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Naoya Inoue: Japanese sensation further cements his legacy with destructive Luis Nery victory

Boxing writer John MacDonald takes a look at the remarkable career of arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet right now, Naoya Inoue, after the Japanese superstar further cemented his boxing legacy with a destructive stoppage of Luis Nery in May.

Naoya Inoue v Luis Nery

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In the four-belt era, becoming undisputed champion of a weight class was once a rare achievement.

Bernard Hopkins became the first man to hold the WBC, WBA, WBO and IBF straps simultaneously, when he defeated Oscar De La Hoya for all the marbles, at middleweight. That landmark achievement took place in 2004.

Within 12 months, a second man joined the list as Jermain Taylor usurped ‘The Executioner.’

12 years passed before Terence Crawford become the third fighter to etch his name into the history books, by clearing out the 140lbs division.

Subsequently, six other boxers have been in possession of all the titles in a single weight class, with ‘Bud’ going on to repeat the feat at welterweight.

While the accomplishment has become increasingly common, few, if any, have achieved it in as impressive a manner as Naoya Inoue.

In 2022, the ‘Monster’ unified all the gold at bantamweight, by stopping Paul Butler in 11th round to add the WBO belt to his collection which already included the WBC, WBA and IBF versions.

While the performance of Inoue (26-0, 23 KOs) against the Englishman may have been lacklustre, by his own high standards, the rest of his run at 118lbs was thrilling.

The high-quality trio of Jamie McDonnell, Juan Carlos Payano and Emmanuel Rodriguez were dispatched of in a combined total of four rounds.

Those victories lead the Japanese fighter to the final of the World Boxing Super Series, where he overcame future Hall of Famer, Nonito Donaire, in a gruelling war.

A rematch between the two, staged two-and-a-half years later, ended in an emphatic victory for Inoue, as he stopped his great rival in the second frame.

Seven months on from the Butler fight, the 31-year-old jumped up to super-bantamweight to challenge WBC and WBO ruler, Stephen Fulton.

Many had predicted that the American would provide the sternest test of Inoue’s career, but instead, the ‘Monster’ lived up to his nickname, as he dissected his ‘Coolboy Steph’ with surgical precision, before securing a stoppage win in the eighth round.

With that victory, the man from Zama became a four-weight world champion, having also held titles at light-flyweight and super-flyweight.

His run in the lighter divisions is often overlooked as few of the men he faced are household names in the west, but the Japanese boxer beat accomplished fighters such as: Ryoichi Taguchi, Adrian Hernandez and Omar Narvaez.

Just five months after his success over Fulton, Inoue became undisputed in a second weight class with a dominant display against Marlon Tapales, stopping the Filipino in the 10th to add the WBA and IBF straps to his collection.

In doing so, the ‘Monster’ became only the second man to win all four straps in two divisions, after Crawford, who had collected all the gold at 147lbs, earlier in the year.

It is fitting that ‘Bud’ and Inoue are universally regarded as the two best fighters on the planet, at present.

Of course, which of them is No.1 is hotly disputed.

Perhaps, Inoue does not always receive the recognition his accomplishments deserve, as fewer people closely follow the lower weight classes, and as such, the quality of wins earlier in his career are underrated by some.

However, the ‘Monster’ made a statement when he defended his titles against Luis Nery, on 6 May, in Japan.

The Mexican, a former two-weight world champion, is well known to western audiences having fought on many high-profile cards in America.

Although, Inoue had, arguably, defeated the two best boxers in the division already, ‘Pantera’ was the most worthy available challenger.

The southpaw is aggressive, flashy and dangerous. All those attributes were on display as he overcame Azat Hovhannisyan in one of the best fights of 2023.

When the pair faced off, it was the first time a boxing match had sold out the Tokyo Dome since the night James ‘Buster’ Douglas stunned the world by stopping Mike Tyson, such is the level of Inoue’s popularity in his homeland.

In the build-up, Nery had spoken of his desire to emulate that result and defy the odds, but, despite his considerable talent, few gave him a chance.

However, ‘Pantera’ did not care for the opinion of others, he had a resolute belief that he would leave Japan with all the belts.

In the first round, the Mexican added some credence to his claims when a left hook sent Inoue to the canvas for the first time in his career

Was the ‘Monster’ going to be made to appear human? Inoue calmly regrouped as he took in the referee’s count.

In the following frame, Inoue levelled the score, dropping Nery with a left hook of his own.

Crisis adverted.

‘Pantera’ never stopped looking for the shot to bring the fight to a close, but with each passing minute, it seemed less likely. Inoue had found his range, it was only a matter of time before his combination of power and precision resulted in the familiar ending.

In fifth stanza, Nery was floored once more. In the following round, Inoue threw a right uppercut followed by cross which left the challenger slumped over the ropes. The referee had seen enough and waved off the fight.

While some observers will be of the belief that Nery has exposed the ‘Monster’ as being fallible, it is too simplistic a view.

The Japanese fighter was dropped by a naturally bigger man, himself a noted puncher, and overcame adversity to end the fight in a conclusive manner.

If anything, Inoue has further cemented his legacy as one of the best fighters of this era.

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