One of the best fights in the last few years is set for its second chapter. Two of the best bantamweights of this era will throw down in Japan on Tuesday when unified champion Naoya Inoue takes on WBC titleholder Nonito Donaire at the Saitama Arena (5 a.m. ET, ESPN+). The pair first met in 2019 in a bout hailed as the best of the year to conclude the World Boxing Super Series tournament in the 118-pound division.
Donaire (42-6, 28 KO) entered the tournament thought by many to be well past his prime and having lost bouts to Jessie Magdaleno and Carl Frampton in two of his last three. While Donaire won his first two fights in the WBSS tournament, he did not enter the finals with Inoue having calmed many concerns over his current form. The first round saw him defeat Ryan Burnett after Burnett suffered a back injury just four rounds into the fight and the semifinal bout came against Stephon Young who was a late replacement for Zolani Tete.
But, when given his shot at Inoue, one of the best fighters in the world, Donaire showed he still held many of the skills that saw him win 30 consecutive fights from 2001 to 2012, a stretch where he won world titles at flyweight, super flyweight, bantamweight and super bantamweight. In his 35th pro fight, Donaire also added a world title at featherweight to his already impressive collection.
"I went in there with so many vulnerabilities and not really caring about anything else but just brawling," Donaire said in an interview with Yahoo Sports. "This time, I'm bringing everything I am, from a guy with speed, a guy who can counter, a guy who can think and, yeah, a guy who can brawl. I'm going to bring everything that's in my skill set to the fight this time instead of just going out and brawling."
The speed of Inoue (22-0, 19 KO) was a major factor in the bout with Donaire, but Donaire never backed down and showcased a brutal right hand in addition to his trademark left hook. Both men would hurt the other throughout the battle before Inoue was able to pull away late, including with a knockdown on a body shot in Round 11. Inoue would ultimately win the fight by scores of 114-113, 116-111, and 117-109, but Donaire's performance showed he had plenty left to offer inside the ring.
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Donaire would be out of the ring until 2021 when he knocked out Nordine Oubaali in the fourth round to capture the WBC title and then retained the belt with another fourth-round knockout, this time over Reymart Gaballo.
Inoue's nickname "The Monster" is apt, considering his crushing power that has put down all but three of his career opponents. On his rise to the point of being one of the sport's pound-for-pound elite, Inoue has collected world titles at junior flyweight, junior bantamweight and bantamweight.
Since his win over Donaire, Inoue has remained perfect, scoring knockouts of Jason Moloney, Michael Dasmarinas and Aran Dipaen.
Now, he's set for a rematch with his toughest opponent to date as well as the biggest name fighter he's ever faced.
The rest of the undercard fills out with more matchups in the lower weight classes. Takuma Inoue, Naoya's younger brother, is back in a super bantamweight contest when he takes on Gakuya Furuhashi. Takuma Inoue previously held the interim WBC super bantamweight title in 2019 before suffering his lone pro defeat to Oubaali when he challenged for the full title. He holds a 15-1 record with just three knockouts.
Below is the rest of the fight card in Japan with the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook before getting to a prediction and pick on the main event.
Inoue vs. Donaire card, odds
Naoya Inoue (c) -550
Nonito Donaire (c) +400
WBA, IBF and WBC bantamweight titles
It's been a joy to watch Donaire, a true legend and a beloved fighter, resurrect his career as a legitimate top-tier fighter. However, at 39-years old, Donaire is at an age where his body will often not be able to pull off what has become instinct over his long and storied career. Inoue has already proven he has the ability to beat Donaire, albeit in a thrilling fight, and he's still a 29-year-old who has taken a very limited amount of dents over his time in the ring.
It would seem reasonable to think that Inoue will be able to repeat what he accomplished the first time around and maybe without as much trouble. Expect Donaire to be game and to give everything he has. It's just that everything Donaire has might not be enough. Pick: Naoya Inoue via TKO10