Naoya Inoue had a feeling that he hadn’t seen the last of Nonito Donaire after their first meeting.
Their sensational November 2019 fight doubled as a bantamweight title unification clash and the final leg of the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament, with Inoue claiming a well-earned twelve-round, unanimous decision. Following the fight, Yokohama’s Inoue was expected to defend his IBF/WBA titles versus then-WBO champ John Riel Casimero, only for the pandemic to shut down those plans and for the Filipino to go entirely in another direction. It led to Inoue eventually making his way back to Donaire, who broke his own record as the oldest fighter to win a bantamweight title when he reclaimed the WBC belt at age 38. The feat allows for three belts at stake in their anticipated rematch this Tuesday, where Donaire’s chances aren’t at all dismissed by the general public and who Inoue has treated in training camp as a viable threat.
“In terms of ranking him with any fighter I’ve previously faced, Nonito is more special than anyone else,” Inoue told BoxingScene.com of the future Hall of Famer. “I still have plenty I want do in my career and consider this fight as a checkpoint like any other fight.
The rematch takes place Tuesday evening local time at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan (ESPN+, 5:30 a.m. ET). The same venue hosted their epic first fight, which saw Inoue overcome an orbital bone fracture to drop Donaire late and eventually outpoint the Filipino legend over twelve rounds.
Inoue (25-0, 22KOs)—a three-division champion and high-ranking pound-for-pound entrant—has made three defenses in his unified title reign, all ending inside the distance including an eighth-round stoppage of Aran DIpaen last December at the famed Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo.
Donaire worked his way back near the top of the bantamweight division–in fact just one spot below Inoue according to most credible rankings—following a pair of knockouts against unbeaten opponents at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California.
Donaire (42-6, 28KOs)—a Fil-Am superstar who is now based out of Las Vegas—dethroned France’s Nordine Oubaali in a stunningly one-sided, fourth round knockout last May 29, regaining the WBC title he held a full decade prior. His first defense of his third bantamweight title reign also ended inside of four rounds, dispatching unbeaten countryman and interim titlist Reymart Gaballo in their title consolidation clash last December.
“Winning against Oubaali and Gaballo, who both are no easy opponents, in four rounds is simply very impressive,” acknowledges Inoue. “I can imagine Donaire has put in a lot of hard work in the gym.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox