Naoya Inoue – Japan’s next boxing star?

On January 5th, 2013 the Ring Magazine of Japan stated, “We should not use the word genius, but people here in Japan cannot help calling Naoya Inoue 2-0 (2KO’s) a genius.”

It is indeed lofty praise for a young man who is only a few months away from his 20th birthday and compiled an amateur record of 75-6 (48KO’s). Inoue boxes out of the Ohashi Boxing Gym in Yokohama, Japan which is run and owned by two-time World Minimumweight champion Hideyuki Ohashi 19-5 (12KO’s).

However his amateur achievements are not similar to those of current Japanese stars such as Kazuto Ioka (8 time national champion) or Takashi Uchiyama (3 time national champion) or even one fighter who has refused to turn professional after winning Olympic Gold in London 2012 Ryota Murata, who incidentally also captured a Silver medal at the World Amateur Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan in 2011.

With an apparent lack of success at amateur level, which included failing to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics, some boxing promoters in Japan may have not looked at or signed Inoue up, however Ohashi has had no qualms about his young charge.

In fact such is the confidence in Inoue that Ohashi allowed the 19 year old to make his debut against the respected Crison Omayao of the Philippines. Omayao was stepping up from Minimumweight as the Filipino national champion to take on the young light flyweight prospect.

It was this fight against Omayao that has generated a lot of hype and interest in Inoue. Omayao had never been stopped in his professional career but midway through the fourth round Inoue landed a sickening left hook to the body that dropped Omayao for the count. It truly was a vicious shot as the microphones at ringside picked up the power of the shot that crunched into the right side of Omayao’s body.

Inoue stops Omayao inside 4 rounds with a crunching left hook to the body

The performance in itself was impressive. Inoue showed that he may just have the tools to go a long way in the sport. Firstly, he looks to be a boxer looking to control the fight from the outside and using his fleeting foot movement to move in and out of distance.

His foot movement alone is very, very good as I noted in his Last 16 defeat in the 2011 World Championships in Baku against the excellent Cuban fighter Yosvany Veitia. He can simply take a small step back to move out of distance as his opponent looks to come forward, but as they do, a small pivot to the left or right takes him out of the firing line and back on guard to start his own offensive attack where he is actually on balance and from a different angle. It appears effortless.

His legs are quick and judging by some of his amateur fights he does appear to be very adept at cutting off the ring.

He does appear to carry some power as his first two professional fights will testify to but he also appears to be a very accurate puncher, he can work the body inside and land combinations either inside or on the outside.

The one flaw that I have been able to locate with Inoue appears to be similar to what I have spotted with Ioka and that is the defensive technique needs to be worked on and no doubt it will.

Like a lot of amateur fighters who turn professional they still adopt the high defensive guard and move away from punches in straight lines with very little head movement. Against Omayao it was noted that when he moved out of distance he seemed to drop his left hand slightly to expose his jaw.

The jury remains in session in terms of his stamina and whether he is able to take a punch, however these are questions that will be answered in the coming months and/or the next few years.

The information coming out of Japan is that Inoue could win a world title quicker than the current record holder Kazuto Ioka, who won the WBC Minimumweight title in only his 7th professional fight, in fact with Ioka also moving up to Light Flyweight to compete there has been the obvious clamour to have the two square off.

The young man does appear to be that good and could very well be the next best fighter of his generation, this of course all depends on how he is managed, handled and how the fighter himself wants to see his career go.

Without question he has the ability and skills to pick up a world title belt at either light flyweight and/or flyweight in the next few months, not years! There is also scope for him to move up in weight to bantamweight however that is maybe four or five years down the line. The move up in weight will obviously depend on how quickly he grows into a man and gains his man strength.

Coupled with his undoubted boxing skills, wonderful foot movement and undoubted power Naoya Inoue is clearly a world champion in waiting.

Moving backwards, Inoue knocks out Thai champion Chuwatana with a left hook

Another rumour coming out of the gym in Yokohama has been a sparring session between Inoue and former two-time WBA Super Flyweight champion, Nobuo Nashiro 18-5-1 (12KO’s) which has meant to have seen Inoue one-sidedly beat up Nashiro over six sparring sessions. It is this apparent sparring session that has made individuals within the sport and amongst the boxing press to really sit up and take notice.

As a fan of Japanese boxing, and all boxing in general, I will keep a keen eye on this emerging young talent like I have also done with Kazuto Ioka, who I have been reliable informed has some question marks around the whiskers.

Sadly, though Inoue is likely to remain a mystery to overseas fight fans or casual boxing observers. Outside of the hardcore boxing community it is probably safe to presume that Inoune will fight his entire professional career in Asia.

No doubt he will be well paid to fight in Japan however if his supporters, myself included, can see the undoubted talent he possess then it would be a crying shame not to have the rest of the world see that talent.

As it stands we will have to watch his progress via Youtube, dodgy internet streams and downloads, and of course, using Google translate to transcribe any news articles to get the up to date news.

As many hardcore fans know, especially in America, Japanese boxing and fighters don’t get much recognition as some of the major cable networks generally don’t cover the lower weight classes.

Even Hall of Fame fighter Ricardo Lopez, who retired undefeated and was shown on some major US cable networks was buried on the undercards of these broadcasts. From memory the last fight from the lower weight classes I can remember seeing on a major network from America was the first fight between Ivan Calderon and Rodel Mayol back in mid-2009.

According to Ring Magazine’s Doug Fischer the main reason why Japanese boxing doesn’t receive international recognition is because the Japanese Boxing Commission needs to start recognising the WBO & IBF, promoters having to bring world class opponents from outside Asia to challenge their fighters and that Japanese world title holders need to fight each other.

In regard to the WBO and IBF there have been some whispers a few months back that the JBC were looking into recognising the WBO & IBF. In fact the JBC will allow a unification fight for the WBO or IBF title with either the WBA or WBC title at stake but should the Japanese fighter win the fight then he would need to vacate the WBO or IBF title.

Fischer does make a good point about promoters bringing in more world class opponents to challenge Japanese fighters but finally last June we got to see the first ever unification fight between two Japanese boxers as Kazuto Ioka put his WBC Minimumweight title on the line against the WBA Minimumweight champion Akira Yaegashi.

Inoue’s trainer Ohashi stated that the Ioka-Yaegashi fight showed that Japanese boxing was in a very healthy shape and I do tend to agree.

As of March 2012 Japan has produced over 70 male world champions and 12 female world champions. At the present moment Japan has 8 world champions with one of them being the lineal champion. The list includes:

Ryo Miyazaki 18-0-3 (10KO’s) who won the vacant WBA Minimumweight title against former champion Pornsawan Porpramook at the end of 2012.

Kazuto Ioka 11-0 (7KO’s) has moved up to Light Flyweight after vacating the WBC & WBA Minimumweight titles and won the vacant WBA Light Flyweight title against Jose Alfredo Rodriguez at the end of 2012.

Also, reigning Japanese Light Flyweight champion Masayuki Kuroda 21-3-2 (13KO’s) will step up to Flyweight and challenge Juan Carlos Reveco at the end of February for the WBA title.

At Flyweight there is the lineal/Ring/WBC champion Toshiyuki Igarashi 17-1 (10KO’s) who captured the lineal title from Sonny Boy Jaro who had previously defeated long stand champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam. Igarashi has made one successful defence of his crown and will defend it against countryman and former WBA Minimumweight champion Akira Yaegashi in early April’13.

Up at Super Flyweight there is Yota Sato 26-2-1 (12KO’s) who is the WBC champion and has made two successful defences and then there is also Kohei Kono 28-7 (11KO’s) who shocked the world by stopping Tepparith Kokietgym in four rounds to win the WBA title after having failed in two other world title bids.

At Bantamweight we have the impressive Shinsuke Yamanaka 17-0 (12KO’s) who has made two defences against multi-weight champion Vic Darchinyan and then impressively knocked out Tomas Rojas last November. Yamanaka will be back in the ring in April’13.

Also in the division there is the colourful Koki Kameda 29-1 (17KO’s) who is the former WBA Light Flyweight and WBC Flyweight champion. Kameda lost out in his bid to become lineal Flyweight champion after dropping a majority decision against Pongsaklek Wonjongkam in Japan in early 2010.

Later in the year Kameda moved up to Bantamweight and captured the vacant WBA title against Alexander Munoz but he can consider himself very fortunate to still hold the title after his last fight against Hugo Ruiz. Even though Kameda was granted the split decision victory many observers felt, myself included, that Ruiz deserved to get the nod by at least two points.

At Super Featherweight Takahiro Ao 23-3-1 (10KO’s), who was also WBC Featherweight champion, lost his WBC title in October’12 against Gamaliel Diaz in his 4th defence.

Finally there is the WBA Super Featherweight champion Takashi Uchiyama 19-0-1 (16KO’s) who has made six successful defences and is considered by some as the best in the division.

For Naoya Inoue he is living with pressure, a lot of pressure in fact. After stopping national champion Omayao in four and then defeating Thai national champion Ngaoprajan Chuwatana in one round there was talk of a potential world title fight in his next bout against the likes of Ioka, thankfully though it seems common sense has maybe prevailed and that fight won’t happen so soon.

The thought of a potential fight against the likes of Ioka, Roman Gonzalez or Adrian Hernandez does seem far fetched for someone so young in the professional ranks, however we have all seen a 17 year old Wilfredo Benitez defeat Antonio Cervantes for the WBC Welterweight title and in the process becoming the youngest world champion in the history of the sport; a record that still stands to this day.

Potential fights against IBF champion John Riel Casimero or WBO champion Donnie Nietes are unlikely to happen any time soon especially with the current JBC stance regarding these two bodies.

However after signing numerous lucrative sponsorship deals, being matched against two national champions and dispatching them in brutal and impressive fashion the pressure is only going to increase on Inoue to keep delivering and then there is obviously the pressure being generated outside of the ring.

There is a lot of hype surrounding Naoya Inoue and judging by early evidence I can see why because he does look like a polished professional fighter already and as such he has made me jump on the hype train.

The question remains though, like with all great prospects, will he deliver or will he become a “what might have been”?

In the meantime enjoy his first two professional fights.

1st pro fight - Naoya Inoue vs Crison Omayao

2nd pro fight - Naoya Inoue vs Nagoprajan Chuwatana

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