Let’s face it-unless you’re a hardcore fan, you’re probably not going to associate bantamweight boxers with the terms “power-puncher” or “knock-out artist”. Chances are, the first names that you’ll think of are heavyweights like Mike Tyson, or George Foreman. If asked to name a non-heavyweight power puncher, it’s highly likely that Thomas Hearns and Julian Jackson would be among the first fighter you’d list. A younger fan might be inclined to mention Gennady Golovkin, perhaps, while someone older might consider naming someone like Bob Foster. Either way, it would probably take a boxing fan a little while before they think of including someone from the bantamweight division on a list of all time great punchers.
Yet, if you examine the division more closely, you’ll soon find that the bantamweight division has featured some notable flame-throwers throughout its history. Brazil’s Eder Jofre had 38 KO’s in 47 wins during his tenure at bantamweight, and once stopped 17 in a row against world class opposition en route to become one of the division’s greatest champions. “Rockabye” Ruben Olivares ran roughshod over the division en route to winning its world championship on two separate occasions, annihilating quality opponents like Lionel Rose and Alan Rudkin along the way. His compatriot Carlos Zarate replicated his feat of crafting two separate streaks of twenty or more knockout victories, including one over another yet another power-punching Mexican, Alphonso Zamora in a rare match-up of undefeated and reigning world titlists. All three of these legends did their best work at bantamweight, and their work at this weight class allowed all three, along with Zamora, to earn places among Ring Magazine’s 100 Greatest Punchers of all time.
So, it’s clear that the terms “knockout artist” and “power-puncher” apply perfectly to these gentlemen…
…And, based on the way he performed on Sunday, they apply equally well to the current WBA (Regular) World Champion, Naoya “The Monster” Inoue.
For yesterday, in front of over 16,000 of his countrymen at the Yokohama Arena, the Japanese superstar needed only two punches and seventy seconds to utterly obliterate the tough, talented Juan Carlos Payano in order to advance to the semi finals of an intriguing WBSS bantamweight tournament.
A two-time Olympian, the Dominican southpaw’s speed and awkwardness had previously enabled him to out-hustle the long-reigning Panamanian Anselmo Moreno in 2014 to become WBA (Super) World Bantamweight champion, and had carried him to three consecutive wins following a closely contested majority decision to Cincinnati stylist Rau’shee Warren the following year. Naturally, few expected him to defeat Inoue, and he was a prohibitive underdog going into this fight. Given the Monster’s rampage through the junior flyweight and super-flyweight divisions-and the fact it had taken him less two minutes to blow away the very respectable Jamie McDonnell in his bantamweight debut this past May- it’s understandable why that would have been the case.
That said, Payano (now 20-2, 9KO’s) was an experienced opponent with good survival skills, and a knack of troubling fighters, like Inoue, who operate exclusively by the textbook. If it seemed entirely unlikely that he would pull of the upset, it seemed equally unlikely, at least to me, that he would be dismissed as easily as McDonnell when he stepped into the ring to face Inoue. Instead I thought the 34 year old southpaw would use his experience and mobility to give his younger foe different looks, and to extend him to at least the second half of the scheduled 12 round distance before Inoue’s advantages in youth and power became fully apparent. Given the style match-up and their respective attributes, that seemed a reasonable expectation.
And it wasn’t like Payano didn’t try to implement a game plan in the opening seconds. He attempted to feint Inoue out of position, shot a couple of lead rights at the body to establish range; with forty seconds gone, he stepped in with a nice three punch combination at his opponent, jabbing to the head and following up with a sharp left that made partial, glancing contact. It was a creative sequence, thrown with some intent, designed to keep his foe at bay and to make him guess about the nature of subsequent attacks.
All it really did was hasten his demise.
For once Inoue had circled away from Payano’s attack.he started to edge forward. Previously, he’d been content to stay back and take the measure of his foe while evading or parrying the shots coming his way, but now he was the one feinting, dipping down as if to attack the body while waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike.
That opportunity presented itself 58 second into the fight, when Payano bit on one of Inoue’s feints and dropped his hands slightly; Inoue immediately filled that opening with a hard jab that connected flush, and blinded the older southpaw to the right hand that flowed immediately behind it. As soon as that right fist collided against his chin, The Dominican stiffened and then flopped onto his back; there was a valiant, but utterly futile attempt to scrape himself off the mat, but referee Pinit Prayasab waived off the entirely unnecessary count at seven and called an end to the contest.
Guess my expectation of this contest going any length of time turned out to be pretty unreasonable after all. Inoue’s most recent performance serves as proof that his phenomenal power and sophisticated delivery system can solve even the most difficult style in a hurry, and render an opponent’s attributes irrelevant.
I’ll keep that in mind next time I analyze one of his match-ups.
Either way, the 25 year old Inoue moves 17-0, 15 KO’s. Having inflicted the initial stoppage defeat on a second straight opponent and registered two consecutive stoppages, he now awaits the winner of the match-up between the IBF champion, the smooth-boxing Emmanuel Rodriguez, and the aggressive, quick-fisted Jason Moloney. It remains to be seen whether Inoue will handle the winner of this match-up as quickly and conclusively as he handled his previous two opponents- but after what took place last night, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility.
Because, in a weekend that featured a number of entertaining shoot-outs like Vargas-Dulorme, Beterbiev-Johnson, and Negrete-Franco, The Monster provided us with its most memorable image as he walked away from his latest victim with high right fist thrust skyward in triumph. In doing so, he moved a little bit closer to the possibility of one day being mentioned alongside the likes of Jofre, Olivares, and Zarate…
…And just a bit closer to being the first guy you think of when the terms “knockout artist” and “power puncher” are mentioned.