Fight of the Year Nominations:
Julian Williams W12 Jarrett Hurd
David Lemieux W10 Max Bursak
Gennady Golovkin W12 Sergiy Derevyanchenko
Errol Spence W12 Shawn Porter
Yuki Beppu TKO10 Ryota Yada
Naoya Inoue W12 Nonito Donaire
Jose Ramirez TKO6 Maurice Hooker
Jean Pascal W12 Badou Jack
Steve Claggett D10 Mathieu Germain
Josh Taylor W12 Regis Prograis
It was more than just the Fight Of The Year. Well before the final bell had sounded, it was clear the bantamweight World Boxing Super Series finale between Nonito Donaire, aka “The Filipino Flash,” and Naoya “The Monster” Inoue, would be one to add to the “Classic Fights” collection. It had all the ingredients: a timeless “old legend vs young warrior” storyline; two engaging characters; dramatic twists and turns in the plot; elite skills and heady strategy; plus blood, guts and true grit. It was all mixed together and fired up in a twelve round pressure cooker and the result is 2019’s Fight of the Year.
Donaire, the WBA champion fighting on away soil at nearly 37 years of age, was not expected to upset Japan’s boxing sensation, Naoya Inoue. The four-division champ was boiling himself down to a weight he’d competed at only twice in the preceding eight years, but he entered the ring confident his vaunted power could seal one last great win in a career already bound for the Hall of Fame. And he was very nearly proven right.
After twelve gripping rounds of action, the heavily favoured, undefeated Japanese star prevailed as expected, but only after grinding out an exhausting, hard-won victory. For the first time, he was forced to show true fighting mettle and a solid chin to go along with his already abundant talent and formidable power. But if it was Inoue who held aloft the Super Series “Muhammad Ali Trophy” after the decision was announced, in the end both gallant warriors left the ring with their reputations enhanced.
Inoue, the IBF and lineal champion, came forward at the opening bell, pumping out stiff jabs and dictating the action with his usual variety of snappy shots. But in the second the first of Donaire’s big left hooks opened a serious cut above the younger man’s right eye. It was later revealed that Inoue also sustained a fractured orbital bone in that round, an injury that affected his vision for the duration of the struggle.
A dramatic tactical battle peppered with heavy exchanges ensued, with Donaire stalking and Inoue looking for crisp counters. But then a massive right hand at the end of the fifth buckled Donaire’s legs and a fierce follow-up assault had the veteran champ in serious trouble as “The Monster” took control of the contest in the middle rounds.
But in the eighth, the momentum shifted and suddenly it seemed Donaire couldn’t miss with his right hand. He landed several in a row, sending the favourite back to his corner nursing a bloody nose as well as the cut above his eye. The rejuvenated Filipino surged again in the ninth, smashing home a huge right that wobbled Inoue to the soles of his boots, but to his great credit, the young champion gritted his teeth and held his ground, riding out the biggest crisis of his career thus far and showing to all he is something more than a gifted knockout artist.
The action continued to ebb and flow as Inoue re-asserted himself in the championship rounds, letting rip with his full repertoire of punches to head and body. A minute into the eleventh, a crippling left hook found the sweet spot on Donaire’s liver; he tried desperately to resist the pain but was forced to take a knee, grimacing in agony. Somehow he just barely beat the count, then fired back defiantly to survive the onslaught that followed. Battered and bruised, both men fought doggedly through the last three minutes, embracing warmly at the final bell to signal the end of a brilliant contest.
In a touching post-fight storyline, the proud, beaten former champ, having promised his sons he would take the Muhammad Ali Trophy home to them, went to Inoue’s dressing room, and, “with tears in [his] eyes… humbly asked Inoue to borrow it for a night.” Graciously, the champion obliged. It was a fitting epilogue to a memorable fight that reminded us all of what makes boxing a sport like no other. Inoue and Donaire conducted themselves as gentlemen outside of the ring and warriors inside of it and both are a credit to the fight game.
Simply put, fights and nights like this are what make boxing great. And thus Inoue vs Donaire is 2019’s Fight Of The Year. — Matt O’Brien