Can ANYONE cease Naoya Inoue?

As Japan’s terrifying bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue provides one more sufferer to his listing of KO wins, Elliot Worsell takes a have a look at 5 potential opponents for the ‘Monster’

EARLIER this week in Saitama, Japan we noticed the distinction between a fighter three years higher and a fighter three years older. It resulted, this distinction, in Naoya Inoue, the fighter three years higher, knocking out Nonito Donaire, the fighter three years older, inside two rounds.

That appeared an inevitable conclusion solely as soon as it grew to become a actuality and it was maybe all of the extra surprising as a result of the final time the 2 had met they’d been so completely matched. Again then, in November 2019, Inoue had been compelled by Donaire to go the total 12 rounds for the second time as a professional and had, within the means of being pushed tougher by the Filipino than anybody earlier than or since, misplaced each exchanges and rounds.

This time, nonetheless, with Donaire three years older and Inoue three years higher, the rematch was a markedly completely different proposition. This time, as early as spherical one, Inoue discovered his vary to devastating impact, dropping Donaire in the direction of the tip of the spherical with what Donaire would later describe as the toughest shot he had ever obtained as a professional. At that time, the writing was on the wall. Donaire, struggling to make it to the bell, (which, fortunately for him, was simply across the nook), was now preventing purely on intuition and was, in spherical two, finally completed by Inoue in vicious model.

That introduced a untimely finish to each the combat and the rivalry. It additionally had Donaire questioning what he might have carried out in a different way and lots of others questioning, with Donaire now consigned to Inoue’s previous, who has the power to come back alongside and tame Inoue at a time when he seems to be gathering increasingly momentum and producing extra in the way in which of concern.

Certainly, as instances goes on, and as Inoue’s title defences rack up, it’s changing into tougher and tougher to see somebody match Donaire’s efficiency in opposition to Inoue in 2019, by no means thoughts really get the higher of him and blemish the Japanese star’s unbeaten document. He appears, for now, too robust, too quick, and too highly effective for the lads in and round him. Scarier than that, he additionally appears to be bettering, rising, and maturing. He appears, on the age of 29, to be getting into his athletic prime, a chief his rivals pray will likely be quick.

There’ll, in fact, possible come a time when Inoue meets his match, each bodily and stylistically, and we’ll know then that he’s human. However till that day arrives we should wait with persistence and we should watch with awe as he tiptoes the road between preventing opponents able to enhancing his legacy and avoiding those who might do irreparable harm to it.

Admittedly, there’s a sense that these sorts of opponents are few and much between. Nonetheless, there are 5 males on the market – starting from super-flyweight to super-bantamweight – who might not less than provide Inoue, 23-0 (20), one thing he hasn’t seen earlier than, be it a recent model, a dimension subject, and even only a belt he hasn’t but received. And these 5 are as follows:

Juan Francisco Estrada, 42-3 (28)

Mexico’s Estrada was final seen outpointing Román González in March 2021 to win the second of the pair’s two encounters (the primary, which came about in 2012, was received by González). A beautiful fighter, blessed with each aggression and acumen, Estrada has misplaced to solely González and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, in 2014, and has reigned as light-flyweight champion, flyweight champion and super-flyweight champion.

At 32, and with loads of miles on the clock, it is perhaps an excessive amount of of an ask to anticipate Estrada to confront Inoue at a fourth weight – bantamweight – however he definitely has the standard to do it and, furthermore, has lately registered a few of his finest wins, together with one in opposition to Carlos Cuadras (TKO 11) in 2020.

Juan Francisco Estrada
Juan Estrada in motion

Stephen Fulton, 21-0 (8)

By way of danger, there may be maybe no larger one for Inoue proper now than shifting to super-bantamweight to combat American Stephen Fulton, an unlikely rival who solely not too long ago emerged on the prime of his personal weight class. It might be a danger for Inoue as a result of it might require him stepping up in weight to combat a person of 5’7 (to Inoue’s 5’5) and in addition as a result of Fulton, nonetheless a relative unknown, lacks among the attract of different potential Inoue opponents. To beat him can be a fantastic achievement, little question, and would actually elevate Inoue’s legacy, but Fulton, for all his expertise, solely grew to become WBO super-bantamweight champion in 2020 (when outpointing Angelo Leo). He has since added Brandon Figueroa’s WBC title to that, in addition to outboxed Daniel Roman, one other former world champion, however one might argue Fulton’s danger shouldn’t be definitely worth the eventual reward for Inoue. No matter that, ought to Inoue see his future at super-bantamweight, Fulton, for now, could be very a lot the person to beat.

Stephen Fulton
Stephen Fulton beats Brandon Figueroa, Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions

Román González, 51-3 (41)

Probably the most embellished of all of the fighters within the neighborhood of Inoue, Nicaraguan legend Román González is at this level so beloved it might be virtually a disgrace to see him share a hoop with a monster in his athletic prime like Inoue. That’s to not say González would discover himself overpowered or outmatched, in fact (we’ve all made that mistake earlier than), however it might definitely be a combat through which the chances can be stacked in opposition to him; a combat requiring a superhuman effort even perhaps past González at this stage of his sensible profession.

Nonetheless, because it stands, González, regardless of the actual fact he’s now 34, stays on the very prime of his sport and earlier this 12 months took Mexican upstart Julio Cesar Martinez to highschool for 12 rounds. He’s, if not fairly at his peak, shut sufficient to it to nonetheless be a hazard and, moreover, has managed to take care of the type of expertise, poise and composure unmatched by anybody within the decrease weight divisions.

Roman Gonzalez vs Juan Francisco Estrada
Roman Gonzalez lands on Juan Francisco Estrada, Ed Mulholland/Matchroom

Paul Butler, 34-2 (15)

If the combat is definitely made between Butler and Inoue, few will likely be choosing the Liverpudlian to win, of that there’s little doubt, but that doesn’t imply he’s undeserving, nor does it imply the combat received’t occur. In actual fact, with a WBO bantamweight title to his identify, and with John Riel Casimero now in his rear-view mirror, Butler has by no means been higher positioned than he’s proper now to land a shot in opposition to Inoue, the most important star he might probably combat. He has, in spite of everything, the one belt Inoue at present lacks and he additionally has reputation in the UK, a territory one may be positive Inoue continues to be eager to beat, significantly in mild of his gorgeous British debut in 2019, when he knocked out Emmanuel Rodríguez in two rounds.

“If I combat Inoue subsequent, I’m stepping in with an absolute legend,” Butler advised me final month. “He’s somebody who’s going to go on and win many, many extra world titles at quite a few weights. He’s magnificent.

“I watched him reside at The Hydro (Glasgow) in opposition to (Emmanuel) Rodríguez and thought Rodríguez had a very good first spherical. I used to be anticipating it to be a aggressive combat, however then Inoue got here out for the second and as quickly as he caught Rodríguez clear that was just about it. He’s simply so harmful. He’s a really good fighter, too. He’s somebody I take pleasure in watching as a fan although he’s in my weight class.”

Paul Butler
Paul Butler lands a hook, Mark Runnacles/Getty Photographs

John Riel Casimero, 31-4 (21)

Although spoken about for a while now, the considered Casimero getting the prospect to share a hoop with Inoue in 2022 has by no means appeared much less interesting than it’s immediately. Sadly, whereas it was as soon as an interesting battle between bantamweight belt-holders, the Inoue vs Casimero combat now carries with it one much less title and significantly extra baggage, albeit via no fault of Inoue. In actual fact, blame needs to be positioned solely on the toes of Casimero, whose incapacity to defend his WBO bantamweight title in opposition to Paul Butler in both 2021 or 2022 led to the Filipino finally being stripped of the title in Could of this 12 months. This left Casimero with out a belt and due to this fact with out his ticket to a future combat with Inoue. It additionally left many believing Casimero, whose points apparently stem from an incapacity to make bantamweight, would inevitably reduce his losses and discover himself campaigning as a super-bantamweight. That continues to be to be seen however, as of now, way more possible is a transfer up in weight for Casimero than a combat at bantamweight in opposition to Naoya Inoue.

John Riel Casimero
John Riel Casimero in happier instances, Morgan Harlow/Getty Photographs

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