By Robert Aaron Contreras
The World Boxing Super Series was decided on Thursday and to what would have surprised T.S. Elliot, it came to an end not with a whimper but a bang.
Consisting of no clinches, and no retreat from either man, Naoya Inoue (19-0, 16 KO) won an exhilarating decision victory over Nonito Donaire (40-6, 26 KO) to claim the vaunted Muhammad Ali Trophy at the Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
Japan’s own “Monster” Inoue, 26, prevailed over Donaire, 36, of the Philippines, by a wide range of scores: 116-111, 114-113 and 117-109.
Photo Credit: World Boxing Super Series Twitter Account
Inoue had the crowd and bookies behind him. But Donaire’s mettle carried him over the distance, getting off the canvas in penultimate round, and drawing heavy bleeding from the younger man. Like every fight in his career, Inoue’s toolbox was on display, showing off a piston jab, and thudding blows from both hands. Though for the first time, the Japanese champion was forced to eat staggering shots. He was visibly shaken up in the ninth period and bloody at the eye and nose by the end of the match.
Snapping one-twos from Inoue took the opening frame. His composite punching a compliment to his trainer-father Shingo. The undefeated marvel even stuck Donaire with a handful of left hooks, mirroring his opponent’s money shot.
In the second stanza, Donaire showed Inoue how it’s done. Out of crouch, uncorking a left hook across his man’s right eye that commanded serious attention from Inoue’s corner between rounds.
Inoue responded well over the next handful of rounds, securing them all on the scorecards, and pouring it on with textbook combinations. Donaire answered here and there with bolting right crosses. The former pound-for-pound claimant also took the center of the ring throughout the middle and late stages.
Circling away from Donaire in Round 8, Inoue could be seen with a sheet of crimson over the right side of his face. Blood from the cut above his right eye made a violent sight. So it was fitting that this was win the war erupted. The round ended with exchanges in the center of the ring. It was Donaire’s best so far, coupling left hooks and uppercuts.
The ninth round, too, was all Donaire. Noticing his man still moving backwards, Donaire tossed out chopping right hand that staggered Inoue, wobbly legs and all. By the concluding moments of the tenth, they were short right hands coming the other way that swung the momentum back to Inoue.
Inoue’s best work was seen in Round 11. Himself commanding the center of the ring now, he sent two brush strokes upstairs to mask a curling left hand to Donaire’s midsection. The crash to the liver made the aging, future Hall of Fame walk away and then drop to a knee. As referee Ernie Sharif began his count, Inoue could be seen in the backdrop in anticipation of another finish. He has after all finished all three of his bantamweight opponents in a combined four rounds.
But Donaire got up, firing back until the end. The Filipino legend was jabbing out of the gate for the final round. Inoue closed the distance with left hooks. And took the closing sequence with high-caliber offense.
Wrapping up the DAZN broadcast, Inoue humbly accepted his prize, and described the kind of adversity he faced. “I think Donaire is a true champion—he is very strong. I had double vision since the second round,” Inoue said. “But I was victorious. I’m proud of myself and I believe I have a bright future.”
Inoue is not in possession of half the division’s championship belts. A third seems possible considering WBC belt holder Nordine Oubaali (17-0, 12 KO) defeated the “Monster’s” little brother Takuma Inoue (13-1, 3 KO) in the co-main event. That makes for organic promotional gold, a revenge narrative between Inoue and Oubaali for helm of the entire weight class.
Oubaali, 33, was all class in a points win over the 23-year-old Inoue. The judges scored it 115-112, 120-107, and 117-110 for the the French southpaw, who scored a knockdown over his challenger in the fourth round in enemy territory, no less.
The younger Inoue showed guts following the overhand left that put him on the seat of his pants. All told, without the power to keep the visiting champion honest, the Japanese tyro and his partisan crown were left flummoxed by Oubaali’s quick feet and cool, calculated attack.
The night marked Oubaali’s second successful title defense since lifting the strap earlier this year.