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The TSS 2019 Fight of the Year: Naoya Inoue vs. Nonito Donaire

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  • The TSS 2019 Fight of the Year: Naoya Inoue vs. Nonito Donaire

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    By Bernard Fernandez

    It was the seventh round of “The Thrilla in Manila” and Muhammad Ali, who had made the mistake of thinking arch-rival Joe Frazier had gone into their climactic rubber match with his career running on fumes, was in another pitched battle, far more punishing than the GOAT had anticipated.

    “They told me you were washed up,” a hurting Ali whispered into Smokin’ Joe’s ear as they whaled away at one another at close range.

    “They told you wrong, pretty boy,” the old left hooker from Philadelphia responded.

    Not that what happened Nov. 7 in Saitama, Japan, was an exact duplicate of what took place that sultry day in the Philippines, but the bantamweight unification finale of the World Boxing Super Series, between a downsized Godzilla, 26-year-old IBF bantamweight champion Naoya “The Monster” Inoue, and thought-to-be-past-his-prime WBA titlist Nonito “The Filipino Flash” Donaire, was an exhilarating, two-way clash that was at least somewhat reminiscent of Ali-Frazier III, and not just because of the Filipino heritage of Donaire, a Las Vegas resident who would turn 37 nine days later.

    After 12 rounds that were far more competitive than most so-called experts expected, primarily because of the gritty Donaire’s demonstration that he had indeed retained much of what had made him 2012’s Fighter of the Year, Inoue was awarded a unanimous decision. The scorecards suggested that Inoue had had a relatively easy time of it, by margins of 117-109, 116-111 and 114-113, but that last tally seems closer to reality.

    It was another building block in the rising legend of arguably the most heralded Japanese boxer since Hall of Famer Fighting Harada, but, like courageous loser Joe Frazier in Manila, Donaire had required his favored opponent to enter and survive a danger zone he’d seldom had to visit previously.

    Two high-quality and near-equally matched fighters often make for an epic confrontation worthy of recognition as Fight of the Year, and Inoue-Donaire has been accorded that honor for 2019 by The Sweet Science. The feat is especially noteworthy, in light of other terrific fights meriting such consideration: Julian “J-Rock” Williams UD12 Jarrett Hurd, Josh Taylor MD12 Regis Prograis, Errol Spence Jr. SD12 Shawn Porter, Andy Ruiz Jr. TKO7 Anthony Joshua I and Gennadiy Golovkin UD12 Sergiy Derevyanchenko.

    The most exciting three-minute chapter from the spellbinding book of Inoue-Donaire came in the 11th round, which featured furious back-and-forth action. That round was marked by the fight’s only knockdown, when the Japanese superstar, who fought from the second round on with a cut over his right eye, landed a thudding left to the body that caused Donaire to go down on one knee. But Donaire beat the count, barely, and still was pitching leather at the final bell.

    Considering the almost ridiculous ease with which Inoue had won three earlier bouts in the WBSS, by­­­ TKO1 over Jamie McConnell, KO1 over Juan Carlos Payano and KO2 over Emmanuel Rodriguez, it was almost refreshing to discover that even a monster, be it Inoue, Mike Tyson or whomever, has human vulnerabilities that might be probed and possibly exploited.

    Not that Inoue has so many vulnerabilities that he figures to be in tough as much as he was against Nonaire. Before he was pushed as never before in a war that few had anticipated, TSS contributor Matt McGrain wrote that Inoue is “a wrecking machine capable of rendering destruction to a degree unseen anywhere in boxing currently.” Top Rank founder and CEO Bob Arum, who after the fight announced he has signed Inoue to a co-promotional agreement, seconded that assessment by calling his new addition “a generational talent, the sort of fighter who comes around once a decade.”

    All of which stamps Donaire, who has done his share of wrecking with a left hook Joe Frazier would have endorsed, as a still-viable force as he enters the later stages of a storied career that began when he turned pro, at 19, in 2001. In no small part because of his gutty performance against Inoue, Donaire – a world titlist at flyweight, bantamweight, super bantamweight and featherweight – is the new mandatory challenger to face WBC 118-pound ruler Nordine Oubaali.

    Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

  • #2
    I can't argue with Bernard and the logic above. For the bigger fights, yes I would give the edge to Inoue-Donaire.

    However with that said, there was one truly incredible fight (way off the radar) that took place on April 6th. In a scheduled eight round middleweight fight, Robert Talarek stopped Patrick Szymanski in the fifth round. It was quite a slugfest that featured 10 total knockdowns. It was an absolutely epic fight.

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