It was nearly a sparring for Naoya Inoue. The difference was that he did it surrounded by 6,500 spectators.
The young Japanese champ gave challenger Ricardo Rodriguez no chance, quickly wrapping up the bout.
Inoue posted a third-round knockout win to defend his WBO super flyweight title for the fifth time at Ariake Colosseum on Sunday night.
“I feel relieved because people thought that I was going to win easily,” Inoue said after the bout. “I’m satisfied with the result. Some say that Inoue has a weakness in an infight. But I wanted to prove I can do (infighting) as well.”
Indeed, Inoue (13-0, 11 KOs) was ruthless from the first round. Well, he watched how Rodriguez came out for the first half of Round 1 a little bit, but still landed some effective blows.
In the second round, Inoue began gearing up and landed more punches to do damage on the Mexican-American. Inoue, usually an orthodox fighter, even displayed a southpaw style during the round and landed a strong left to wobble Rodriguez.
And in Round 3, Inoue rained punches and knocked Rodriguez down with a left with about 30 seconds into it.
Rodriguez stood up on that. But moments later Inoue landed a powerful left hook. The 27-year-old Rodriguez tried to come back up, but this time he failed to do so as the referee counted to 10 to finish the fight.
“He’s a great boxer and a great champion,” Rodriguez (16-4) said of his impression of Inoue through an interpreter. “He was so powerful and was good at firing counterpunches.”
Occasionally fighting in a southpaw style has been what Inoue’s working on lately. He said that after a while he boxed with Rodriguez, he thought he could test it.
“I kind of wanted to try that,” Inoue, 24, said. “I had some room mentally to do it, too. I could land a good left, and I would like to elaborate on the accuracy going forward.”
Former WBA and WBC minimumweight champion Hideyuki Ohashi, president of Inoue’s Ohashi gym, joked that he had worried that the boxer would “finish the fight in the first round.”
“He beat someone who was designated (by the WBO) in Round 3,” Ohashi said of Rodriguez, who entered the bout as WBO’s No. 2-ranked fighter. “You don’t see that very often. I give Naoya a full mark today.”
Inoue, who’s currently ranked No. 10 on Ring Magazine’s pound-for-pound list (WBC bantamweight champ Shinsuke Yamanaka is No. 9), is now expected to have his next fight in the United States in September. Ohashi admitted that it would likely happen.
“Having won with a third-round KO,” Inoue, an ex-WBC lightweight champ, said of it, “I think it’s given a little impact toward that. I heard that I’d fight in September and will do my best for it.”
On the undercard, Inoue’s gymmate and IBF light flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi took a stunning first-round loss to interim champ Milan Melindo.
The two battled toe-to-toe from the first bell, but Melindo was sharper as the 29-year-old Filipino knocked Yaegashi down three times to post a TKO victory.
For the third knockdown, Melindo (36-2, 13 KOs) delivered a perfect right to sink Yaegashi. The stoppage time was 15 seconds left in the round.
Yaegashi, a former WBA minimumweight and WBC flyweight champion, was seeking a third successful title defense, but was forced to exit the ring without the belt in his hands.
“I got hit with his left hook (for the first down), and looking back, it won him the fight,” Yaegashi said. “I wasn’t good enough to win. I have to accept it.”
Yaegashi added that he would have to sit and think about his future.
“I don’t know,” he said. “If there are needs for me, I’ll do it, and if there will be something that inspires me again, if there’s a fire left in myself, I’ll stand back again.”
Melindo said that he did not expect the fight to end that quickly.
“I knew Yaegashi is a tough fighter and thought I could end up fighting with him for 12 rounds,” Melindo said.