Naoya Inoue overcame the heroic Nonito Donaire to claim a points victory to win the Ali Trophy in the bantamweight edition of the World Boxing Super Series in Saitama, Japan.
The three judges scored the bout 116-111, 117-109, 114-113 in favour of Inoue.
And what a drama it was.
Four weight champion Donaire opened a cut above Inoue’s right eye with a left hook in the second round. The Filipino-American was then in control until the fifth when Japanese Inoue landed a right hook to the jaw, stunning the legend and seizing momentum.
But Inoue’s ‘Monster’ reputation as one of the planet’s most fearsome fighters was put in serious jeopardy in the ninth as Donaire rocked him with a sensational counter right, leaving his opponent reeling for the first time in his career.
In the closing rounds, Donaire took a knee after a body shot in the 11th, although he would bravely withstand to hear the final bell.
In respect of each other’s epic performances 26-year-old Inoue and 36-year-old Donaire embraced after their back-and-forth battle.
“Donaire was a very, very strong opponent,” said Inoue, who also became the unified IBF and WBA bantamweight champion. “This is the first cut I have had in my career. I think Donaire is a true champion.
The Muhammad Ali Trophy was presented to Inoue by Japanese boxing legend Masahiko Harada better known as Fighting Harada, a former world champion in the flyweight and bantamweight divisions.
“Winning the Ali Trophy is the biggest thing so far in my career and I see a bright future in front of me. I am not the greatest of all time yet, but that is the goal.”
“We’ve seen ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’, ‘The Thriller in Manilla’ and now we have seen the ‘Drama in Saitama,” said Kalle Sauerland, Chief Boxing Officer of the WBSS.
“It was incredible. Just when you think it can’t get any better coming from the super-lightweight final with Prograis and Taylor at The O2 in London you fly over here … amazing fight week, 20,000 people at the Saitama Arena.
“This was the Fight of the Year. It was a very close fight. Hats off to Nonito Donaire and what can you say about Inoue, unbelievable. This fight for me, out of the live fights I’ve seen, is definitely the best I ever, ever seen. I’ve said it before, the World Boxing Super Series brings the best against the best. The boxing gods are smiling at us tonight.”
Muhammad Ali Trophy champions:
2018-19: Noya Inoue, Bantamweight
2018-19: Josh Taylor, Super-Lightweight
2017-18: Aleksandr Usyk, Cruiserweight
2017-18: Callum Smith, Super Middleweight