Naoya Inoue’s plans for 2020 may need to be scaled back

By Boxing News - 11/11/2019 - Comments

By Chris Williams: Naoya Inoue’s eye injury that he suffered against Nonito Donaire in the WBSS final last Thursday could make it necessary for him to lighten his three-fight schedule for 2020.

Inoue signed a multi-year contract with U.S promotional company Top Rank last Saturday, and his plans were for him to fight three times in 2020 with the first two matches taking place in the United States. Naoya reportedly wants to face WBC bantamweight champion Nordine Quabaali in a unification match. Quabaali beat Inoue’s brother Takuma last Thursday, and he wants to avenge his loss.

It’s since been learned that the 26-year-old Inoue (19-0, 16 KOs) suffered a fractured nose and right orbital bone in his 12 round unanimous decision victory over Donaire (40-6, 26 KOs) last Thursday in the World Boxing Super Series final in Super Arena, in Saitama, Japan. Inoue won the fight by the scores 117-109, 116-111 and 114-113. However, Inoue looked shaky in handling adversity for the first time in his seven-year pro career.

Despite winning world titles in three weight classes, you can argue that Inoue had never been matched against anyone talented. With the right match-making being done for Inoue, he glided through three divisions in beating Adrian Hernandez, Omar Andres Narvaez, Jamie McDonnell and Emmanuel Rodriguez.

There was never a situation where Inoue fought the best, and that kept him from being tested. When Inoue finally did get tested by 36-year-old Donaire, he almost lost. He would have likely lost if Donaire hadn’t made the mistake of letting him off the hook after hurting him in round 9. Donaire said afterwards that he was waiting for the perfect time to hurt him again, but he realizes he should have gone after him.

“[I didn’t] Create the opportunity to end the fight. Instead I waited for the opportunity to come, which never came. It was definitely a mistake because it allowed him to recover, and that’s how the fight ended,” said Donaire to FH Koda Eippi in discussing how he failed to take advantage of Inoue being hurt in round 9.

With all the experience that Donaire has in his long, it was odd to see him not looking to finish Inoue after he had him hurt in the 9th. He failed to go after Inoue in rounds 10 and 11. By the time Donaire went for the knockout in the 12th, it was already too late. Inoue had won rounds 10 and 11 because of Donair’s passivity.

In the 12th, Inoue milked his lead by running out the clock by playing keep away. Donaire had a chance to win the fight, but he let it slip through his fingers by not fighting aggressively after he had Inoue hurt in the 9th. It would be interesting to know what Donaire’s trainer was telling him in between rounds.

If he was the one telling Donaire not to go for the knockout, then he might want to consider looking for another trainer if he decides to resume his career. Donaire isn’t young enough to give away fights by failing to take advantage of his big opportunities.

Donaire took advantage of Inoue’s weakness in defending against right hands by crashing a huge shot to his head in round 9 that wobbled him. However, that’s not the punch that injured Inoue’s right eye. It’s believed that Inoue suffered the injury in round 2 after the 36-year-old Donaire caught him with a big left hook to the head. The punch cut Inoue over his right eye. He also suffered a bloody nose a round later.

The fractured nose may have come early on as well. The cut over Inoue’s right eye only required 5 stitches to close, but obviously the fractured orbital bone is the one that they’re more concerned with. Some fighters are never the same after suffering fractured orbital bones.

You can bet that whoever faces Inoue next will be targeting his right eye to look to take advantage of the injury. Inoue’s habit of throwing left hooks to the body will make him vulnerable to getting hit with shots on his right eye, because he leaves himself wide open for punches each time he goes downstairs.

If Inoue changes his fighting style to not throw body punches, he won’t be nearly as effective. Although he punches well to the head, he’s mostly a body puncher.If you take that away, Inoue won’t be the same guy. He might not be able to succeed at bantamweight, and definitely not at super bantamweight if he can’t throw body shots. He’d be easy prey for talented fighters like Luis Nery, Emanuel Navarrete, Rey Vargas and Daniel Roman.

It’s unclear whether Inoue’s co-promoters Hideyuki Ohashi and Top Rank will ever put him in with those guys. When Inoue fought at 115, he was never matched against the talented fighters Roman Gonzalez, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Juan Francisco Estrada. Was that an accident that Inoue wasn’t put in with those fighters or was it a planned decision to have him avoid the best in order to make sure he keeps winning?

Donaire says he didn’t know that Inoue’s eye was injured badly early in the fight. He says had he known, he would have pressed more.

“I didn’t realize because it was his first time being cut, and I thought he just wanted to protect it,” said Donaire about Inoue’s right eye injury. “The reason I didn’t realize it is because I could see both of his eyes. If one eye was really covered, I would have realized something was wrong.

“I would press and press and press, because I’ve been there. I know how difficult it is to be in that position,” said Donaire in talking about Inoue’s eye injury. “If I had realized that, it would have been a different tactic,” said Donaire.

It was pretty obvious that Inoue had an eye problem that was bothering him from the 2nd round. It didn’t matter that Donaire didn’t realize that Inoue had a fractured right orbital bone and broken nose. The fact that he was so bothered by the injury, that should have been a red flag for Donaire to go after him like a bull. He had Inoue hurt, and he didn’t show the aggression that we’d seen from him in the past.

Maybe it’s age or Donaire not seeing what was in front of his face. Again, if Donaire’s trainer couldn’t see that Inoue was falling apart physically, then it’s disappointing. It was there to be seen that Inoue was falling apart from Donaire’s power. Inoue resembled an old car being shaken to pieces as it lumbered over rough road.

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Inoue couldn’t handle the pressure or the power from Donaire when he was putting it on him in the first nine rounds. But for some reason, Donaire backed off after hurting Inoue in the 9th, and let him control the remainder of the fight without pressure. Why did Donaire suddenly back off after nine rounds of pressure? Only he knows the answer to that.

“That was the game plan that we saw that was going to land, and we saw in his previous fights his vulnerability with the right,” said Donaire in talking about hurting ‘Monster’ Inoue with a right hand in round 9. “He’s similar to me. The things that he does, I know the things that he does, because he’s similar to me,” said Donaire.

Inoue is completely different than Donaire. They’re nothing alike when it comes their fighting style. Donaire would never run from an opponent the way that Inoue was against him, and he’s not as committed to throwing body shots.

It sounds like Donaire needs a good trainer to make him understand what he needs to do when he’s got a guy hurt. The rule of thumb is that when you hurt an opponent, you try and finish them. You don’t do what Donaire did in backing off, and letting Inoue control the action after you have him hurt.

“I had to put my pride down and ask to borrow the trophy, because that’s what I promised my sons,” said Donaire. “It’s the winner’s trophy, and poppa didn’t win this time. It’s a matter of taking the responsibility and owning up to your defeat with your head high where your proud of yourself,” said Donaire.