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Light flyweight Inoue captures world title in sixth pro bout

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Phenom Naoya Inoue, nicknamed “the Monster” for his unparalleled talent and considered the next big thing in Japanese professional boxing, took his first step toward greatness on Sunday night.

The 20-year-old defeated champion Adrian Hernandez of Mexico with a sixth-round technical knockout and became the new WBC light flyweight champion at Ota City General Gymnasium.

Inoue needed only six professional bouts to earn the title, the fewest number for a Japanese boxer to win a world championship. Previously, Kazuto Ioka, the current WBA light flyweight champ, earned his first belt (WBC minimumweight) in his seventh fight.

The result was somewhat expected after the first couple of rounds as Inoue overwhelmed the Mexican champion (29-2-1) both offensively and defensively. Hernandez tried to bounce back later, but Inoue kept his cool and ended the fight in a stylish way.

“How do I look with the belt everybody?” Inoue asked the jam-packed crowd of 4,300 at the arena from the ring after the fight. “I enjoyed the fight because I’d never exchanged punches like that in my pro career.

“I had some tough moments. But I tried my best, thinking of my dream I’ve had since when I was a child.”

The dream was not just to become a world champion. The goal is a lot bigger for him. Inoue has said that once he’d won a world title, he’d try to break the record for consecutive world title defenses for a Japanese boxer, which is currently held by former WBA junior flyweight (now light flyweight) champion Yoko Gushiken. Gushiken defended his title 13 times.

“I want to be the best in whatever weight class I’ll fight,” Inoue said. “In order to achieve that, I want to train as hard as I can.”

Meanwhile, WBC flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi successfully defended his belt for the third straight time with a knockout win over Mexico’s Odilon Zaleta.

Yaegashi, 31, struggled a little with his opponent’s long arms early on, but found a way to counter with his body punches and finished the challenger with a right hook late in the ninth round.

Yaegashi had expressed the desire to fight against Roman Gonzalez, a former double world champion (WBA lightweight and minimumweight). And with the win on Sunday, Yaegashi is expected to take on the Nicaraguan, who’s 39-0 record as a professional boxer after his Sunday win, as his next opponent.

But despite the victory, Yaegashi didn’t like how he fought and said that he would need to be a lot better to compete on equal footing against the Nicaraguan.

“I was just lucky to land it,” Yaegashi said of his finishing blow. “I’ll do it, I’ll do it with him. But there’s no way I can beat (Gonzalez) with the way I fought today.”

Before the world title matches, the WBC presented an honorable belt to Iwao Hakamada, whose death penalty was revoked by the Shizuoka District Court and was released from the Tokyo Detention House after 48 years behind the bars late last month. Hakamada, 78, was absent at the venue, but his older sister, Hideko, received the green and gold belt.

“So many people who were associated with boxing supported us,” Hideko Hakamada said. “We would like to say thank you very much.”

According to Hideko Hakamada, her brother has been hospitalized since his release, and didn’t yet to know that he would be given the special belt.

“More than anything, I would like show this to Iwao,” she said.