The second chapter of one of the most exciting fights of the past few years is in its final chapter. On Tuesday, Japan will host two of the greatest bantamweights in history when Naoya Inoue, unified champion, takes on Nonito Donaire (WBC titleholder), at the Saitama Arena (5:30 a.m. ET, ESPN+). In 2019, the pair met for the first time in a fight that was hailed the best of the year and concluded the World Boxing Super Series tournament at the 118-pound division.
Donaire (42-6 and 28 KO) entered this tournament believing he was well past his prime, having lost to Jessie Magdaleno in two of his last three bouts. Although Donaire won his two first fights in the WBSS tournament he didn't make it to the finals with Inoue as he had calmed concerns about his current condition. After Ryan Burnett had suffered a back injury four rounds in, Donaire defeated him. The semifinal bout was against Stephon Young, who was an early replacement for Zolani Te.
Donaire was given the opportunity to fight Inoue, one the most skilled fighters in the world. He showed that he still had many of his skills, which saw him win thirty consecutive fights between 2001 and 2012. This stretch included victories at super flyweight, flyweight, bantamweight, bantamweight, and super bantamweight. Donaire added another world title at featherweight in his 35th professional fight.
Donaire stated that he went into the fight with many vulnerabilities, and didn't care about anything but brawling. "This time, my entire self will be there, from a speedy guy to a counter-attacker, a thinker and, yes, a brawler. Instead of going out and brawling, I will bring all that I have to the fight.
Inoue's speed (22-0, 19KO) was an important factor in the fight with Donaire. But Donaire didn't back down and displayed a vicious right hand as well as his signature left hook. Inoue would repeatedly hurt Inoue throughout the fight, but he was able to pull away in the final round. Inoue also scored a knockdown on a bodyshot in Round 11. Inoue would win the fight by scores 114-113 and 116-111. Donaire's performance however showed that he still had a lot to offer in the ring.
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Donaire was out of the ring until 2021, when he defeated Nordine Oubaali in round four to win the WBC title. He then retained the belt by a fourth-round knockout over Reymart Galobolo.
Inoue's nickname, "The Monster", is fitting considering his crushing power which has beaten all but three of his career rivals. Inoue is now a pound-for-pound champion in the sport, having won world titles at junior flyweight and junior bantamweight.
Inoue's win over Donaire has been a perfect one, with knockouts by Jason Moloney and Michael Dasmarinas.
He's now set to rematch his most difficult opponent, as well as the greatest name fighter he has ever faced.
The undercard is filled with more matches in the lower weight classes. Gakuya Furuhashi will be taking on Takuma Inoue (Naoya's younger sibling). Before his loss to Oubaali, Takuma Inoue held the WBC interim super bantamweight title. He has a record of 15-1 with only three knockouts.
Here is the rest of Japan's fight card with the most recent odds from Caesars Sportsbook. Next, we will make a prediction and pick for the main event.
It has been an honor to see Donaire, a legend and beloved fighter, revive his career as a top-tier fighter. Donaire, 39, is now at an age when his body may not be able pull off the same instincts he has developed over his long, rich career. Inoue has shown that he can beat Donaire in thrilling fights, but he's only 29 years old and has seen very few dents in his career in the ring.
It seems reasonable to believe that Inoue can repeat the feat he did first, and possibly without too much difficulty. Donaire should be open to learning and willing to give all he has. Donaire might not have enough. Pick: Naoya Inoue via TKO10