Naoya Inoue is building towards a massive 2016 campaign
Naoya Inoue may be the best young fighter in boxing, regardless of weight class. The 22-year-old world champion fights in Japan on New Year’s Eve and is looking to position himself for a massive 2016 campaign.
Because he has thus far fought exclusively in Japan, currently campaigns at super flyweight and has only had eight professional fights, it somewhat easy to overlook Naoya Inoue in the discussion of the best young fighters in boxing. And while he has garnered fringe pound-for-pound consideration from reputable outlets, he remains largely unknown to North American audiences.
Naoya Inoue, however, could be involved in some of the best fights in the sport over the next several years. After sitting out all of 2015 recovering from a hand injury sustained in his December 2014 destruction of Omar Narvaez, Inoue (8-0, 7 KOs) is finally ready to fight and will make the first defence of WBO 115-pound title on December 31 in Tokyo, Japan, against Warlito Parrenas.
The refined skills Naoya Inoue’s already so finely exhibited and the potential he still oozes have boxing fans clamouring for his return to action. Furthermore, with Inoue able to sneak in a fight before the end of the calendar year, the prospects for a fast start to 2016 are tantalizing.
Naoya Inoue is somewhat of a prodigy. He won the Japanese flyweight title in only his fourth bout, and he claimed the WBC light flyweight title in his sixth. One successful defence would follow before Inoue, still growing into his body, jumped up two weight classes to challenge long-reining champion Narvaez.
Although Omar Narvaez is best known to North American fans for turtling, surviving and lamely conceding (to a certain extent) victory to Nonito Donaire in an important fight, his credentials as a champion still speak for themselves. Heading into fighting Naoya Inoue, Narvaez sported a 43-1-2 record and had contested 30world title fights.
Experience, though, hardly seemed to matter. In a breathtaking display of calculated aggression and ruthless body punching, Naoya Inoue scored a second-round stoppage and announced himself as a budding star.
The fact that Naoya Inoue currently campaigns only three pounds north of flyweight champion Roman Gonzalez is what has boxing insiders buzzing. Gonzalez figures to move up in weight eventually, and Inoue looms as exactly the kind of mega-fight opponent the Nicaraguan maestro deserves.
Other fights against the likes of Carlos Cuadras, Zolani Tete, McJoe Arroyo or Luis Conception could provide important steps forward — and unification opportunities — for Inoue in 2016. Japanese boxers also remain a strong presence in all of the sport’s lighter weight classes, which means domestic opportunities also abound. Regardless of who he faces first in 2016, expect Naoya Inoue to fight at least three times (unless a major opportunity presents itself and necessitates protracted negotiations).
Ideally, Roman Gonzalez and Naoya Inoue will meet in a marquee HBO fight by the end of 2016. While this is perhaps somewhat wishful thinking, Gonzalez-Inoue, from a pure match-up standpoint, is completely worthy of headlining on Pay-Per-View (it won’t, naturally, and the fight will likely end up being a high-profile co-feature if it lands on PPV). It’s a fight that needs to happen.