Though 2019 gave us some great heavyweight action – Andy Ruiz’ first, shocking fight with Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder’s two sizzling KO’s – 2019 was very much a year of the little men. Terrific little action fighters such as Kosei Tanaka (who has another fight to come this year, on New Year’s Eve), Moruti Mthalane, Shakur Stevenson, Devin Haney and Teofimo Lopez all had a fine 12 months overall.
Which brings us to the 2019 Fight of the Year:
On November 7, in Japan, in a fight that contested two world titles and The Muhammad Ali Trophy of the World Boxing Super Series, a lethal pure puncher met a future Hall of Famer. And the action was incredible. Bantamweights Naoya Inoue and Nonito Donaire gave us not only this year’s best, but also a fight for the ages.
Inoue, known as “The Monster,” was 18-0 upon entering the ring, holder of the IBF bantamweight title. The 26 year old had left a trail of destruction in his wake, his last eight opponents having been crushed; the last three inside two-rounds. Donaire, known as “The Filipino Flash,” entered the ring with a 40-5(26) ledger and he was the reigning WBA bantamweight king. But Donaire was just days away from his 37th birthday. Would youth, and Inoue’s power, be too much for Donaire? Would the Filipino be the latest victim of the Japanese banger’s brutal power?
The action was spellbinding. Most fans were indeed expecting to be treated to yet another highlight reel KO from Inoue – instead we were given a modern day classic. Donaire showed right away in the battle that he meant business, that he was in Japan to fight and fight hard. Going to the younger man’s body and also testing Inoue’s chin numerous times, Donaire forced observers to start thinking the upset could well be on the cards. And then Inoue starting to pour with blood.
Cut above the right eye by a Donaire punch in round-two, Inoue was already having the toughest fight of his career. And it got tougher. Donaire, though, was only able to do what he did and stay in the fight after taking some hellacious shots himself. If a fan was led to think there could be a possible upset, this same fan was also asking out loud how much Donaire could take. Hit hard and hit flush a number of times, Donaire, who has been stopped just once in his long career, took it all and kept coming.
Inoue had to dig deep and close the show, which he did (and the local hero must have been thinking how on earth Donaire was able to take what he did take). Round 11 saw Donaire finally hit the mat, but it was courtesy of an Inoue body shot, not a shot to the head. Donaire was badly hurt, yet somehow, in Arturo Gatti style (think round-9 of his first epic with Mickey Ward) he survived and made it to the end of the round. An incredible round; Round of the Year stuff in fact.
Inoue might have known he was ahead as the bell rang to end the 12th, or maybe not. It was close, far closer than two of the official cards would have you believe, and the November fight has to be placed alongside lower-weight classics such as Barrera-Morales.
Inoue showed a lot in the fight: chin, heart, the ability overcome a bad cut and not panic, and also stamina. While it later emerged how Inoue had suffered a fractured orbital bone. While Donaire gave us, as has been written, a performance for the ages.
Together these two little giants gave us the best fight of the year 2019.