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‘Fighting Words’ — The Hook Brings You Back: Daydreaming of Inoue-Donaire 2

Donaire (left) fought brilliantly against Naoya Inoue. Photo by Naoki Fukuda
23
Jun

One great fight deserves another.

Once again, Naoya Inoue and Nonito Donaire deserve each other.

Their war in late 2019 at first fulfilled and then surpassed our already lofty expectations. They have rested and returned, come back and conquered. Their rematch is even more enticing than the initial collision.

In a sport that too often hands us the fights we don’t want and fails to provide us with the fights we need, boxing at least knows how to go back to the well. 

The Boxing Writers Association of America instituted its Fight of the Year award nearly two decades ago, beginning with the amazing first installment of the Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward trilogy. Of the 19 fights to receive recognition, eight of them were either followed up with rematches or were part of an already entertaining series of fights: 

  • 2002: Ward-Gatti 1
  • 2004: Marco Antonio Barrera-Erik Morales 3
  • 2005: Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo 1
  • 2007: Kelly Pavlik-Jermain Taylor 1
  • 2008: Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez 3
  • 2009: Juan Manuel Marquez-Juan Diaz 1
  • 2011: Delvin Rodriguez-Pawel Wolak 1
  • 2012: Juan Manuel Marquez-Manny Pacquiao 4

That number expands when you look at The Ring’s fights of the year, awarded for nearly 100 years now. For an apples to apples comparison, a total of 11 of the past 19 winners either had sequels or were rematches of a previous fight (and that number becomes 25 of the past 41 when you go back in time a bit further):

  • 2002: Ward-Gatti 1
  • 2003: Gatti-Ward 3
  • 2004: Barrera-Morales 3
  • 2005: Corrales-Castillo 1
  • 2007: Vazquez-Marquez 2
  • 2008: Vazquez-Marquez 3
  • 2009: Marquez-Diaz 1
  • 2010: Giovani Segura-Ivan Calderon 1
  • 2011: Victor Ortiz-Andre Berto 1
  • 2012: Marquez-Pacquiao 4
  • 2018: Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin 2

People love big fights. People love great fights. They’re not always the same thing. But a fight that does big business once will often do it again. And a great fight, even one that plays before a niche audience, tends to have more eyes on it the next time around.

Inoue vs. Donaire pulled in a large arena crowd and a sizable television audience in Japan, where “The Monster” hails from. It received smaller live viewership in other countries, including the United States, where you needed to wake up early in the morning and be a DAZN subscriber to catch the action as it unfolded. Of course, word quickly spread that this was indeed a can’t-miss fight, and those who initially missed it made sure not to make the same mistake twice.

It was the best fight of 2019. The next fight will take place no sooner than the end of 2021 or more likely in 2022 — more on that later — and if it doesn’t take place, it won’t be because of either of these two fighters. They clearly want the fight. They’ve spoken about it, posed for photos with each other to tease it, and are working toward it even if there are intervening matches before then.

It’s fitting, given their accomplishments in the sport and their attitudes toward it, two things that go hand in hand. They’re attracted to challenges rather than repelled by them.

Inoue recognizes that Donaire pushed him to the limit. For nearly the entire bout, he dealt with a cut, a fractured orbital bone, compromised vision, and a dangerous opponent wholly capable of taking advantage of this situation. Inoue fought impressively through it — and fought impressively altogether. He hurt Donaire in return and dealt with more difficult moments in the process. Inoue dropped Donaire with a body shot in Round 11, was perhaps a referee’s mistake away from the knockout victory, and then had to handle a hellacious comeback from “The Filipino Flash.”

Donaire, meanwhile, was emboldened despite the defeat. He didn’t look at the loss as the result of him doing great but just not being good enough — turning back the clock and putting forth one of the best performances of his career, yet still coming up short. Instead, Donaire knows he can hurt Inoue and is convinced that he can fight better, both offensively and defensively, the next time out.

That’s fitting for a man who’s still setting remarkable goals, and meeting many of them, at an age where his counterparts would surely be in decline, if not already in retirement.

Donaire has been fighting as a pro for more than 20 years, after all, and with a lengthy amateur career beforehand. He won his first world title as a flyweight nearly 14 years ago, the first of many highlight-reel nights, stopping Vic Darchinyan with that trademark left hook.

Then came campaigns in one weight class after another, victories over Hernan Marquez at 115, Fernando Montiel and Omar Narvaez at 118, and four victories that earned him a pair of world titles at 122 and recognition as the Fighter of the Year for 2012. Donaire’s lengthy run came to an end when he took on a foe so many have avoided, dropping a decision to Guillermo Rigondeaux in 2013. Even after that, Donaire kept playing this game at expert level, setbacks be damned.

There seemed to be more and more setbacks, though. He’d gone up to featherweight, won a world title but was summarily stopped by Nicholas Walters. He returned to junior featherweight, won a world title and promptly lost it to Jessie Magdaleno. He moved back up to 126 and was handed another defeat, losing clearly to Carl Frampton on the scorecards.

Perhaps his best days were behind him. Perhaps his opponents were now too big, too young, too much for what Donaire had left.

Perhaps Donaire had one last run left in him.

He went all the way back down to the bantamweight division toward the end of 2018, competing there for the first time in seven years, in order to take part in the World Boxing Super Series tournament. 

Though no fault of his own, the first two matches didn’t give the best indication as to Donaire’s condition and competitive ability. Ryan Burnett hurt his back early in their fight, called it a night and fought only once more before retiring. Stephon Young replaced an injured Zolani Tete in the semifinals. Donaire dispatched his unheralded opponent.

That landed Donaire in the finals against Inoue. And that is where Donaire truly showed that he wasn’t done. That night and afterward, that is. Some aging fighters can summon one last great performance from their tired bodies, showing their old form before returning to their, well, old form.

Donaire has looked good since. He came back weeks ago, resuming his career after a year and a half off, jumping straight back in with a fight against 118-pound beltholder Nordine Oubaali. Donaire dominated, dropping Oubaali in the third round and stopping him in the fourth. At 38, he had won another world title. At 38, he is aiming for another — and it isn’t an easy route between him and a second go at the final boss of the bantamweight division.

In less than two months, on August 14, Donaire will have a unification match with John Riel Casimero, a tough three-division titleholder who took out Tete in 2019 and is himself vying for Inoue. Casimero was originally slated to face Rigondeaux. Instead, Rigo stepped aside for Donaire-Casimero to be made. He was likely promised a match with the winner.

Of course, the winner of Donaire-Casimero will want Inoue and a shot at becoming the king of the 118-pound division.

That’s also what Inoue wants: another outstanding achievement in his standout career.

Those who thought that Nonito Donaire would be an easy night for Inoue were sorely mistaken. (Photo by Naoki Fukuda)

Inoue was a prodigy as a young fighter, just 3-0 when he defeated Ryoichi Taguchi, who’d go on to win a world title at junior flyweight. Two fights later, Inoue, just 5-0 and days away from his 21st birthday, scored a technical knockout in April 2014 over one of the best in the 108-pound division, Adrian Hernandez. Just before the end of the year, Inoue (7-0 at the time) leaped two divisions up and obliterated Omar Narvaez in less than two rounds, ending Narvaez’s reign at 115. Narvaez’s only other defeat, of course, had come against Donaire at 118.

By 2018, Inoue was up at bantamweight himself and on a tear. Jamie McDonnell was done in 112 seconds. In the World Boxing Super Series, Inoue crushed Juan Carlos Payano in 70 seconds. Fellow titleholder Emmanuel Rodriguez? He made it out of the first round but couldn’t quite last to the halfway point of the second.

Donaire put Inoue through the kind of ordeal he’d never experienced before. It helped Inoue’s reputation that people recognized Donaire’s remaining skills and power, despite his age. This wasn’t Inoue struggling with an over-the-hill opponent. This was Inoue both overcoming and shining against a still-formidable future Hall of Famer. 

Inoue’s fans would of course like to see the 28-year-old in the ring more, and against more noteworthy foes. He took nearly a year off, first to recover and then due to the pandemic, returning last October with a TKO of Jason Moloney, whose only other defeat had come against Rodriguez. Then it was another seven-and-a-half months until Inoue’s most recent fight, this past weekend against the overmatched Michael Dasmarinas.

Inoue’s left was debilitating, digging again and again into Dasmarinas’ body, bringing things to a painful end in the third round. Donaire was watching, perhaps recalling how that liver shot felt in Round 11 of their fight, perhaps picturing a different turn of events in their rematch.

There’s still a lot that has to happen before then. Donaire will have to get by Casimero. Inoue should have another fight in the interim. If both win, then thoughts will once again turn to a rematch.

Their first fight was spectacular. The second fight promises more of the same, but with all four major world titles and recognition as the undisputed bantamweight champion on the line. 

That — just like the fighters themselves — carries one hell of a hook.

The 10 Count

1 – It was a busy weekend in boxing, with four major fight cards to monitor and a fifth that was canceled just days before it was to take place.

Depending on what you were watching, your day may have begun on Saturday with a DAZN show featuring 160-pound contender Jaime Munguia stopping Kamil Szeremeta.

You could’ve continued on with Showtime’s tripleheader featuring Jermall Charlo defending his middleweight title against a tough Juan Macias Montiel, then dabbled in a pay-per-view show headlined by Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. meeting Hector Camacho Jr. in an exhibition, plus Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. losing to mixed martial arts legend Anderson Silva on the undercard.

And then your Saturday night could’ve ended on Sunday morning, watching unified bantamweight titleholder Naoya Inoue make short work of Michael Dasmarinas.

Just like when I was a kid, I stayed up past midnight because of a Monster…

2 – There are those who might judge Charlo harshly for going the distance with Montiel. I think those opinions are unfair both to Charlo and to Montiel.

Some of those opinions might’ve been based on unrealistic expectations. That tends to happen when one fighter is more famous and more accomplished, while the other is lesser-known and has a serious blemish on their record.

Charlo, after all, has been in the spotlight for years as a titleholder at 154 and more recently at 160. Montiel, meanwhile, hadn’t fought anyone near Charlo’s level. He’d been knocked out in two rounds by Jaime Munguia back in 2017, was held to a draw against Hugo Centeno at the end of 2019, and returned last year with a one-round dispatching of James Kirkland.

It was surely tempting to write off Montiel. After all, Charlo had taken care of Centeno in just two rounds back in 2018. Kirkland has been a shell of himself for years and needs someone to convince him to retire. And if Munguia could put away Montiel, then the logic would go that Charlo should’ve been able to do the same.

And so it was surely tempting to deride Charlo for not doing just that, for the punches that he took along the way, and to conclude that his struggles with Montiel mean that he’ll struggle even worse when standing in with someone even better than Montiel.

I’m not so convinced. I believe that Montiel continues to improve. I saw him doing good stuff in the ring, picking off a lot of Charlo’s punches, standing in comfortably despite the gulf in experience, and drawing the defending titleholder into a firefight. Montiel displayed a good chin — which shouldn’t be a complete surprise given that the stoppage loss to Munguia was all the way down at welterweight. He’s sturdier as a 6-foot-1 middleweight.

I also saw Charlo trying to put on more of a show for his hometown crowd. It’s possible that Charlo took a different approach than he might’ve otherwise done against a more dangerous opponent. And it was clear that Charlo adjusted midway through the fight, picking his spots more, landing better but still taking some punishment in the process.

Charlo won a unanimous decision. The scorecards were wide but fair. Sometimes you can have plenty of competitive rounds but a lopsided decision. This was a good, tough fight. And that was better for us than a mismatch that wastes our time, no matter how quickly it ends.

As for how Charlo will fare against the top tier of middleweights? I still want to see that. After all, as this fight itself showed, you can’t always tell how a fight will go until you see it unfold in the ring.

3 – The Charlo-Montiel broadcast featured two other enjoyable battles — Angelo Leo vs. Aaron Alameda in the opener, Isaac Cruz vs. Francisco Vargas in the chief supporting bout — and two terrible instances of officiating.

Both of those instances took place in the same fight, with the referee and the ringside physician completely bungling the final round of Cruz vs. Vargas.

Cruz had been leading with his noggin throughout the 10-round fight. Their heads collided often. Finally, with less than a minute to go in the final round, there was a clash bad enough that it opened a severe cut over Vargas’ right eye.

The referee brought Vargas over to the ringside physician. The cut was bad and bloody and clearly affected Vargas’ vision.

“It’s the last round, doc. Can it continue?” asked the referee, James Green.

“It’s the last round. About a minute to go. Not even a minute,” Green soon added.

The ringside physician seemed to indicate that he wanted to stop the fight. Then he looked upward, likely to see how much time was left in the round.

“About 30 seconds,” the physician said.

After a little more back-and-forth between the two, Green brought Vargas back toward the center of the ring. Cruz proceeded to take advantage of Vargas’ compromised ability to defend himself.

It was unnecessary and dangerous. A lot can happen in such a short amount of time. There was no need to let Vargas back out there. He had too little a chance of turning the fight around, and too great a chance of getting hurt worse.

The right thing would’ve been to send the fight to the scorecards for a technical decision.

Green is listed on BoxRec as having worked just 29 professional fights. There’s no way to know whether that database is exhaustive. And anyway, plenty of referees with more experience have made bad mistakes in the ring.

The important thing is for referees to be trained to protect the fighter first and foremost, and for the commission to be there as a failsafe just in case. The ref shouldn’t have been lobbying the physician to keep things going. Their priority always needs to be to err on the side of caution.

4 – I would’ve liked if the Showtime crew had tracked the referee, the ringside physician, and even a commission representative down during the broadcast and pressed them, on camera for all to see and hear, about what had occurred. (Having seen Jim Gray seek out information on the ending of David Benavidez vs. Francy Ntetu, I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried to learn more after Cruz-Vargas, though it didn’t make the broadcast.)

And while I’ve seen several boxing writers mention and criticize the terrible sequence of events in Round 10 of Cruz-Vargas, I don’t know whether anyone tried to hold the officials and the athletic commission accountable.

Get people on the record. Nothing changes without there being consistent pressure. 

Make them explain what happened, and what will change as a result of what happened. 

And if they don’t answer, keep on asking — and keep on writing about every “no comment” — until they do.

5 – Of all the good stuff that happened this past weekend, the best highlight came from an unexpected place: Gabriel Rosado.

Rosado entered the ring in El Paso with a record of 25-13-1 (14 KOs) to face a highly regarded 7-0 super middleweight prospect and 2016 Olympic silver medalist from Uzbekistan named Bektemir Melikuziev. Their fight took place on the undercard of Jaime Munguia vs. Kamil Szeremeta. The ending stole the show.

Rosado, down in the first round, eating hard body shots from his power-punching foe, loaded up on a perfect counter right hand and stopped Melikuziev in the third round with a single blow.

It wasn’t a lucky punch either. Rosado threw the same counter with about 30 seconds to go in Round 1, when Melikuziev sent out a left to the body from too far away and left his chin exposed. Melikuziev was able to take that shot, hurt Rosado and soon had him down.

In the third, moments before the final blow landed, you could hear someone yell out, “Counter right hand.” Rosado immediately backed toward a corner to give himself more distance, setting up Melikuziev to jump in recklessly and load up with a left. Rosado’s right landed first. Melikuziev crashed forward.

6 – For Rosado, this was a hell of a victory after a long run where he’d shown plenty of grit while falling short against top names. And it was a hell of a recovery from his dreadfully boring boxing match with Daniel Jacobs last November.

I love me a good journeyman who can put a prospect or contender in danger, if not send them into defeat. There will always be a soft spot in my heart for a pair of men named Darnell: the power-punching cruiserweight/heavyweight Darnell “Ding-A-Ling Man” Wilson, and the middleweight/super middleweight Darnell Boone.

The Rosado-Melikuziev ending has me thinking back to what Boone once did to Adonis Stevenson, stopping the future light heavyweight champ in the second round of a 2010 fight. Stevenson went on to avenge the loss and moved forward to better things, but he needed to overcome a surprising setback.

Will Melikuziev be able to do the same? I don’t know. There’s plenty of reason to doubt that right now, and plenty of time for Melikuziev to try to dispel that doubt with each subsequent fight. There will just be plenty of suspense along the way.

7 – A highly touted amateur prospect named Bruce “Shu Shu” Carrington is turning pro, per boxing writer Mike Coppinger.

I’m looking forward to the day that “Shu Shu” shares a card with Demetrius “Boo Boo” Andrade, Joseph “JoJo” Diaz, Bryant “By-By” Jennings, and DeMarcus “Chop Chop” Corley, all while Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini does commentary from ringside.

Photo from Carrington’s Facebook page

Brandon “Bam Bam” Rios, Kenny “Bang Bang” Bogner, Louisa “Bang Bang Lulu” Hawton, Elijah “Tap Tap” Makhathini, Charlie “Choo Choo” Brown, Jose Luis “Dum Dum” Pacheco, Gerardo “Tin Tin” Ibarra, and “Jongo Jongo” Shaban Hamadi Jongo should be in the stands.

8 – Meanwhile, I desperately need a show with separate bouts featuring junior middleweight Ted Cheeseman and light heavyweight James Kraft.

Put Naoya Inoue on the show and change his nickname for one night to “Muenster.”

9 – Pro wrestling has something called the “Dusty Finish” — when it looks like the hero has won, only for the victory to be taken away because of something else that happened.

Boxing had a hell of a Dusty Finish this past weekend in Bolivia.

This is of course another entry about Saul Farah, both monitored and mocked in these pages before.

Farah, a rotund 38-year-old bridgerweight (200-224 pounds) with a record of 73-26-3, stepped into the ring against some dude named Pedro Tabares, who while more chiseled apparently hadn’t been in a pro fight before.


That’s according to video posted by Twitter user and hardcore fight follower Tim Boxeo. But despite the gulf in experience, Tabares looked to be winning the fight through five rounds and then dropped Farah hard with a left cross in the sixth.

And then Tabares sabotaged himself. He crouched and threw a few punches at his downed opponent. The referee pulled Tabares away, but not before the out-of-control fighter stomped Farah with his right foot.

The referee pushed Tabares away, and then Tabares ran around the ref and delivered a pair of left stomps.

Needless to say, Tabares was disqualified. Farah won again.

10 –  Mike Tyson got disqualified in one fight, said he was going to “fade into Bolivian” after another.

Farah and Tabares gave us a Bolivian and a disqualification, all in one round… 

Follow David Greisman on Twitter @FightingWords2. His book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” is available on Amazon.