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Naoya Inoue Has The Fedor Emelianenko mid-2000’s Following, Returns Saturday on ESPN

“The Monster” Naoya Inoue (20-0, 17 KOs), is a fighter, whom there is a lot to be impressed by.

Inoue, who defends his IBF and WBA bantamweight title Saturday, June 19th, on ESPN, at 7 PM PST, against his mandatory opponent Michael Dasmarinas, will look to add to his legacy.

In only 20 fights, Inoue has a 85% KO ratio, and only gone a 114 rounds, and on top of that his resume is at that of folklore as the 28-year-old fighter, who now is fighting for the third time in America, feels like the rare word of mouth fighter that social media, all but seemingly vanished. Not unlike a good movie with a twist ending, like “The Sixth Sense”, it seems that those type of experiences in which people tell you via word of mouth have all, but disppeared in the modern era.

So let’s look at his numbers and accomplishments to understand why he is so mythic. In 15 world title bouts, he is undefeated and stopped 13 of those. Inoue won a world title at light flyweight in his sixth fight against Adrian Hernandez, Inoue then skipped the flyweight division completely and won a title at super flyweight defeating Omar Navarez in just eight fights.

When Inoue had his remarkable run was in 2018 when he stopped Jamie McDonnell in one round, then stopped veteran Juan Carlos Payano in one round as well, and for good measure stopped Emmanuel Rodriguez in two rounds. This run was not just impressive, all three of these opponents knew how to go rounds, but still couldn’t get out of the early part of the fight, as the 2018 run of Inoue, carried into his success in the World Boxing Super Series tournament.

Inoue is giving strong vibes of having a fanbase like Fedor Emelianenko, a beloved Russian MMA fighter, who fought in the mid-2000’s in his prime. Emelianenko was the perfect mysterious, pre-social media person for fans looking for a great fighter, who also was not going to be overtly promoted. Emelianenko was a war-cry for the hardcore enthusiasts, as Inoue is a mythic lower weight fighter, is stoic, rarely interviewed, and strictly known for what he does in the ring – as well represents his nation of Japan.

We rarely get fighters, who tune in just to see them fight, yet Inoue is one for me. It doesn’t matter who he is fighting he is the story.

What makes Inoue so special is his blend of power with timing, as he packs a featherweight punch in a smaller frame, with the ability to time shots coming in that cause for some devastating results. Inoue is the closest thing we have seen since Nonito Donaire, since Doanire himself, a big little man, ruling the smaller weight classes. Conversely, it is no surprise that Nonito Donaire has been Inoue’s biggest foil so far, as Inoue despite dropping Donaire was hurt against Donaire, and looked mortal.

Since the Donaire fight, Inoue has signed with Top Rank Inc, and had one fight with Jason Moloney. That bout took place on Halloween of last year, a fitting date for “The Monster”.

Inoue’s opponent, Michael Dasmarinas is a lesser known opponent, but still holds a lot of risk. For starters, Michael Dasmarinas is a Sean Gibbons guy, and Gibbons is known for bringing in fighters who pull off upsets. The Filipino fighter has not lost in six-years, and has fought all the way up at super bantamweight in his last fight, as Dasmarinas will challenge for Inoue’s WBA and IBF bantamweight world titles. It is also important to note this is an IBF mandatory defense, so those wanting sexier match-ups for Inoue, blame the IBF, not Top Rank.

Since COVID-19, and the pandemic hit the world, Inoue’s momentum has slowed, and even his debut on ESPN was overshadowed by boxing superstar, Gervonta Davis vs Leo Santa Cruz on Pay-Per-View. I have seen frustration with some at looking at Inoue’s current promotional situation, but in truth, Inoue is know entering the competitive U.S. market, where being good is only half the battle, the other half is being entertaining. Inoue fights at a division that has not gotten a ton of media exposure outside of the purists, and now is being billed by the hardcores as a generational fighter – which he is, but that also means each performance has to be a positive introduction to someone tuning in for the first time.

In short, Inoue is moving from being a beloved arthouse film to a big budget film, not unlike, Johnny Depp transitioning from “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” to becoming the face of “Pirates Of The Caribbean“, Inoue now will be contextualized not by what he has done, and achieved, but how he looks at this given moment.

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Lukie Ketelle

Lukie Ketelle