Nonito Donaire is one of the great lighter weight fighters of the last 50 years, a four-division champion who at nearly 40 years old still held a bantamweight championship.
But on Tuesday at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, he ran into arguably the finest fighting force in the world.
In a rematch for the IBF, WBA and WBC bantamweight title, Naoya Inoue’s power and precision punching were too much for Donaire. Inoue dropped the four-division world champion late in the first round and then finished him brutally at 1:24 of the second.
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Inoue, who defeated Donaire in the same arena in 2019 to win the Muhammad Ali Trophy in the finale of the World Boxing Super Series’ bantamweight tournament, said Donaire caught him with a left hook early in the bout that got his attention.
Donaire, 39, chose to stand and fight a toe-to-toe battle with Inoue, pound-for-pound arguably the most vicious puncher in boxing. Inoue caught him with a right hand to the temple to drop Donaire in the waning seconds of the first.
Inoue went for the kill early in the second. He hurt Donaire in the corner, then caught him with a left hook in the center of the ring that sent Donaire stumbling back to the ropes. Donaire staggered over to the neutral corner, but Inoue didn’t give him a chance.
He opened up with a vicious onslaught and referee Michael Griffin jumped in to save Donaire at 1:24 of the first.
“In the very first round, I received a left hook from Nonito punch hit me and woke me up,” Inoue said.
Did it ever. The bell sounded to end the first round before Inoue had a chance to finish it. But he has 20 knockouts among his 23 professional wins for a reason: He is one of the game’s great finishers.
He fought controlled but aggressively in the second and was blasting Donaire with hard shots almost from the bell to start the round. Donaire didn’t attempt to tie up or try to use his left to recover. He’s a legendarily hard puncher himself, but once he was hurt, it wasn’t enough to keep Inoue off of him.
Inoue likely will challenge WBO champion Paul Butler later this year for the undisputed bantamweight title. Butler was the WBO interim champion and was scheduled to fight John Riel Casimero for the belt. But Casimero was struggling to make weight and was yanked from the fight when he was in the sauna before the weigh-in. Butler was elevated from interim champion to full champion.
He wouldn’t seem to be too much of a match for Inoue, but few are these days.