By Jake Donovan
Naoya Inoue traveled to the United States just to watch Emmanuel Rodriguez outlast Jason Moloney to set up their World Boxing Super Series bantamweight semifinal match.
For the moment, he’s just as willing to travel to his opponent’s homeland for said fight.
Photo Credit: Naoya Inoue Twitter Account
BoxingInsider.com has learned that negotiations are underway to potentially stage the bantamweight title unification bout in Rodriguez’ native Puerto Rico. A targeted date of March 2 is being set aside for the contest, with the winner between the unbeaten titlists to advance to the WBSS bantamweight finals.
“There’s a very good chance that it will take place in Puerto Rico,” Juan Orengo, Rodriguez’ promoter told La Primera Hora, who was the first to reportthe development. “I presented a preliminary proposal to the Department of Sports and Recreation and the (Puerto Rico) Tourism Company to endorse the (event).”
Inoue (17-0, 15KOs) revealed prior to the start of the tournament his willingness to take a road trip should he advance beyond the first round of competition. It took the 25-year old boxing prodigy just 70 seconds to make that happen, officially kicking off WBSS Season 2 with a stunning one-punch 1st round knockout of former champ Juan Carlos Payano.
That bout took place in Japan, where Inoue has spent the bulk of his young career. He’s fought just once outside of his homeland, knocking out Antonio Nieves in the 6th round of their Sept. ’17 super flyweight title clash in Carson, California. The tile fight was part of HBO’s now-defunct “Superfly” series, showcasing the best super flyweights in the world.
Inoue returned to Japan for his next two bouts, including the 7th and final defense of the super flyweight title he held since a 2nd round knockout of Omar Narvaez in Dec. ’14. His last fight at the weight would come exactly three years to the day, stopping Yoan Boyeaux in three rounds last December before setting his sights on the bantamweight division.
Less than two minutes were required to remind the boxing world why Inoue is among the very best in the game today, drilling Jamie McDonnell in one round to claim a bantamweight title—claiming championship status in his third weight class—this past May in Tokyo.
There is no guarantee that—even if he beats Rodriguez—that the finals matchup would necessarily take place in Japan. It’s a risk he’s willing to take for his next fight, which he seeks to achieve two things he’s yet to do as a pro: unify titles and beat an unbeaten boxer.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez (19-0, 12KOs) would love nothing more than to bring a world title fight to his beloved island. The 26-year old from Vega Baja has spent most of his career in Puerto Rico, but was forced to hit the road for his first world title fight. That moment came this past May, when he stormed to the United Kingdom to dominate former titlist Paul Butler to claim a vacant bantamweight strap.
While not quite a homecoming, Rodriguez was the clear crowd favorite in his first title defense—a hard fought 12-round split decision nod over the previously unbeaten Moloney in their WBSS round one bantamweight match. The event took place in Orlando, Florida, which is second only to New York City in U.S. states boasting the largest Puerto Rican population and where Inoue was seated ringside to scout his next opponent.
Regardless of where the forthcoming bout takes place, Rodriguez will conduct his training camp in Cuba. The decision was made to avoid distractions that would come with training at home, and Cuba being favored over South Florida.
Still, the hope is that he is afforded the chance to enjoy a home game for the fight itself.
“We want to make a big event in Puerto Rico,” said Orengo of bringing the fight to Puerto Rico. “We want to make history with two world champions. Manny will be fighting the very best fighter from Asia.”
The winner of the bout will advance to the finals, along with owning two bantamweight titles. Awaiting said victor will be whomever prevails in the other semifinal bout, also a unification clash between Nonito Donaire and Zolani Tete, which is also being targeted for the first quarter of 2019.