Naoya Inoue joined Nonito Donaire in the World Boxing Super Series final with a crushing second-round stoppage over Emmanuel Rodriguez yesterday. In doing so, Inoue also added the Ring Magazine belt and the IBF strap to his collection; giving the Japanese star a title in his third weight class. While these are massive achievements for a man with just 18 professional fights, Inoue is still struggling for universal recognition as one of the top pound for pound boxers in the world.
Although Inoue is yet to clean out a division and earn himself a lineal title, he has effectively climbed to the top in two of the three weight divisions he has won titles in. The then unheralded Inoue won his first world title with a sixth-round stoppage over Adrian Hernandez, who was ranked #1 by the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board (TBRB) and #2 by Ring Magazine. The TBRB ranked Inoue #2 at junior flyweight behind Donnie Nietes, while he was ranked #5 by Ring Magazine. A fight between Inoue and Nietes did not happen, as Inoue instead jumped two weight divisions to challenge long-time WBO junior bantamweight kingpin, Omar Narvaez.
Narvaez was rated by both Ring Magazine and the TBRB as the top man at 115lbs. Despite five times the number of professional fights as Inoue and more experience at the weight class, Narvaez didn’t see the third round. Inoue was immediately listed as the #1 by both the TBRB and Ring Magazine. After twelve months of inactivity, Inoue would defend his new title seven times, winning all but one knockout. While his list of victims included Kohei Kono (#7), a mouth-watering fight with Roman Gonzalez didn’t eventuate and, after Gonzalez lost back to back fights to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Inoue was replaced at the top of the TBRB ratings by Rungvisai.
With the World Boxing Super Series holding one if its second tournaments in the bantamweight division, Inoue again moved up and challenged Jamie McDonnell for the secondary WBA “regular” title. While McDonnell wasn’t considered a legitimate titleholder in the division, the TBRB and Ring Magazine both rated him in their top five. McDonnell, who hadn’t lost in ten years and had never been stopped, was finished in under two minutes, and Inoue earned his place in the WBSS.
Inoue’s first opponent was former WBA titleholder Juan Carlos Payano. Payano, like McDonnell, was rated in the top five by both the TBRB and Ring Magazine and had never been stopped. Payano, also like McDonnell, was finished inside of two minutes by Naoya Inoue, who advanced to the semi-finals to face Emmanuel Rodriguez. Rodriguez, who was ranked #6 and #3 by TBRB and Ring Magazine respectively, put up a strong effort in the first round until three knockdowns in the second gave Inoue his third knockout win at bantamweight.
To summarise, in under seven years, Inoue has beaten the top-rated man in two divisions and three men who were rated in the top five in a third division. On top of this, these wins have come in under twelve rounds of boxing. Currently, Inoue sits at #5 on the TBRB pound for pound list, and Ring Magazine has him at #7. While I expect today’s win will likely cause a rise in these rankings, I believe that he belongs at the top of the list and I have thought this since he beat Jamie McDonnell.
Both the TBRB and Ring Magazine have Vasiliy Lomachenko, Terence Crawford, Canelo Alvarez and Oleksandr Usyk as their top four pound for pound, however in slightly different orders.
Lomachenko sits at the top of both lists; however, he has faced inferior opposition compared to Inoue. At featherweight, Lomachenko fought one man inside the top ten, Orlando Salido, whom he lost to, and climbed to the #2 position. While he reached the #1 ranking at junior lightweight, he scored no wins over a man rated in the top five of the division. His best wins at 130lbs came against Roman Martinez (#6), Guillermo Rigondeaux (champion at 122lbs) and Nicholas Walters (previously ranked at 126lbs).
Lomachenko also reached the top of the lightweight division, where he currently sits, and while he has two wins against top-five opponents in Jorge Linares (#2) and Jose Pedraza (#3), the method of these victories does not compare to the demolition job that Inoue has done to men of similar ranking. If Lomachenko’s record deserves the top pound for pound position, why does Inoue’s record not even earn him a top-five position?
Crawford has not only climbed to the top of the independent rankings in three divisions, but he has earned universal recognition as the champion in two of them. After wins over top-ten fighters Ricky Burns (#6) and Yuriorkis Gamboa (#7) earned Crawford the #1 ranking at lightweight, a dominant decision win over #2 Raymundo Beltran made him the lineal champion. After vacating the title, Crawford climbed the rankings at junior welterweight to #2 before securing the lineal championship there with a one-sided win over Viktor Postol. Crawford made three defences, two against top-rated challengers John Molina (#3) and Julius Indongo (#1) before moving to welterweight.
Crawford currently sits at #2 on the welterweight rankings behind Errol Spence Jr. His win over Jeff Horn, the #4 rated welterweight by the TBRB, putting him position for a third lineal championship. While Crawford’s resume is certainly impressive, with as many wins over top-five opponents as Inoue, I argue that Inoue’s utter dominance over similarly ranked, and in my opinion superior opposition, puts forward a strong argument for pound for pound supremacy over Crawford.
Saul Alvarez has climbed two divisions. His first, junior middleweight, saw Canelo score wins over two top contenders Austin Trout (#2) and Erislandy Lara (#1). After defeating middleweight champion Miguel Cotto in a catchweight contest, Alvarez would eventually move to the middleweight limit and beat Gennady Golovkin, the #1 middleweight and most recently the #2 contender Daniel Jacobs. While these are solid wins on paper, in both fights with Golovkin as well as the Trout and Lara fights, many question the legitimacy of these victories.
While Oleksandr Usyk has not dominated multiple divisions during his professional career, the style in which he cleaned out the cruiserweight division undeniably earns him a top five pound for pound spot. With wins over Glowacki (#2), Breidis (#6) and Gassiev (#2), Usyk’s run at cruiserweight has many believing he could be a threat to the likes of Joshua, Wilder and Fury at heavyweight. While Usyk dominated Glowacki and Gassiev, he also struggled with Breidis and Bellew, meanwhile Inoue has barely lost a round during his campaign across more weight divisions.
Inoue’s achievements are overlooked, I believe, for two reasons. First, he has competed in the lower weight divisions, which are often overlooked and second, most of his fights have taken place in Japan. His opposition, however, has been solid and the dominance he has displayed is special. With the WBSS bantamweight final against Donaire coming up later this year, and potential matchups with Zolani Tete and Ryan Burnett both on the horizon, there is a chance for Inoue to establish himself as a dominant champion at bantamweight and hopefully achieve more crossover appeal.