by Cliff Rold
There might not be a better fighter in the world right now.
When Japan’s Naoya Inoue performs the way he did against veteran Jamie McDonnell, it’s hard for that thought not to creep in. As people assemble pound for pound lists, lots of caveats come into play. Some weigh the breadth of a career; others accomplishments; still others, recent form.
The truth is all those things matter; what matters most is a matter of perspective. In the end, it’s a parlor game without an answer. In the cases where two fighters in the running for the popular mythical honor can face off, it’s because they are in the same division or close to it.
Naoya Inoue doesn’t share a weight class with Vasyl Lomachenko or Terence Crawford or Mikey Garcia or any other prominent candidate right now. He isn’t going to. Naoya Inoue is now, after title stints at Jr. flyweight and Jr. bantamweight, competing in the bantamweight class. In atomizing McDonnell in a single frame, he made a big statement.
McDonnell had never been stopped before. While one can argue he got the benefit of the doubt on a scorecard or two over the years, he’d always been a tough, durable out. Big for the division, he was an underdog against Inoue but one could expect him to at least give the Japanese talent some rounds.
Style points count. It wasn’t just that Inoue won but how that was so impressive. As was the case when he walked through Omar Narvaez in 2014, he can take world-class fighters who are hard to get rid of and blow them out. That’s a talent that only a few fighters have at their peak.
Mike Tyson made his legend doing it in the 1980s. Roy Jones and Mark Johnson used to do that to guys in the 1990s.
Will Inoue keep doing it as he goes deeper into the field at 118 lbs? We’ll know soon enough. For now, it’s enough to say arguments can be made about fighters being more proven, or more accomplished. It would be much harder to argue with any real certainty that anyone, in any division, is better in the ring than Inoue is in his right now.
At best, it appears a field of equals with a rare few right now. This is clearly one of the sports most lethal talents.
Let’s get into it.
The Future for Inoue: Now we move to the World Boxing Super Series. While some credited Inoue for winning a title in his third weight class, it’s important to note he really didn’t. The WBA belt he won is their sub-title. Ryan Burnett is the higher WBA champion at 118 and will be a part of the WBSS. So will WBO titlist Zolani Tete and IBF titlist Emanuel Rodriguez. That is, on paper, as stacked as the cruiserweight field in the first set of tournaments that has delighted fans. The only thing that can make the tournament better is if former WBC titlist Luis Nery can get his stuff together and get moved in. While his weight and PED issues tainted him in two fights with Shinsuke Yamanaka, the skill set Nery has is too refined to be written off. Inoue has a chance to stake a unified claim to the throne in a class that arguably hasn’t truly been cleaned out be anyone since Carlos Zarate beat Alfonso Zamora (albeit in a non-title fight) back in the 1970s. Will he do it? Tete has been on a roll. Burnett has proven to be a real solid and Rodriguez is still a bit of an x-factor. Tete, at 30, is the senior statesman. Burnett is 26 while Inoue and Rodriguez are just 25. This is a loaded bunch and they’re all in their prime. If Inoue is as good as he’s looked so far, and wins this tournament, we may have to start wondering if Fighting Harada’s place as Japan’s greatest fighter might finally be in jeopardy.
He hasn’t done it yet though. Let the fun begin.
The Future for McDonnell: How the frame of McDonnell has made it down to bantamweight for as long as it has is head scratching. That’s a lot of missed meals. At 32, one assumes he’s off to Jr. featherweight now. A win or two could see him back in contention but he’s been in several tough fights in almost thirteen years as a pro. Never afraid to travel, he gets a tip of the cap for traveling for a fight he couldn’t really win and trying his best. Sometimes, the other guy is just better.
Rold Picks 2018: 18-9
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com
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