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Inoue, Kono to meet for super flyweight title

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

WBO super flyweight champion Naoya Inoue will try to defend his belt for a fourth time when he faces compatriot and former world champion Kohei Kono, on Dec. 30 at Ariake Colosseum, the Ohashi gym announced on Wednesday. The gym also revealed IBF light flyweight title holder Akira Yaegashi and Inoue’s younger brother, Takuma, will also take the ring the same day.

An unbeaten right-handed boxer, Inoue will take on a Japanese challenger for the first time since winning his belt in April of 2014.

Kono lost his WBA super flyweight title as he fell to Luis Concepcion of Panama in a decision in late August. The 35-year-old boxer, dubbed “the Tough Boy,” said at a Tokyo news conference that retirement crossed his mind after he was knocked from the world champion’s perch, but that he regained his motivation when he received the offer to fight Inoue.

“I’m extremely happy that I have another chance to be a world champion” said Kono, who is 32-9-1 in his career. “I consider (Inoue) one of the strongest opponents I’ve faced.”

While Inoue will be favored in the match, Kono said he likes his chances against the 23-year-old rising star, as long as he’s in peak physical condition.

“Hopefully, we can display a fight that excites the people watching,” said the Yamanashi Prefecture native who defeated Koki Kameda in Chicago in October 2015. “I’ll get in the ring as if it’s the last time.”

Inoue, who is a perfect 11-0 as a professional, isn’t approaching the fight any differently just because it’s against a Japanese opponent.

“I’ll fight it just the same as any other fight I’ve fought,” Inoue said. “I believe that the mood at the arena will be a bit different, but that will only be my motivation.”

Takuma Inoue will be getting his first shot at a world title.

The 20-year-old will be fighting for Marlon Tapales’ WBO bantamweight belt. Tapales (29-2, 12 KOs), of the Philippines, won the belt in July and will be making his first title defense.

“We’ve been dreaming of becoming world champions as brothers since we were little children,” said Takuma, who has posted an 8-0 record. “I’m absolutely more motivated than ever.”

Naoya said: “Takuma’s been in great shape and I’m looking forward to his fight, too. Technically, he’s better than me, so whether he wins it or not will depend on his heart.”

IBF light flyweight champion Yaegashi (24-5, 12 KO) will be making his second title defense against an opponent who will be announced later.

The 33-year-old former champion at the WBA minimum and WBC flyweight divisions will fight for the first time since May.

“It’s been a while since my last fight, but I’d like to show that I’m fine and I can still fight despite my age,” he said.

Satoshi Shimizu, a London Olympic bronze medalist in the bantam class, is also on the undercard for the event, and it will be his second professional fight. His opponent will be revealed at a later date.

“I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be,” Shimizu, 30, said of his pro debut, a victory against Lee In-kyoo of South Korea in September. “I enjoyed the fight.”