SAITAMA, Japan – “We’re both warriors, and both of us are willing to go to war,” said Nonito Donaire in an interview with The Ring ahead of the World Boxing Super Series final. He meant every single word.
Japanese powerhouse Naoya Inoue captured the Muhammad Ali trophy and the WBA bantamweight title by scoring a 12-round unanimous decision at the Saitama Super Arena, but he was taken to hell in back by a truly great fighter in the twilight of his career. The official scores were 116-111, 117-109 and 114-113.
Inoue, who entered the bout as The Ring Magazine champion and the IBF titleholder at 118 pounds, forced Donaire to his knees with a brutal left hook to the body in Round 11 but, as he had done all the way through, “The Filipino Flash” dug deep and returned fire.
“I know this will sound strange, but I saw two Donaires from Round 2 until Round 12,” said a marked up-Inoue (19-0, 16 knockouts) via a translator at the post-fight press conference.
The action was intense in Round 1 with Donaire absorbing the initial assaults and releasing his own counters. Members of the press, accustomed to seeing Inoue opponents melt, gasped as Donaire took flush shots and refused to give ground. The 36-year-old veteran was in the hunt and a solid left hand suddenly cut Inoue over the right eye in the second.
Wounded for the first time in his career and shaken, Inoue elected to impose his underrated craft on the savvy veteran. He boxed beautifully at times and was a lot more energetic as the middle rounds approached. Donaire had his moments in these sessions but he was always a step behind.
In Round 6, Inoue increased the pace and put the power back into his work. He landed three enormous head shots and absolutely nothing happened. The gallant Donaire was going nowhere.
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