After Explosive Top Rank Debut, What’s Next for Japan’s Naoya “The Monster” Inoue

Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Naoya Inoue looked every bit a monster in his Top Rank debut, outclassing an overmatched Jason Moloney in a seventh-round TKO. With the win, Inoue moved to 20-0, 17 KOs, retained his WBA (Super), IBF, and Ring bantamweight titles and served a notice that he really is the real deal and is as good as advertised.

A star-making performance, though, demands a fitting follow-up — one that could potentially validate Inoue as boxing’s next big thing.

So, what exactly is next for the man dubbed “The Monster?”

The most logical next step is a title unification against the Philippines’ Johnriel Casimero (29-4, 20 KO), who holds the WBO bantamweight belt. An Inoue-Casimero showdown, in fact, was previously booked back in April in what would have been Inoue’s Las Vegas debut — against a three-division titleholder no less.

But that much-hyped bout was unfortunately scrapped due to the pandemic. Since then, the normally mild-mannered Casimero has taken aim at Inoue, calling him a coward on social media and accusing the Japanese champ of ducking him.

“Uncle Bob, another extension or your fighter are (sic) just scared?” tweeted the 31-year-old Casimero, who is himself coming off an impressive KO win against Ghanaian Duke Micah (24-1, 19 KO) in just three rounds.

Given Casimero’s taunting, Inoue has all the incentive to fight the Filipino next. Doing so would give Inoue the opportunity not only to unify the WBA (Super), IBF, Ring, and WBO titles, but also to shut up the brash pride of the Philippines. Fighting Casimero, not to mention, makes most sense financially, as there is already high interest in this title unification thanks largely to the Filipino’s relentless posturing and trash-talking.

Also on the table for Inoue is the winner of the Emmanuel Rodriquez vs. Nonito Donaire showdown on December 12. Rodriguez (19-1, 12 KO), a last-minute replacement for WBC champ Nordine Oubaali, is climbing up the ranks, while Donaire (40-6, 26 KO) is a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, and gave Inoue all he could handle in their World Boxing Super Series final last November. A fight with Rodriquez would be an opportunity to dispatch an up-and-comer, while a bout opposite Donaire would be a shot at redemption.

Whichever direction Inoue wants to take is unclear. What is clear, however, is that his continued success may very well usher Japanese boxing into its golden age (along with WBA light flyweight super champ Hiroto Kyoguchi) and push the sport back into the Japanese mainstream. At the moment, boxing seems to have lost its luster in Japan, with a Statista survey on most watched sports in Japan showing that the Japanese are fixated on baseball (33.2%) and soccer (25.8%), followed by figure skating (15.2%), volleyball (15.1%), and tennis (14%).

Interestingly, athletes thriving in the world stage are driving both adulation and interest into their respective sports, as is happening with figure skating and the great Yuzuru Hanyu, and tennis with Kei Nishikori and Naomi Osaka. Inoue looks to be next in line, and the more he wins, the better off boxing will be in Japan.

And that happening may, incidentally, bring about an expansion in the sports betting landscape of this East Asian nation. At the moment, sports betting in the Land of the Rising Sun is only partially permitted, with an Expatbets guide on Japan detailing how the Japanese can bet only on government-controlled sports, like bike racing, motorcycle racing, boat racing, horse racing, and Toto soccer.

That said, only pari-mutuel betting is allowed in Japan, which means bettors place wagers against one another in a pool as opposed to betting against a bookmaker. But if Inoue continues on his path to superstardom, there’s this off-chance that boxing will get so big in Japan —it could lead to sweeping changes in the country’s sports betting culture.

And if the legendary Bob Arum is to be believed, Inoue is a can’t miss fighter on the cusp of superstardom. The Monster proved that in his explosive Top Rank debut. Now, he and Arum need to figure out what’s next. Whatever that is, Inoue looks ready.

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