On Thursday, November 7, 2019, Japanese knockout sensation and three division champion Naoya “The Monster” Inoue (19-0, 16 KOs) defeated four-division champion and future Hall of Famer, Nonito “The Filipino Flash” Donaire (40-6, 26 KOs) by unanimous decision in a thrilling fight of the year contender.
With the victory, Inoue claimed the IBF/WBA and Ring Magazine lineal world Bantamweight championships, as well as the coveted Muhammad Ali trophy presented to the winner of the World Boxing Super Series tournament.
The fight was streamed live on DAZN from the sold out Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
Coming into the fight, Inoue was a heavy favorite, with most believing the younger man would halt the savvy veteran. If this was the agreed upon consensus, nobody informed Donaire, who took the fight to the younger man and showed no respect for his vaunted punching power and refused to crumble like the majority of Inoue opponents who came before him.
Inoue had to earn the victory and was taken the distance for only the third time in his young career. But in doing so, Inoue proved he has the heart of a champion and the will to grind out a victory when the going gets tough.
Inoue won the fight with scores of 114-113, 116-111 and 117-109 and despite being accurate, the scores don’t accurately speak to the back-and-forth nature of the fight with both men eating flush heavy leather and being hurt throughout.
The difference was also made in the 11th round when Inoue managed to score the only knockdown of the fight, a vicious left to the body that forced Donaire to take a knee.
The bout began tentatively with both combatants feeling each other out as the first connected punch came from an Inoue jab to the midsection. From the get go, it was apparent that the speed difference might prove a factor as Inoue flashed his jab through the guard of Donaire.
About midway through the round, Inoue landed a flush left hook on the chin of Donaire that initiated the first real exchange of the fight. Donaire responded with a flurry, but only managed to connect with a crushing body blow.
Donaire started more aggressively in the second round, attempting to back Inoue up behind the jab to the body. Inoue unloaded a short-left hook around the guard of Donaire that buzzed him and caused him to lose his balance briefly.
But Donaire would recover later in the round, finding his opponent with tight counter jabs and lefts, eventually connecting with a big left hook that opened up a gash over the eye of his opponent.
Through the next rounds, the pace intensified with plenty of back-and-forth action that favored both men. Donaire’s precision became evident as Inoue began to bleed from his nose after a right hand from Doniare.
Donaire was also landing his left hook with more regularity as he became more comfortable with his range and timing.
Despite seemingly being hit more frequently in the first four rounds of the fight than his previous 18, Inoue remained in the fight connecting with his own power shots. To his credit, Donaire was taking them well, but with each passing round, the grimace of pain and look of concern after a flush shot was mounting on the face of Donaire.
The fifth round saw the first breaking point after Donaire was wobbled badly from a left hand and a swift right cross behind it. Donaire managed to tie up and reset his distance to return fire, throwing wide punches hoping to catch Inoue on the way in to no avail as he missed his wild swings and instead was caught by several stinging right hands in the closing seconds of the round.
Inoue sought to capitalize on his opponents moment of weakness in the previous round and came out to finish the job, only to be met with a thudding left hook from his opponent as if to send a message that he was still there and above all else, still dangerous. In return, Donaire was met with a swift counter right that kept him from coming forward yet again.
As the second half of the fight got underway, Donaire began to rally and build momentum, keeping Inoue from walking him down with a flurry of power punches. Inoue would respond in spurts, but it was Donaire who was getting the better of it, landing multiple right hands rocking Inoue to his core and reopening the gash above his eye sending blood down the face of the Monster.
Donaire followed up the eighth round with a huge ninth in which he capitalized on the inexperience of his opponent in dealing with a cut (Inoue had never been cut in a fight before) and landed a huge overhand right that forced Inoue to hold onto Donaire to keep himself from going down and survive the round.
Inoue immediately came back out to prove to Donaire that he was far from finished, pumping his jab effectively and momentarily taking away his opponents success with a sustained rally of power punches along the ropes until Donaire countered Inoue with a stiff jab that snapped his head back.
Inoue salvaged control of the round with a big overhand right that buckled the legs of Donaire once again and sent Inoue back to his corner at the bell, pumping his fist in excitement and ready to follow up.
The championship rounds were an exhilarating roller coaster ride of action as both fighters knew the victory may come down to who could authoritatively leave their mark in the judges’ minds.
Inoue did just that has he went for the finish and did his very best to get his opponent out of there by letting his hands go and going back downstairs to the body.
Inoue’s investment would pay off as he dropped Donaire to a knee with a debilitating left hook to the body that he set up with a pawing uppercut to distract Donaire and get him to raise his guard.
Donaire showed the heart of a warrior and took his time, but rose at the count of nine. Inoue pounced on his opponent, but Donaire countered with a huge left hook that rattled Inoue and sent him backwards.
The beginning of the final round saw both fighters embrace and then attempt to unload everything plus the kitchen sink at each other. But it was Inoue who took no chances and dominated the round with his jab and body work, never really allowing Donaire the opportunity to effectively mount his offense again.
Following the judges announcement of the victor, Inoue commended Donaire and remarked on his own performance.
“Donaire was a true champion,” said Inoue. “He’s very strong. I was victorious, but I’m not the greatest of all time yet. I have to get stronger. I will keep fighting, and I want to be the strongest of all time.”
With the win, Inoue becomes the man to beat at Bantamweight, now holding the WBA, IBF and Ring Magazine Lineal championships.
For his part, Nonito Donaire can be proud of a job well done in producing yet another classic performance and another closing chapter to a glorious career that will most assuredly earn him a place in the Hall of Fame someday.