First off, before we even get started, Naoya Inoue fought on Halloween night and I didn’t use “Monster Mash” or any variation thereof in the headline of this piece. It’s a nearly pornographic display of willpower that future religions will base their scriptures on.
While I appreciate the sentiment, your gaping jaws and undying servitude are thanks enough. I guess what I’m saying is that I am your new god and expect to be worshipped as such. This was always going to be the end result of our entanglement and I gotta say, it’s working out great so far. For me. And isn’t that what’s really important?
If you’ve clicked on the link to get here, I likely don’t need to tell you much about or sell you on Naoya Inoue (20-0,17 KO) and his whole thing. The slow transformation from mythical Japanese punch-monster to international superstar is reaching its final stages. No longer just a cult figure among boxing purists, Inoue’s bantamweight title (I refuse to look up which sanctioning body, I do not care) defense against tough Australian Jason Moloney (21-2,18 KO) on ESPN+ Saturday night was his first in Vegas, and that can only mean good things for American boxing fans.
If pound for pound lists are your thing — and for the sake of your mental health, I pray that they aren’t — you’ve no doubt had Inoue on or near the top of your list for a few years. Some combination of Canelo Alvarez, Bud Crawford, Vasyl Lomachenko, and Inoue have likely rounded out your top four in the last half of this decade, depending on your criteria. There are gripes to make with each and they usually go something like:
Canelo – Too many close calls and dubious decisions
Crawford – Competition level and resume severely lacking
Lomachenko – Who knows what the fuck to make of him right now
Inoue – Too… um… adorable?
At this point, if you’re keeping score of this kind of stuff — and again, DON’T — you have to say Inoue is the only one that checks all the boxes. Dominance in multiple divisions? Check. Passes the eye test? With flying colors. Top competition? Anyone who fights Nonito Donaire gets a full scholarship to the school of hard knocks. Raw skill? Doesn’t get much better on this, or any, planet. Not to mention, at only 27, Inoue is at least three years younger than everyone else in the conversation which, in boxing’s lower weight classes, might as well be a fucking lifetime.
This is all largely academic and, of course, hypothetical — do not send me your current P4P list, I absolutely will not read it — but it goes to show how much harder smaller fighters have to work to get noticed. Regardless of their dominance, featherweights and below better have something really god damn special if you want to see them on your television screens, let alone in a headlining fight. Luckily, Inoue does and thankfully the networks have taken notice, but it’s hard not to shake your head at arguably the world’s greatest prizefighter being relegated to ESPN’s ugly, pay-subscription little brother while the main channel shows, I don’t know, indoor drone racing? It’s a weird time for televised sports in general but it’s hard not to think that if Inoue were a middleweight and *cough* American *cough* even casual boxing would be talking about the size of his private jet today instead of simply learning how to pronounce his name.
Side note: I may never understand this sport’s obsession with counter-programming itself. I realize that it’s every network for themselves, but there’s a “rising tides lift all boats” mentality to creating crossover stars in this sport. I get that yesterday was stacked across the board but Inoue entered the ring at almost the exact same moment as Gervonta Davis did on a Showtime Pay-per-view card from San Antonio and if you wanted to watch both you needed to either DVR one or grow a third eye. And not even I do enough drugs to make that work. Davis and Inoue are both potential superstars and you either saw one or the other on a night when it should’ve been really easy to see both.
There’s not really a ton to say about Inoue’s destruction of Jason Moloney. Inoue won every second of the fight right up until he decided to end it in violent fashion at 2:59 of round 7. Moloney did about as well as could be expected but he’s simply a Ford Focus going up against a Ferrari.
Inoue poked and prodded, spun and sliced, all night long until he dropped a right-hand bomb that momentarily forced Moloney’s body to file for divorce from his senses. It was a brutal but not uncommon end for an Inoue opponent. As his resume gets longer, so does his highlight reel. Knocking dudes back into the stone age is simply what he does.
As Inoue’s exposure increases, stateside and beyond, so too will his fanbase. It’s simply impossible not to notice him. Even more inconceivable not to enjoy him. He’s big-time thrills in a bite-size frame. Plainly put, he’s appointment viewing in a sport forever lacking it.
As your new — and now, only — deity, I command you to watch.
(Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank)