Naoya Inoue dismissed recent hearsay that his motivation had declined after Roman Gonzalez suffered a stunning loss.
On March 18, the Nicaraguan fell to Thailand’s Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in a decision at New York’s Madison Square Garden for the first defeat of his 47-bout professional career. A potential Gonzalez-Inoue matchup had been the subject of repeated speculation, but it is now unlikely to take place after the loss for “Chocolatito,” who had been on top of the Ring Magazine’s pound-for-pound list (Gonzalez dropped to No. 4 and Inoue is at No. 10).
The WBO super flyweight champion (12-0, 10 knockouts) said that his spirit is rather high as he has a chance to take a step forward by fighting in the United States in the near future.
“My motivation hasn’t dropped,” Inoue said with a smile on Tuesday at a Tokyo news conference to promote his next title defense fight against Ricardo Rodriguez (16-3, 5 KOs) set for May 21 at Ariake Colosseum, which was announced by his Ohashi Gym. “Some articles were writing my motivation went down. But it’s been unchanged.”
The gym was asked to put Inoue on an undercard for a big event in the United States in September, according to gym president Hideyuki Ohashi. The native of Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture, has previously only fought in Japan.
“Whatever kind of a fight it would be, fighting in America would be big motivation for me,” admitted Inoue, who will turn 24 next week. “And hopefully, I’ll be able to get up to the next stage in a good fashion through that.”
To do so, Inoue will need to beat Rodriguez, the WBO’s No. 2-ranked boxer in the division. Ohashi said that the 27-year-old, who knocked out Carlos Narvaez to defend his WBO Latin America super flyweight belt in February, is not an easy opponent to whip, but Inoue needs to overwhelm him to move forward and accomplish bigger things.
“I’m focused on displaying my best possible performance in my May fight first,” said Inoue, who has successfully defended his title in each of his last four fights. “And then beyond that, there’s a possibility for me to go to America. So I’d like to do the best I can.”
Ohashi said that Inoue was set to fight either a unification match or a fight in the bantamweight division, but it came down to a clash with Rodriguez, who was designated as a challenger by the WBO.
Ohashi added that Inoue would also fight in the bantamweight class in a year-end event in Japan. The gym president hinted that it is getting harder for the boxer to stay in the super flyweight division.
On the same undercard, IBF light flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi (25-5-0, 15 KOs) will square off against challenger Milan Melindo of the Philippines (35-2-0) for his third title defense.
“(Melindo)’s fought a lot in his career,” said the 34-year-old Yaegashi, a former WBA minimumweight and WBC flyweight champ. “He’s a hard worker and has gone through a lot, so I’m sure it won’t be easy to get him off-balance. He’s mentally tough as well. I’d like to go up against him with a lot of focus.”
Also, London Olympic bantamweight bronze medalist Satoshi Shimizu (2-0, two KOs) will join his fellow gym mates Inoue and Yaegashi in the event. The 31-year-old southpaw will take on countryman Takuya Yamamoto (9-5, four KOs).
“I’m looking forward to the fight,” Shimizu said. “While I’ll be on the same undercard with Naoya and Yaegashi, I’d like to give an impact as a pro fighter.”
The weekend of May 20 and 21 will feature five world title matches at Ariake. On the first day, there will be three, including London Olympic gold medalist Ryota Murata’s first title shot against Hassan N’Dam for the vacant WBA middleweight championship.