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Naoya Inoue inks with Top Rank Boxing

Naoya Inoue Nonito Donaire Inoue vs. Donaire top rank

By Chris Williams: Following his victory over Nonito Donaire on Thursday night, IBF/ABA bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue signed a multi-year contract with Top Rank Boxing to have his fights shown in the U.S.


With Inoue signing with Top Rank, his fights will likely be shown on the ESPN+ app in the U.S. There’s a lot of American fans that don’t have that app, as they don’t want to pay the $4.99 per month on top of what they’re already paying for DAZN to watch boxing.

Will Inoue’s fights be shown on ESPN+ app?

It’ll be interesting to see if more fans subscribe to ESPN+ in order to see Inoue fight. That’ll depend obviously on the match-making being done. Tonight’s fight was great, but a lot of Inoue’s fights haven’t been competitive at all.


Inoue’s first fight with Top Rank will take place in early 2020 in the U.S. Anyone’s guess who that will be. Top Rank promotes IBF super flyweight champion Jerwin Ancajas. Inoue would likely destroy Ancajas. Jerwin has heavy hands, but he’s flawed.

Inoue has won three division world titles, but he’s not fought good opposition until now. Being in the World Boxing Super Series tournament made it necessary for Inoue to face Donaire and Emmanuel Rodriguez. Would he have fought them if he didn’t sign on with the WBSS tourney? Probably not. Inoue didn’t fight the best at 115 when he held the WBO title.

The type of opposition that Inoue NEEDS to be fighting are these guys:


  • Luis Nery
  • Emanuel Navarrete
  • Rey Vargas
  • Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
  • Juan Francisco Estrada
  • Daniel Roman
  • Shakur Stevenson
  • Isaac Dogboe
  • Jessie Magdaleno
  • Leo Santa Cruz
  • Gary Russell Jr.

Some of those fighters would require that Inoue meet them at a catchweight, but it’s still possible. If Top Rank wants to turn Inoue into a star, they can’t match him the way they’re doing with British heavyweight Tyson Fury. They signed the loudmouth 6’9″ Fury following his 12 round draw against WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder last December.

READ:  Naoya Inoue's plans for 2020 may need to be scaled back

Rather than put Fury back in with Wilder in a rematch, Top Rank matched him against obscure European heavyweights Otto Wallin and Tom Schwarz. Those fights have done nothing for Fury’s popularity in the U.S. Inoue needs to be fighting the BEST, not the worst. He’s already had enough mismatches during his career.

Inoue matched well against Donaire

Tonight, was the rest non-mismatch of Inoue’s career, and he was ALMOST knocked out by a past his prime Donaire. That’s obviously a bad sign, but what can you do? Inoue isn’t as talented as Donaire was in his prime. That much is clear. He’s a good fighter, but not on the level Donaire was at when he was in the zenith of his career in 2011 and 2012.

This could be a good thing for American fans as long as Top Rank matches the 26-year-old unbeaten Inoue (19-0, 16 KOs) against good opposition in competitive fights.

It won’t work if Inoue is put in showcase contests [read: mismatches], because he’s already had plenty of them during his seven year pro career. It wasn’t until last year that Inoue started getting put in with interesting opponents, and you can argue the reason for that is because he signed on with the World Boxing Super Series tournament.

Inoue vs. Donaire was shown at the wrong time

Inoue defeated former Top Rank fighter Donaire (40-6, 26 KOs) by a 12 round unanimous decision to capture the Ali Trophy and win the WBSS tourney at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. The fight was seen by a lot of American boxing fans.

READ:  Donaire open to Inoue REMATCH if offered

It would have seen by more if it was shown during prime in the U.S. But with the fight taking place in Japan, U.S fans ended up having to get up early in the morning to see it. The time for the fight was horrible in terms of ratings.

“Naoya Inoue is a generational talent, the sort of fighter who comes around once a decade,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. “He is already a superstar in Japan, and he will be major star stateside in no time. You are looking at an all-time great who is entering the prime of what will be a historic career.”

Arum didn’t mention any names about who he wants to put Inoue in with. Former WBC bantamweight champion Luis Nery (30-0, 24 KOs) is the ideal opponent Inoue needs to be fighting if he wants to expand his fan base with American boxing fans. However, Nery is no gimme. The southpaw from Mexico isn’t old like Donaire, and he would be a lot more dangerous for Inoue. Now that we’ve seen that Inoue struggles when he’s pressured hard, you can bet that Nery will be all over him, taking him into the deep end of the fight to knockout him.

Inoue hurt in round 9

Donaire had Inoue hurt in round 9, but then failed to follow up. Either it was age or a lack of conditioning that led to Donaire not going for the Coup de Grace after he staggered Inoue in the ninth round. Nery is a great finisher, and there’s little chance he would back and just let Inoue survive the way Donaire did. That was very odd to watch.

Last year, Nery destroyed Japanese star Shinsuke Yamanaka in stopping him in the 2nd round. The highly popular Yamanaka had held the World Boxing Council 118-lb title from 2011 to 2018. Nery knocked out Yamanaka twice in stopping him in four rounds in 2017 and then two rounds in 2018. A lot of Japanese fans are well familiar with Nery, and they would likely want to see Inoue try and even the score. It would be up to Top Rank whether to take a risk  with Inoue. Coming events cast their shadows before.

READ:  Donaire open to Inoue REMATCH if offered

Top Rank needs to match Inoue against quality fighters

As we saw with Fury, Top Rank has taken it easy with him since signing the tall, stork-like British heavyweight. They’ve matched him against nothing but mediocre heavyweights instead of putting him back in with Wilder for a rematch that fans wanted to see last summer. The problem, Fury’s chances of beating Wilder has nosedived with hi suffering a monstrous cut over his right eye from his warm-up fight against Otto Wallin last September.

The cut needed 46 stitches to close up. Given how bad the cut was, the fight should have been stopped early in the contest. But if they had done that, Fury would have lost. The flip-side is, Fury’s cut got much worse because he stayed in there and kept getting hit. Fury is scheduled to fight Wilder on February 22, and there’s little chance the cut will be completely healed by then. Wilder has already said he’s going to target the cut.

“It is a tremendous honor to sign with Top Rank and to showcase my talents on ESPN,” Inoue said. “I look forward to 2020. I’ve fought in America once before, and I look forward to doing so again in the very near future.”

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