenly everyone’s favourite fighter – may soon start to say he’s overrated.
The 28-year-old is a sumptuous boxer-puncher who has been collecting sanctioning body titles since 2014, a year after he turned professional. With belts won at light-flyweight, super-flyweight and currently the leader at bantamweight, Inoue was on the cusp of superstardom at the end of 2019.
The unforgettable war with Nonito Donaire, the rip-roaring Fight of the Year that Inoue won on points despite suffering horrendous facial injuries, was the tipping point. Or at least it should have been. An enticing Las Vegas showdown with Johnriel Casimero, set for 2020, was among the hardcore’s most anticipated bouts when it became an early casualty of the worldwide pandemic that continues to threaten us all in one way or another.
Inoue instead fought Jason Moloney in Sin City, behind closed doors in August, and dutifully thrashed the courageous and capable Aussie before knocking him out in the seventh. Impressive, yes, but it was not the fight or occasion that Inoue’s substantial talents deserved. And if we’re to be honest, neither is this weekend’s encounter (June 19) with “Hot and Spicy,” Filipino Michael Dasmarinas, at Virgin Hotels.
The southpaw gets his shot by virtue of his No.1 ranking with the IBF, a sanctioning body who, on the one hand, are admirable in their insistence that mandatories get their chance but, on the other, do themselves few favours when those leading contenders turn out to be wildly flattered by such a standing. The WBA – the other organisation to recognise Inoue as their bantamweight champion – place Dasmarinas at eighth in their rankings but independent judges – like Boxing News, the Transnational Boxing Rankings and The Ring – don’t rate Dasmarinas in their Top 10 at all.
So Inoue has no choice but to accept this challenge if he wants to keep hold of his IBF belt. But its matchups like this that highlight exactly why the growth of boxing will be stunted for as long as it allows itself to be dictated to by sanctioning bodies and their mind-boggling rankings. It’s true that ‘gimmes’ like this are nothing new but the modern day trend of the best only fighting twice a year is, meaning that contests like this ultimately do little for building legacies.
But perhaps legacies are not the point anymore, either. And perhaps Dasmarinas, one of 11 children and trained by former IBF flyweight belt-holder Tacy Macalos, will surprise us. He insists the 2012 KO defeat to Marbon Bodiongan was purely down to him not taking the sport seriously. Two years later, Dasmarinas was beaten on a contentious split decision in South Africa by a South African, Lwandile Sityatha. More recently, in 2018, Dasmarinas was held to a 10-round draw in Singapore by Ghanaian Manyo Plange. Those blotches on his record are more noteworthy than all but one of his 30 victories and make his IBF ranking somewhat difficult to justify. The organisation will no doubt point to the underdog’s one-punch KO of France’s Karim Guerfi in the bout before the Plange draw. The leaping left hook that finished that contest in the fourth was indeed impressive.
Though Guerfi, stopped in one round by Lee McGregor in March, is reasonable at European level he’s a long way below where Inoue operates. The case for the upset lies solely with the challenger landing a similar blow on Inoue’s jaw. Dasmarinas, who followed his brother into boxing when only nine years old, has fast hands and can clearly bang with both of them. When he aims his blows to the body certain opponents have crumpled. His feet are quick too as he jumps in and out but he struggles to dominate from range, preferring to fire his blows – nearly always with bad intentions – in close. But going all out on the inside with Inoue is surely an appalling idea.
“The Monster” is frightening when his opponent opens up in front of him. Look at what happened to Emmanuel Rodriguez when he tired something similar in 2019. Inoue is hittable, it’s true, but he can make rapid adjustments in the heat of battle to ensure his opponents are even more so. The stunning KO of Juan Carlos Payano in 2018 is a perfect case in point. So unless Inoue gets sloppier than he’s ever been, or he’s no longer as durable as he proved to be against Donaire, then the case for the upset – already fanciful – can be screwed up. It can be thrown out altogether when you also consider Inoue’s dedication to the sport: Whether fighting or not, he will train every single day of the year. There is zero evidence to suggest he will take this lightly. Furthermore, he has shown no sign of decline whatsoever and, against Moloney, there was nothing to suggest the injuries picked up against Donaire bothered him physically or mentally.
In short, this looks like and open and shut case. Inoue, arguably the best active fighter in the entire sport, wins this one and wins impressively. The good news is that Dasmarinas will come to win the only way he knows how and this will likely result in a crowd-pleasing firefight that might make it appear more competitive that it really is. The pick is for Donaire to end matters, either forcing the referee to step in or by clean KO, somewhere in the first four rounds.
The Verdict Though this could be fun while it lasts, Inoue should be long beyond this level of opposition.