One wonders how Naoya Inoue would be seen in America if he was a native son.
The 29-year-old Japanese star has captivated boxing fans almost from the moment he turned pro in 2012, but from afar for American and European fans. All but four of his matches have taken place in his native Japan, where he is a superstar.
Inoue will fight there again early Tuesday morning US time, when he will face his counterpart Paul Butler for the undisputed 118-pound title in Tokyo (ESPN+). .
If you appreciate near-perfection, it’s worth staying up late or getting up early to watch.
Inoue is one of the greatest boxers of his generation, an agile, athletic technician who might just be the greatest puncher in the weight sport. That’s how he was able to destroy everything in his path, except for his encounter with Nonito Donaire, in which he fought multiple cracks in his eye sockets.
“The Beast” knocked Donaire out in less than two rounds in the rematch to set a record and cement his place among the best boxers in the world.
The long-term numbers also support that unequivocal conclusion about Inoue (23-0, 20 KOs). First, world titles came in 18 of his 23 games. He scored 16 knockdowns in those games. He wins 9-0 (7 KOs) against current or former world title holders. And the three-weight champion is 8-0 (7 KOs) as the 118-pounder.
Only Donaire put him in the distance in the aforementioned fight, which Inoue won by a clear decision.
Few people in the sport are as dominant as Inoue. The case can be made for Terence Crawford and Gervonta Davis, who have some similar qualities and results to Inoue’s. However, no active fighter has a clear advantage over him.
Butler (34-2, 15 KOs) is a successful two-time bantamweight champion who is a 100-1 loser on several betting sites. That’s how boxing pros view Inoue – almost undefeated.
The loser certainly knows what he has to contend with on Tuesday.
“It was definitely the biggest fight of my life,” Butler said GAME. “I’m fighting a weightlifter, and it’s probably the hardest job in boxing right now. But it’s a big opportunity for me. I knew I had to be at 100%, the best I’ve ever been, making no mistake overnight because he would punish any mistake.
“I prepared very hard. I know there will be hard times in the war. I’m not going to go into the whole fight without getting caught by him, so I’ve been trying to improve the things that he does well.
The problem is that he doesn’t do things really well. He often makes his opponents look stupid with his natural aptitude and refinement before putting them to sleep.
And that process is usually quick. Ten of his 20 knockouts came in three rounds, including two of his last three fights.
Of course, Butler is aware of all of the above. He would counter such facts by saying that everyone has a weakness, including Inoue. He points to the first battle against Donaire as proof of that.
“There were moments in the first match against Donaire where he was caught,” the 34-year-old British tennis player said. “He’s human, he’s not a robot. I know he calls himself the Beast’ but he’s not a monster, this big monster. He showed weaknesses against Donaire in the first teamfight and I had to go out and find them and exploit them.
“In the second Donaire match, the great distance between matches helped Inoue, and if he catches you he’ll send chills down your spine and he’s a great finisher.”
Butler must think that way if he has any hope of dealing with a major disappointment. Those who have followed Inoue closely over the years will find it difficult to swallow Butler’s words.
They know that Inoue is as close to INhuman as in boxing.