Under 100 miles south from the famous Loch Ness, Japan’s very own “Monster” will be looking to prove that seeing is believing this Saturday, as the WBA “world” bantamweight champion takes on IBF champ, Puerto Rico’s Emmanuel Rodriguez.
In the second semi-final of the 118-pound World Boxing Super Series competition, Glasgow plays host to this unification bout which also has the honour of dishing out the Ring Magazine belt to the winner. Usually contested between the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked fighters in the division, Zolani Tete’s shoulder injury paved the way for Inoue and Rodriguez to contest the belt which has a rich history in the bantamweight division.
The Ring’s Editor-in-Chief Doug Fischer has no qualms in offering up the belt for this semi-final bout.
“I think it is worthy,” Fischer stated. “Inoue and Rodriguez have earned their positions in our rankings — Inoue with back-to-back first-round KOs against top 10 contenders Jamie McDonnell and Juan Carlos Payano; Rodriguez with back-to-back decisions over top 10 contenders Paul Butler and Jason Moloney. Rodriguez also has a ten-round victory over former two-time title challenger Alberto Guevara (2016).”
For Inoue, it’s a chance to display his talents to a broader audience, with the Glasgow crowd sure to favour the aggressive attributes that the Japanese star has become renowned for since turning pro in 2012. Acting as chief support for local hero Josh Taylor’s world title bout with Ivan Baranchyk in the super-lightweight chapter of the WBSS, Inoue will have a captive crowd baying for blood, expectant of the “Monster” to deliver another crushing KO win to his quickly-growing résumé.
Sleeping on Rodriguez in this fight is dangerous. The Puerto Rican is a well-schooled technician, with an impressive amateur background to fall back on. With all-rounded abilities, the 26-year-old has experience of fighting in the United Kingdom before, having won the vacant IBF strap against Paul Butler over twelve convincing rounds on the undercard of the Haye-Bellew rematch.
Armed with a solid jab and ferocious straight right, Inoue won’t be afforded the luxury of walking into range with his hands dropped. Two first-round blowouts in back-to-back fights for Inoue need to be swept under the carpet coming into this fight, with Rodriguez a different prospect to that of McDonnell and Payano.
With aggression, comes vulnerability. Inoue’s come-forward style is a joy to watch in a fluid motion, however, a tendency to trade square-on can leave him open to counters; whether being caught flush by a Rodriguez right hand would stun the “Monster” is a question to be answered in Glasgow.
Delicate feinting allows Inoue to gain that half-a-second and half-a-yard in attacks and footwork. A flick of the left hand can be enough to force the guard of his opposition; manoeuvring into a position to attack the body or squeeze through an uppercut can force the start of a dangerous attack.
A move up to bantamweight has seen the Japanese star’s right hand harvest even more power. With that extra three pounds to play with, Inoue looks extremely comfortable at the 118-pound limit.
In a unification bout for a place in the World Boxing Super Series final, this is expected to be a marquee fight for Naoya Inoue. Much of the appeal of the eight-man tournament has been the vast array of locations that bouts have landed in; two fighters from Japan and Puerto Rico fighting in Scotland is about as varied as you could expect. 16 of Inoue’s 17 fights have been in his native Japan, with a 2017 trip to Carson, USA, breaking that trend, and with Saturday night’s fight being shown live on Sky Sports in the UK, the 26-year-old is sure to wake up on Sunday with a whole new fan base.
It’s, without doubt, the toughest test to date for the fighter born out of Zama, Kanagawa. The Japanese star has held his place in many of our top ten pound-for-pound lists for a couple of years now, but a win on Saturday night could springboard Inoue to the status of being one of the few unmissable attractions in the sport. If successful, a WBSS final against Nonito Donaire would follow, with the highly-anticipated Zolani Tete fight to follow in early 2020.
The developing story of this “Monster” isn’t one to be missed. Despite an unblemished record so far in the pro ranks, Inoue’s true potential is still rumbling under the surface. Keep those eyes peeled for the rare sighting of an emerging legend this weekend, in bonny, bonny Scotland.