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Naoya Inoue wins effortlessly with first-round knockout against Juan Carlos Payano

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

This time, he needed just a few punches to end the night.

WBA bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue landed a picture-perfect one-two blow on Juan Carlos Payano to stunningly — and quickly — finish the match in their World Boxing Super Series quarterfinal bout in Yokohama Arena on Sunday.

The 25-year-old Inoue remains unbeaten with a 17-0 record (15 knockouts). He will face the winner of another quarterfinal bout between IBF champ Emmanuel Rodriguez of Puerto Rico and Australia’s Jason Moloney, set to take place on Oct. 20 in Orlando. The semifinal schedule will be announced at a later date.

On a day featuring three world title bouts, Inoue was by far the biggest attraction and he did not betray the high expectations from his local fans that jam-packed the arena.

Veteran southpaw Payano (20-2, nine KOs), a former WBA bantamweight title-holder, attempted to take the pace, actively launching blows from the bell.

But it was no problem for Inoue, and when his turn came he made sure it was the last.

The local hero severely punished the 34-year-old Dominican and sent him straight to the canvas, driving the crowd into a frenzy.

“I felt pretty good about my blow,” Inoue said of the winning punch. “And looking at the way he fell onto the mat, I thought it really damaged him.”

It was the second straight first-round win for the Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture native, who defeated then-champion Jamie McDonnell just 1 minute and 52 seconds into the opening round in a May WBA bantamweight title match in Tokyo.

“This is the second consecutive time that I’ve won in the first round,” said Inoue, who made his first title defense on Sunday. “I know I have not been tested and that there will be occasions that I will be. But I would like to get past every challenge and grow further as a boxer.”

Asked who he wants to take on in the next round between Rodriguez and Moloney, Inoue called for Rodriguez’s name, relishing a matchup some believe would place the Japanese fighter in the role of underdog.

“I think I’ll be fighting abroad next,” Inoue said. “But if I keep winning even overseas, I’ll become more like a superstar going forward.”

Meanwhile, Belarus’ Kiryl Relikh controlled the ring from the opening bell and was scored 115-113 by all three judges to beat veteran boxer Eduard Troyanovsky in the super lightweight competition of the Super Series.

With the result, Relikh retained his WBA title for the first time.

Relikh (23-2, 19 KOs) was quicker and more powerful than the 38-year-old Troyanovsky (27-2, 24 KOs) from early on. The Russian was tough and refused to go down, but Relikh managed to win the decision.

“It was a very tough fight,” Relikh said. “My problem was that I was looking too hard for a knockout.”

Earlier in the night, WBC light flyweight champ Kenshiro Teraji posted a seventh-round TKO win over former IBF title holder Milan Melindo.

The fighter known to fans simply as “Ken Shiro” began taking the momentum from the fifth round onward, effectively using his left jab to circle around the Filipino. He cut Melindo’s left eyelid in the sixth and further damaged the area in the seventh. The referee stopped the fight with 13 seconds left in the round as he determined Melindo’s wound was too severe.

“I carried out my own boxing throughout,” said Ken Shiro (14-0, eight KOs), who has now extended his title defense to four. “Melindo was very tough and in fact, his pressing was strong. But I kept believing in my jabs.”