As 2014 draws to a close, two of the greatest boxers on the planet are strutting their stuff in the Far East. One, Guillermo Rigondeaux, is in Japan through necessity. As the most avoided fighter in world boxing today, he must set sail for whichever shores will yield an opponent willing to enter the same ring as the Cuban super bantamweight. But more on Rigo tomorrow after his promised New Year’s Eve fireworks display against Hisashi Amagasa. Today is all about Fighter of the Year candidate, Naoya Inoue.
The 21 year old super flyweight has just destroyed the Argentinian Omar Andres Narvaez inside two rounds in Tokyo. In doing so he ended Narvaez’s four and a half year, 11 defence reign and beat a man who had lost only once in a 47 fight career – and that sole defeat, it should be noted, was a 12 round decision in 2011 against the then incomparable Nonito Donaire.
Inoue is a very special talent. To my mind the Japanese fights like John Steinbeck writes. The great American writer had a prolific career producing some epic pieces of literature, but he never wasted a word. Inoue punches with similar fecundity yet, unlike other lower weight warriors with equally busy styles, every blow from the Monster is meant to hurt, every assault is for keeps.
He appears to have many innate gifts in the ring. One is the ability to combine gliding in and out of range on feet as light as a cherry blossom petal with sitting down on every punch to ensure they are delivered with the full force of his 115 lbs behind them.
Another, as Narvaez has just discovered, is the luxury of knowing his arsenal contains every piece of armoury a boxer could wish for. The Argentinian has been known as El Huracán throughout his long and distinguished career, but this morning in Tokyo he was downgraded to a mild tropical storm as a category five Inoue blew him off his feet four times in less than six minutes. Each time a different weapon was utilised.
Twenty seven seconds in it was two almighty overhand rights, both thrown in perfect balance while harnessing every single newton-second of energy produced by his forward momentum. Narvaez actually fully blocked the second punch but the force of it still knocked him flat on his back.
One minute into the fight and the champion was down again. This time a whipping left hook catching the top of his head as he looked like he was diving for cover. He rose, took his count, and battled on like a champion does, but as he sat on his stool at the break, he had the countenance of a confused and beaten man. He was already three points behind but no one expected scorecards to come into play.
Midway through the second stanza Narvaez was dropped for a third time. Wounded pride from having been battered backwards from the opening bell propelled him forwards in attack. The move did nothing other than offer Inoue an opportunity to display his countering skills as a short, sharp left landed flush.
Again El Huracán got up, took his count, and resumed hostilities, but the end was nigh and all in attendance knew it. Inoue stalked his man, pressured him onto the ropes, and with 21 seconds remaining in the round, finished Narvaez with a left to the body.
At first glance, from a camera angle behind the Japanese, it looked a rather innocuous end for a South American warrior. But a replay, shot from a side-on view, showed the true nature of the punch in all its rib-crushing glory.
It was waved off with Narvaez wincing on his knees and his foe running around the ring, grinning with arms raised aloft in youthful triumph. Having outclassed the number one ranked light flyweight, Adrian Hernandez, to take that title in April, Inoue is now the youngest world champion in two weight classes in history.
If there was any doubt before, we can now safely say that, in the Land of the Rising Sun, a bona fide star has been born. And the best part is, at just 21 years of age, we should have at least a decade to watch his brilliance shine.