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What’s next for Naoya Inoue and Josh Taylor? Easy: World Boxing Super Series tournament finals

Naoya Inoue and Josh Taylor are headed to their WBSS tournament final fights.

Muhammad Ali Trophy Semi-Finals - World Boxing Super Series Fight Night Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

Every weekend, we do the “what’s next for ____?” posts about the biggest names who were just in action. Usually it’s a bunch of speculation, sometimes totally impossible to tell. Just an educated guessing game, basically.

The World Boxing Super Series eliminates that. We know what is next for these guys. But in case you don’t follow so closely, just jumped in with boxing or with the WBSS tournament, here’s where Saturday’s tournament winners in Glasgow are headed next.

What’s next for Naoya Inoue?

Inoue (18-0, 16 KO) smoked Emmanuel Rodriguez to win the IBF bantamweight title, stopping the Puerto Rican — who is a really good fighter, mind you — in the second round. Rodriguez and Inoue traded shots in the first. The trade stopped in the second, as the Japanese “Monster” just ran him over, dropping Rodriguez (19-1, 12 KO) three times en route to a stoppage.

Muhammad Ali Trophy Semi-Finals - World Boxing Super Series Fight Night Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Nonito Donaire is next up for Inoue, who also captured the Ring Magazine championship at 118 pounds, if that means anything to you.

Donaire (40-5, 26 KO) was really never supposed to be here, but he’s said multiple times, including on Saturday in Glasgow, that he feels this is destiny. The two were pleasant with one another (Donaire is pleasant with basically everyone) in the ring, but don’t mistake that respect and mutual admiration to lead to anything less than an action-packed fight when they meet on a date to be decided.

The 36-year-old Donaire has won world titles at 112, 118, 122, and 126. He was a top pound-for-pound contender years back. Over time, he met his limitations moving up in weight, which surely Inoue will at some point, too. Donaire wasn’t really the same at 122 as he had been before, and at 126 he was clearly too small, something he admitted after being stopped by Nicholas Walters in 2014.

Donaire moved back down to 122 after that, but took a money fight with Carl Frampton at 126 in April 2018, losing by decision in Belfast. He then made the bold move to drop all the way back down to bantamweight to enter the World Boxing Super Series, having not made 118 in seven years.

Last November, he upset Ryan Burnett, but it came when Burnett hurt his back and had to retire from the fight. Then he was set to face Zolani Tete in the semifinal on April 27, only Tete got hurt the week of the fight, so Donaire faced replacement opponent Stephon Young instead, and knocked Young smooth out in the sixth round on one of Donaire’s patented left hooks.

Donaire is the old man here. The 26-year-old Inoue has been just smashing the hell out of his opposition at 108, 115, and now 118. At bantamweight, he’s looked more ferocious than ever, finishing Jamie McDonnell and Juan Carlos Payano in one, and now Rodriguez in two.

There’s a lot of story in this matchup. Donaire is the Cinderella Man of the field, Inoue the wrecking ball. But we’ve seen that Donaire’s left hook is still a serious weapon at 118 pounds, and Inoue can be there to be hit, though he is a good technician. Can Nonito survive the assault? Can he find a home for the hook? Or will Inoue trounce another opponent? Cool news: we’ll find out.

What’s next for Josh Taylor?

Taylor, the home favorite in Scotland, also won an IBF title on Saturday, dropping Ivan Baranchyk (19-1, 12 KO) twice and outpointing the tough Belarusian over 12 rounds. Taylor (15-0, 12 KO) was always expected to get to the final, as was his upcoming opponent.

Muhammad Ali Trophy Semi-Finals - World Boxing Super Series Fight Night Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Taylor, 28, will meet 30-year-old WBA titleholder Regis “Rougarou” Prograis in the 140-pound tournament final later this year. Prograis and Taylor didn’t have quite the chummy meeting of Donaire and Inoue, but it wasn’t unpleasant. These are just two guys who don’t mind talking about how good they are, and have backed up their words every time out thus far.

I love this fight. Prograis (24-0, 20 KO) has beaten Terry Flanagan and Kiryl Relikh in the first two rounds, both fights in his native state of Louisiana, one in New Orleans and the other in Lafayette. He mentioned in the ring that he was willing to come to Glasgow and face Taylor, but we’ll see about all that. It is where the fight is probably worth the most money, though.

Prograis and Taylor are just two talented, supremely confident, in-prime fighters, both unbeaten, both have world titles, both have skills and power, both aren’t afraid to mix it up, and they’re the top two guys in the world in their weight class.

I can see either guy winning. I can see either guy winning via decision or stoppage. I can just plain see this being a great fight, too — their styles should mesh nicely. Taylor had no fear of banging out with the less-skilled but strong Baranchyk, and Prograis has stopped eight of his last 10 opponents since stepping up his competition a bit in 2015.

If you’re a boxing fan at all, look forward to this one. We’ll tell you every week to watch whatever dumb fights are on that weekend, but we strive to be honest. Some fights are not going to be good. Some fights are not good matchmaking. But on paper, Prograis-Taylor really has it all. They aren’t the sport’s biggest superstars, but they’re terrific fighters.

And the winner is going to be highly sought-after by both PBC and Top Rank, no question about it, for a move up to 147. PBC has the welterweight stars right now, but you always need to keep things fresh. And Top Rank badly needs good opponents for WBO 147-pound titleholder Terence “Bud” Crawford. So while these guys may not be the big-time headliners just yet, they might not be far off from getting the chance to be that type, either.

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