It was always going to be a tall order for Britain’s Jamie McDonnell. Defending away from home and competing against one of the world’s best boxers, pound-for-pound. Very few were backing him to come away with his WBA “regular” world title belt. Still, on paper, Inoue vs McDonnell figured to be competitive, at least for a few rounds. No one could have foreseen the one-sided drubbing that Naoya Inoue dished out.
McDonnell had not lost a fight in ten years, and had racked up six world title wins over the last four years. He’d also travelled abroad on four occasions to defend his belt, earning two unanimous decisions against rival WBO champ Tomoki Kameda in America, before squeezing past Liborio Solis on points in Monaco (the return bout with Solis ended in a no contest after an accidental clash of heads). In other words, he was a world-class operator himself, and no one’s pushover.
At Thursday’s weigh-in the signs didn’t look good though, as the champion came in looking visibly gaunt in contrast to the challenger’s athletic, glowing physique. After re-hydrating, the champion looked much healthier in the ring, and the visitor was given a warm round of applause from the local crowd during the introductions. Perhaps they had an idea what was in store for him.
With an extra five inches in height on the challenger plus four inches in reach, you’d have been forgiven for thinking the Brit was starting with the stronger hand to play with. There were also some outlandish rumours floating around the cyber-sphere regarding how much weight McDonnell had packed on in the 36 hours since hitting the scales, with a frankly unbelievable figure of 26 pounds being bandied about. In the end, all of that hardly mattered at all.
Rather sensibly, McDonnell came out for the opening round and tried to put whatever physical advantages he had in terms of weight and strength to good use. He took the centre of the ring, holding a high guard close to his face, and snapped out a long jab. Not surprisingly, McDonnell was clearly looking to take control and make use of his height and longer reach.
Inoue, looking composed, was content to cede ground ever so briefly and circle away, also holding his hands high but in a more relaxed posture. The youngster controls the distance well and doesn’t waste any energy, utilizing small half steps in or out of range whenever he needs to. When he decides to let his hands go though, he does so with mean intentions, and it didn’t take long for the first wave of attacks to make a dent in the champion.
With just half a minute gone, Inoue stepped in with his first serious punch: a strong jab that seemed to get McDonnell’s attention. The crowd clapped and Inoue pursued, throwing another left and a heavy right hand behind it, before whipping in a left hand to McDonnell’s exposed right-midsection as his back touched the ropes. The champion managed to largely block the follow-up salvo of left and rights and Inoue stepped back to give himself some space, before ripping another left hook downstairs.
McDonnell tried to get back to his game plan, throwing jabs from behind his high guard in the centre of the ring, but already the fight seemed to have taken on a different complexion to the opening few seconds. Inoue came forward and it wasn’t long before he found a home for a crisp left hook upstairs, landing high on the side of the head and rocking McDonnell back on his heels.
Again Inoue pursued patiently, trying another hard left hook and a right hand upstairs; neither landed cleanly, but McDonnell was looking disorganized and the challenger cleverly switched the attack back to the body, with a peach of a left hook dropping the champ onto his side.
Kneeling in his own corner just inches away from trainer Dave Coldwell, McDonnell listened carefully to his coach’s instructions before rising and taking a deep breath. Inoue stood emotionless, raised a fist to the crowd and moved in for the kill as the referee waved them back in. Again McDonnell tried to cover up on the ropes and sway with the punches, but “The Monster” unleashed a blistering 13-punch barrage to send him back to the canvas. They didn’t all get through, but several vicious right hands did, and even the ones that were half blocked were doing damage.
With Dave Coldwell climbing onto the ring apron, the referee called off the fight as McDonnell fell, and the new champion raced to the opposite corner to salute the crowd. Inoue vs McDonnell was all over in just one minute and 50 seconds.
The Take Away
At just 25 and after only 16 professional fights, Inoue is now a three-weight world champion. And based on that kind of devastating performance, it is difficult to leave him outside of the top three fighters in the world, pound-for-pound. The Japanese prodigy is a joy to watch: his boxing style is clinical, calm and fluid, yet he throws hands with mean intentions, switches his attacks intelligently up and down and turns into a vicious finisher when he smells blood. It will take an awfully good fighter to stop him.
Fortunately, we may not have to wait long to see one try. The recent announcement that the next round of the World Boxing Super Series will take place in the bantamweight division already confirmed top-drawer names such as undefeated WBA “super” champion Ryan Burnett, undefeated IBF champion Emmanuel Rodriguez, and WBO champion Zolani Tete will be part of the field, and we now have the mouth-watering prospect of Inoue taking his place amongst them. This is splendid news for fight fans, as without the tournament format, it’s hard to envisage other bantams queuing up to face Inoue.
After the match a distraught McDonnell shed tears in the ring as Dave Coldwell consoled him, but the Englishman has nothing to be ashamed of. He took a fight on the other side of the world against a formidable opponent in a heartbeat; he has defended his world title numerous times and has carved out a championship reign to be proud of. He can come again at a higher weight if he chooses to.
As for Inoue, he took the microphone to the delight of the audience and, although no English translator was provided, it seemed that the local star mentioned his new 118lb rivals, with the word “Tete” clearly audible at one point. Not many would be willing to pick against Inoue based on this showing, but the South African is a tall southpaw who can bang, a nasty style for any fighter to deal with. If the two of them could be matched in the WBSS final, it would be one of the most eagerly anticipated matches in all of boxing, and one of the most intriguing contests the lower weight classes can offer.
Here’s to hoping then that the fans get the bantamweight matches we deserve. To be honest though, I’ll be happy just watching some more of Inoue in action, whoever he fights next. He really is that good. — Matt O’Brien