Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Naoya Inoue: ‘The Monster’ is boxing’s biggest draw – but you may not know him

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Japan's Naoya Inoue (L) knocks down Mexico's Luis Nery during their IBF-WBA-WBC-WBO super-bantamweight title boxing match

Naoya Inoue, left, is frequently labelled the best pound-for-pound boxer in the sport – AFP/PHILIP FONG

Naoya Inoue is no secret in boxing circles, but the feats of the fighter known simply as ‘The Monster’ are not fully celebrated in the wider sporting world. Yet there is a very strong argument the 31-year-old Japanese fighter is the leading, most devastating exponent of the Noble Art on our planet right now.

Earlier on Monday, with great panache, precision, footwork and punch power, Inoue cemented his place at the summit of boxing’s pound-for-pound list (a mythical list of course, for debate among aficionados of the sport) knocking out the Mexican Luis Nery in the sixth round in front of 55,000 adoring fans at the Tokyo Dome. The same arena, incidentally, that Mike Tyson suffered his shock defeat to 42-1 underdog Buster Douglas in 1990.

If then monster ‘Iron Mike’ suffered at the hands of his nemesis Douglas that night long ago, it did not play into the mind of the sport’s modern ‘Monster’ – Kaibutsu – as his ring sobriquet is known in his native land. Inoue is a sensation within boxing, undefeated for 14 years, having won world titles in four weight divisions from 108lbs to 122lbs. In Japan, Inoue is a veritable megastar, a household name.

Bob Arum, his promoter and the Top Rank Inc. boss, now in the sport for almost 60 years, referred to 5ft 5in Inoue as “the best fighter I have ever seen” after the destruction of southpaw Nery, who had only lost once in his 36 professional contests, and was naturally the bigger man. Some accolade from Arum, given he has promoted many of the great fighters in his time, from Muhammad Ali and Marvin Hagler, to Floyd Mayweather Jr, Manny Pacquiao and latterly Tyson Fury.

There is certainly something very special in Inoue’s style and his substance, underwritten by great modesty, though he did indulge in a little showboating in the finish of his Mexican opponent.

A familiar sight, to those who have followed his career, of Inoue with a lot of belts

A familiar sight, to those who have followed his career, of Inoue with a lot of belts – AFP/Philip Fong

Why The Monster? Put simply, Inoue has a 90 per cent knockout ratio in world title fights – and he has been fighting in those for a decade – now inhabiting the same elite rung as Terence Crawford, Oleksandr Usyk, Canelo Alvarez and others who have climbed the weight divisions with their skills and boxing IQ. Indeed, Inoue and Crawford are the only two male fighters to be undisputed champions in two weight divisions in the era of four world title belts per weight class. If Usyk defeats Tyson Fury in Riyadh in under two weeks’ time to claim all the heavyweight belts, he will join and create a triumvirate of special male prizefighters having accomplished the two-weight accolade.

This was an even more dramatic fight given that Inoue was knocked to the canvas in the opening round by a Nery left hook. Yet the moment shocked Inoue into a deep focus and indeed brought out the best in him. The Japanese star had looked open and careless in that opening stanza, looking for devastating, aggressive punches, almost recklessly. Yet all that trip to the canvas did was galvanise him to tighten up his defences, pick his foe apart and break him down with footwork, counter-punching skills, and perfectly picked jabs, body shots and power punches to bring about a finish.

Inoue’s brilliance came to the fore in the second stanza, with a short left felling the Mexican, before another left hook in the fifth dropped Nery again, the decisive finish coming in the sixth round as the challenger’s depleted tensile strength left him, Inoue catapulting the loser into a loose limbed victim into the ropes and down with finality with a brutal right hand to the chin. It meant Inoue completed a second defence of all the super bantamweight titles he had claimed last December.

How his audience cheered him, as he addressed the throng post-fight. Perhaps why Inoue is a wider secret, is that in spite of fighting in the UK once (and what a brief treat it was when he KO’d Emmanuel Rodriguez in two rounds at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow five years ago) and two sojourns to Las Vegas, his career has been based almost solely in Japan.

In 27 fights in those four weight divisions, there have been 24 finishes, all witnessed at close quarters by his father, Shingo Inoue: his trainer and a former amateur boxer himself. To complete the fairytale, Inoue is married to his childhood sweetheart, with whom he has three children. He loves Disneyland Parks, and his favourite movie is Aladdin.

This genius – or genie – in the ring moved closer to his destiny of becoming a modern master and one of the greats in boxing’s hall of fame.

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