More Than A Monster

At any given time, there are at least a handful of active pugilists of whom it could be said, without a trace of hyperbole, that they are on track towards not just being a Hall of Famer, but possibly a true all-time great. Inevitably, for whatever reason, some of those top talents will stumble and fall short of our expectations. But also inevitably, there will be those rare warriors who secure what we might refer to as boxing immortality, their name and their exploits destined to assume a hallowed place in sports history and to inspire the next generation to lace up the gloves and fight for glory. Who can say how many dewy-eyed youngsters in Japan are right now watching high-light videos of today’s brilliant victory and begging their parents to take them to the nearest fight gym?

Nothing but dominance since 2012.

Let’s be blunt: Roman Gonzalez aside, there is no other active fighter with a stronger case to being a true latter-day great than Naoya Inoue, aka “The Monster.” Is Canelo Alvarez in the conversation? Absolutely. Same for Juan Francisco Estrada, Vasiliy Lomachenko, and, maybe, Oleksandr Usyk. But Crawford and Spence both have a long way to go, and Tyson Fury is not even part of the equation. No, the one and only 21st century gladiator who can be said to be rubbing shoulders with legends like Eder Jofre and Pancho Villa is a tiny man almost unknown outside of Japan and the lonely, isolated enclaves of hardcore fight fans. This was, arguably, already the case before Inoue scored an eighth round TKO over undefeated super bantamweight titlist Stephen Fulton, but now there can be no argument at all: Inoue is not only the best boxer on the planet right now, pound-for-pound, but he is on track to establishing himself as the finest fighter to ever come out of Japan, and a true all-time great of 21st century boxing, perhaps the greatest.

inoue and fulton
Fulton and Inoue face off at the weigh-in.

For what it’s worth, this website has long recognized that Inoue is something very special. He was our Fighter of the Year back in 2014, and again for 2019. Since winning a world title in just his sixth pro fight in 2014, he has laid waste to not just one, but three different divisions, in the process taking on top ranked fighters, one after the other, and not just defeating them, but dominating or knocking them out. To be more precise, in his last twelve matches, he has scored nine knockouts over boxers who ranked in the top five of their divisions, four of those wins over world champions or number one ranked contenders. No one else in the fight game right now can boast such dominance. In the opinion of this writer, no one else even comes close.

Jabs to the body set up the KO shot in round eight.

And while activity levels in 21st century boxing can never compare to decades past, Inoue’s consistency and longevity are clearly part of the case for his being more than a champion, more than a “monster.” He is now thirty-years-old, likely past his peak, and has been at or near the very summit of his profession for almost a decade, with no missteps whatsoever. But what’s more, he shows no signs of decline, while continuing to move up in weight and defeat one formidable foe after another.

And if in fact he is past his peak, that only makes his performance against Fulton that much more impressive, as it could well be the finest of his career. He boxed with poise, confidence and patience against a naturally bigger foe and, when the time was right, struck like a rattlesnake with a vicious right to the jaw and a follow-up left that put his larger, stronger opponent flat on his back. Fulton beat the count but Inoue’s follow-up attack was furious yet measured, and in a matter of seconds he had rendered the previously undefeated “Cool Boy” helpless.

inoue defeats fulton
The perfect right hand that decided the contest.

We knew almost a decade ago that “The Monster” was a highly dangerous puncher, with devastating power and finishing instincts to match. And in 2019, when he overcame a broken orbital bone and a ferocious performance from Nonito Donaire to become the undisputed bantamweight king, we learned he had astonishing courage, durability and will to win. And today he demonstrated all those qualities along with superlative skill and ring smarts as he dismantled arguably his most daunting challenge to date with astonishing proficiency and ruthlessness. Not surprisingly, the cry is being heard from all corners now: we have a generational talent in our midst, an all-time great. Truly, much more than a “monster.”     

— Neil Crane   

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