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'Puncher's mentality' has Naoya Inoue on path to boxing stardom

·Combat columnist
·4 min read
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LAS VEGAS — Bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue spent a little more than 10 minutes Monday chatting with a reporter, but said no more than ex-heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder did Tuesday when he left a news conference with Tyson Fury in Los Angeles without taking questions.

But fans are excited not to hear Inoue speak; it’s watching him punch an opponent and knock them for a loop that makes him one of the rising stars in the fight game.

On Saturday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN), Inoue will defend his IBF-WBA bantamweight belts at the Virgin Hotel against long shot hopeful Michael Dasmirinas. He’ll look to add to his 85 percent knockout rate by getting Dasmirinas out for his 18th knockout in 21 professional fights. At BetMGM, Inoue is a massive -3300 favorite to win the fight.

“I haven’t fought in front of a crowd since the Nonito Donaire fight [on Nov. 7, 2019], so I am excited about that and excited to put on a show,” Inoue told Yahoo Sports.

Top Rank’s Bob Arum has promoted many of the game’s biggest stars in his 55-plus years in the sport. One of those was Manny Pacquiao, who spoke next-to-no English when Arum first began working with him and wasn’t the iconic fighter he is today.

Inoue, Arum said, is further ahead from a boxing standpoint than where Pacquiao was when he promoted him for the first time in 2001 on a Floyd Mayweather undercard.

“No question. No question about that at all,” Arum said. “Manny obviously developed working with [trainer] Freddie [Roach] into one of the greatest champions ever. I don’t know if Naoya is going to get there, because how many do that, but he has incredible talent and it’s not even a question to say he’s ahead of where Manny was [in 2001].”

Top Rank matchmaker Bruce Trampler has one of the shrewdest eyes for talent in the sport. He said, “I came away really impressed with the kid,” after his seventh-round knockout of Jason Moloney on Oct. 31.

Trampler is a realist and said “20 fights does not a legend make,” and told a story about his mentor Teddy Brenner. Sugar Ray Leonard asked Brenner early in his career how he compared with Sugar Ray Robinson, who is widely regarded as the greatest pound-for-pound boxer who ever lived.

“Get 200 fights and I’ll tell you,” Brenner said to Leonard.

Robinson ended his career with a record of 173-19-6 and two no contests with 109 knockouts.

Inoue, who is 28, won’t even get halfway to that point, so perhaps the jury will always be out on him. But Trampler said Inoue has elite skills, and is one of the best body punchers in the world already.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 31: Naoya Inoue and Jason Moloney exchange punches during their bantamweight title bout at MGM Grand Conference Center on October 31, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)
Naoya Inoue and Jason Moloney exchange punches during their bantamweight title bout at MGM Grand Conference Center on Oct. 31, 2020 in Las Vegas. (Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

Not many fighters go to the body as consistently and as hard as Inoue does, Trampler said, pointing the blame on the amateur scoring system. Inoue, however, has that soul-crushing power to the body and he commits to it. You’ll often see him with a knee nearly touching the canvas as he rips a shot to the midsection that immobilizes his opponent.

But Inoue is not a one-trick pony. He’s equally adept at going up or down. Arum said he thinks Inoue will eventually develop into one of the brightest stars because of his power and because people love knockouts.

Arum said Inoue is the best bantamweight he’s ever seen, which is a massive mouthful considering the greats there have been in that division. But while it’s debatable where Inoue ranks all-time, what’s not in debate is his status as one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the world.

Yahoo Sports has him third, behind only Canelo Alvarez and Terence Crawford. ESPN has the same top three as Yahoo Sports. The Ring has Inoue second and Crawford third behind No. 1 Alvarez.

“He’s to me one of the brightest stars there is because he boxes beautifully and he has that devastating power to knock somebody out like that,” Arum said.

Trampler said the KO power is not just physical skill but attitude.

“You think of the greatest punchers and a guy like Earnie Shavers, he wanted to hurt you,” Trampler said. “They have that puncher’s mentality. [Mike] Tyson had it; he wanted to hurt you. Inoue wants to hurt you. He wants to rip you up downstairs and then when your hands come down and your chin is exposed, he goes upstairs. He gets it.

“It’s not something that I think can be taught. I wouldn’t say he’s a natural body puncher, because nobody is, but he’s an instinctive body puncher. That’s what makes him so good and you don’t see that much any more.”

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