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If I Were a Boxing Matchmaker: Naoya Inoue

Who I believe he should be paired with
YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - MAY 16: Naoya Inoue of Japan in action during a training session ahead of his WBA Bantamweight title bout against Jamie McDonnell on May 16, 2018 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)

Howdy folks. Today I’d like to discuss some potential future matchups for a rising star. Keep in mind that I want to re-remind you all that these matchups are based off the hope that we would be able to match up these fighters based off the best fights at the given time, with little consideration to the belts unless they are legitimate. As fans we should like to see real champions crowned.

Naoya “The Monster” Inoue 19-0 (16 KOs)

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Naoya Inoue has already been matched up with some real quality opponents, if you consider that he only has 19 fights and has fought opposition with combined records of 460-67-22. Already winning “titles” in three weight classes and squaring off with guys like Nonito Donaire, Emmanuel Rodriguez, Juan Payano, Jamie McDonnell, Omar Narvaez, Adrian Hernandez, Ryoichi Taguchi, etc. Inoue is a rising stud right now and it doesn’t look to be stopping anytime soon. After his fantastic gritty performance against the future hall of famer Nonito Donaire; he is on track for major global stardom. Our hopes as fans is that he continues to step into the ring with some of the best boxers in these lower weight classes. With his recent signing with Top Rank, it’s hard to guess if that will happen. Especially when you’re from outside the U.S.A. Usually when Arum signs these foreign based boxers, they try to market them in the states for a while before upping the ante. My gut feeling is that Inoue will probably move up in weight to 122 to fight a softer touch opponent first, given the war and injuries he sustained against Donaire. Keep a guy like Isaac Dogboe in mind. Then he will probably get matched up with a guy like Emanuel Navarrete later in the year, or possibly next year. My concern is that Top Rank doesn’t really have a lot of elite level fighters at the smaller weight classes for Inoue to match up with, so they will most likely try to build the Navarrete bout as big as they can get it, then maybe move on to 126. Keep guys like Christopher Diaz, Jessie Magdaleno and then possibly Shakur Stephenson for some potential future opponents. I wouldn’t mind any of these match ups, as they are all still good fights, but they are not the best that could be made. Here are the match ups that I think are more interesting from a fan’s perspective and for the overall legacy of the Japanese star.

#1 Matchup: Guillermo Rigondeaux 19-1 (13 KOs)

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Guillermo Rigondeaux is not at the peak of his performance at this stage in his career, so it would be a good opportunity for Inoue to have another torch passed down to him, if he can successfully dismantle Rigondeaux. However, Rigo is one of the most underrated boxers I have ever known. He has rarely been given the proper treatment of a man of his stature. He is one of the greatest amateur standouts and a phenomenal talent as a pro. Guillermo has practically dominated everybody he has been in the ring with, including the man Inoue just defeated, Nonito Donaire. Rigo dominated Donaire nearly seven years ago, when they were both nearest to their prime fighting days. Rigondeaux’s lone defeat came in the hands of a near prime Vasyl Lomachenko when Rigo was 36 or 37 years old.

I’m not implying that “The Jackal” would pull off the upset, but I would certainly love to see if Rigo has at least one more big performance to display. If Donaire can trouble Inoue, then Rigondeaux should be able to as well. My main question would be the chin of Guillermo at this stage. He took more punches than necessary in his last bout and that is a concern. However, he is still a highly skilled operator with very good power.

I just also read that Rigondeaux is fighting Liborio Solis at Bantamweight for some nonsense interim WBA status and although it is silly, that could mean a potential future bout with the actual WBA titleholder, which is currently none other than Naoya Inoue. This can be put together in Japan or in the US somewhere. I don’t really think it will be left for a judge’s decision anyways. Also, this can be set up at 118 or 122.

#2 Matchup: Juan Francisco Estrada 40-3 (27 KOs)

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This is a pretty easy explanation to put together for why this is worth signing up for. Inoue is being considered by some as a top 5 pound-for-pound fighter in the world right now. I’m not sure I would go that far, as his competition is not quite on par with some other men in that realm of discussion, however, he does probably deserve a pound-for-pound nod nonetheless.

Estrada is the current Super Flyweight Champion and Inoue is considered the top dog at 118. So, two legitimate fighters going toe to toe for all the marbles is something we should all want to sign up for. Estrada is also a pound-for-pound rated boxer and that makes it even more exciting. The styles are great and we would see a very methodical bout with some quality action included. Las Vegas, California, or New York would be a good landing spots for this match.

#3 Matchup: Kazuto Ioka 25-2 (14 KOs)

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Two Japanese stars going head to head is a good marketing tactic for both men. The arena would be packed and the crowd would be electric. Ioka is a highly ranked titleholder at 115 and Inoue is at 118. There’s not a big difference in weight, so there would be no issues with that. Styles would mold well, with Inoue being a powerful counter puncher and Ioka probably pressing the action a little bit. Ioka is a good body puncher and technical boxer in the center of the ring. I’d love to see this one get figured out somehow. Japan is the obvious location.

#4 Matchup: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai 47-5-1 (41 KOs)

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Srisaket Sor Rungvisai would be another huge name for Inoue to have on his resume. Sor Rungvisai is a former belt-holder at super fly. Prior to his defeat to Estrada, he was sitting in a pound-for-pound slot himself and still could be considered near the cusp of the bottom part of that list. The styles of these two men would make for a very interesting and action-packed fight. Inoue would need to box from distance and set up his big counter shots, while Sor Rungvisai would need to keep up the pressure and put together combinations and hope to land the big hooks that he’s been able to stop Roman Gonzalez and hurt many others with. Sor Rungvisai is still an elite level fighter and still sits as the number two man at 115 and has the power and skill to be havoc for anybody around these weight divisions, and that includes Inoue. This could certainly be set up in Japan, or in Las Vegas, or even as a co-main to a Pacquiao event in say Macau, China.

#5 Matchup: Luis Nery 30-0 (24 KOs)

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Luis Nery is a name that has been circulating as a potential opponent for Inoue for a little while now. Nery and Inoue have both been top ranked boxers at bantamweight, but with Nery’s constant issues making weight, this would have to be agreed to at 122, or even 126. That doesn’t seem to be too hard to accomplish, especially with how these sanctioning bodies work. However, it can still be accomplished more legitimately. Such as Nery defeating somebody like Daniel Roman, or Emanuel Navarrete and Inoue stepping up from 118 to take on Nery, or Inoue defeating a guy like Navarrete and then they collide. Nery and Inoue would be a fantastic match up and I could easily see somebody being stopped at some point, considering both have a great deal of power. This could land in a place like Las Vegas, or California.

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