Japan has a storied history in boxing but rarely has it produced a talent rated as highly as Naoya Inoue.
The 29-year-old is ranked as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world by The Ring magazine and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board after coming to dominate the bantamweight division.
Origin of a champion
Inoue began his professional career with a knockout victory over Crison Omayao in Tokyo in October 2012, which would set the tone for the rest of his career.
‘The Monster’ as he is known, won his first title when taking the Japanese light-flyweight title against Ryoichi Taguchi in August 2013.
From there, Inoue moved to a world title, quickly winning the WBC light-flyweight belt in 2014, beating Adrian Hernadez. The hard-hitter then took the WBO junior-bantamweight title in 2014 over Omar Navarez.
A series of comfortable defences followed, including his first fight outside of Japan, a win over Antonio Nieves in California in 2017, further establishing his name in the world of boxing.
Inoue takes over the division
Inoue returned to Japan in 2018 to beat British boxer Jamie McDonnell and secure the WBA bantamweight title which he retained in the World Boxing Super Series quarter-final.
From there, ‘The Monster’ went on to win the IBF and The Ring bantamweight belts in his second World Boxing Super Series fight against Emmanuel Rodriguez in Glasgow in 2019.
Back in his home country, Inoue won the Super Series bantamweight final against Nonito Donaire in November 2019, picking up the WBA (Super) bantamweight title in the process. The fight was considered an instant classic and won the Ring Magazine Fight of the Year title.
The Japanese bruiser had stamped his name all over the division on a rapid rise to the top of boxing, all while impressing throughout with his style.
After winning the World Boxing Super Series for the bantamweight division, Inoue had the world at his feet and soon set about cementing his place at the top of the sport with knockout wins over Jason Moloney and Michael Dasmarinas, both in Las Vegas, in 2020 and 2021 respectively.
A comfortable win over Aran Dipaen in Tokyo in December 2021 followed that, before a rematch with Nonito Donaire in June of this year that ended in an explosive knockout in the second round, with the Japanese ace winning the WBC bantamweight title in the process.
Inoue has unusually heavy hands for his weight class, something that has endeared him to his fans. Of the Japanese fighter’s 23 wins, 20 have come by way of knockout, a major outlier in such a light division.
Inoue himself has said: “My aim is to put on a wonderful show for fans with a knockout. I think my way of boxing was recognized and has let me enter the rankings that heavier boxers have dominated.”
It remains to be seen what can stop the dominant Japanese fighter, who now has his eyes on becoming the undisputed champion.