Naoya Inoue was a little surprised to get a title shot in his first fight in a new weight class, against someone he describes as the toughest boxer he has ever had to face in his professional career.
But the Japanese phenom, who has been dubbed “Monster,” is not daunted by his latest fight and instead sees it as an opportunity to take a significant step toward international stardom.
Inoue, a former WBC light flyweight and WBO super flyweight champion, will attempt to claim his third world title against Britain’s Jamie McDonnell on Friday night at Tokyo’s Ota-City General Gymnasium.
“I didn’t expect to challenge for the world title in my first fight since moving up a weight division,” Inoue said at a Tokyo news conference on Wednesday. “My reaction was one of both surprise and excitement.”
Inoue beat France’s Yoan Boyeaux by technical knockout on Dec. 30 last year to extend his WBO super flyweight title defense streak to seven before deciding to move up to the bantamweight division. He will head into the McDonnell match as the No. 2 contender. A victory would make him the fifth Japanese to win world titles in three different weight classes.
The 25-year-old is unbeaten in his professional career (15-0, 13 knockouts) and has recently made a name for himself overseas as well. Inoue made his international debut last September when he defeated the United States’ Antonio Nieves at StubHub Center in Carson, California.
He is currently ranked No. 7 in the pound-for-pound list in The Ring magazine.
Inoue’s record clearly speaks for itself. While he paid respect to the champ McDonnell (29-2-1, 13 KOs), who is undefeated over the last 10 years, the challenger intends to finish him the same way he’s ended the majority of his previous matches.
“Of course,” Inoue said, when asked if he is looking for a knockout. “If I get the momentum and have a chance, I’ll go for the knockout.”
Inoue is looking to compete in the newly launched World Boxing Super Series by overcoming McDonnell. The series was inaugurated in 2017 in the cruiser and super middleweight divisions. The bantamweight and light welterweight competitions will take place in 2018 and 2019.
Meanwhile, McDonnell is also in high spirits. Despite his status as world champion, he flew all the way from Europe to meet Inoue in the Asian’s backyard. He thinks it’s worth it and knows the spotlight will shine much brighter on him if he defeats the Japanese star.
“Inoue is a great fighter, No. 7 in the pound-for-pound list, and that’s what gives me motivation for this fight,” said the 32-year-old McDonnell, who will try to defend his title for the sixth time.
He added: “(If) I beat Inoue, everyone is going to know my name across the world. So that gives me the motivation.”
The native of Doncaster is considered an underdog for the fight.
But despite the disadvantage of facing a challenger as dangerous as Inoue on his home soil, McDonnell is confident and believes he is “a better fighter all around.”
“That’s a good challenge, great challenge,” said McDonnell, who beat Tomoki Kameda in consecutive bouts in the U.S. in 2015. “And that’s why I took it.”
Inoue’s gym owner and former world champ Hideyuki Ohashi said it has been 100 years since boxing first arrived in Japan, and it will be the first time ever a British world champion has fought in a Japanese ring. He added that the event is a sellout.
The bout will be aired live on both ESPN+ (the company’s newly launched streaming platform) in the U.S. and Sky Sports in Britain.
On the same card, WBC light flyweight champ Ken Shiro will face top contender Ganigan Lopez in a rematch. The 26-year-old Japanese escaped with a victory over the Mexican a year ago at Ariake Colosseum in a close decision.
“I’d like to show that there’s a bigger difference between me and him and show how much I’ve grown,” Shiro (12-0, 6 KOs) said.
Lopez (34-7, 19 KOs) said: “I always have respect for any fighters I fight, but that’s not the case inside the ring. I want to prove that I’m the champion in this fight.”
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