Three years after the most difficult and damaging fight of his career, unified bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue made his rematch against future Hall of Famer Nonito Donaire look easy on Tuesday morning in their long-awaited rematch in Japan.
Inoue (23-0, 20 KOs) unified Donaire’s WBC title with his own WBA and IBF belts at 118 pounds as he continued to make his claim for pound-for-pound best in the world following a sizzling second-round TKO at Saitama Super Arena in Japan.
The rematch proved to be nothing like their first meeting in 2019 when Inoue fought through a broken nose and orbital bone to outlast the ageless wonder Donaire in a unification bout that served as the final of the World Boxing Super Series tournament. Even though Donaire, 39, regained a world title in 2021 with a pair of resurgent victories, he looked like a faded fighter in the face of Inoue’s destructive power.
“It was two years and seven months ago, I fought against Nonito Donaire at the WBSS final and came back here at the same venue,” Donaire said through a translator. “At the very first round, I received the left hook from Nonito and that punch made me wake up for the rest of the fight.”
Inoue, the 29-year-old three-division champion, absorbed Donaire’s power well in the opening round before landing a right cross of his own that dropped the Filipino legend.
“I saw the video [of the first fight] and I knew this [punch] would be the one,” Inoue said.
Fighting with no shortage of confidence, fresh off a trio of knockout wins since their first meeting, Inoue continued his dominant power punching in the second round. He wobbled the 39-year-old Donaire with a left hook and continued to hurt him with right hands until a second left hook left Donaire looking like he was ready to go.
One more left hook dropped Donaire a second time and referee Michael Griffin instantly waved the fight off at 1:24.
After the fight, Inoue shared his hope of further unifying titles at 118 pounds, which could come in the form of an undisputed championship bout against current WBO titleholder John Riel Casimero, who was scheduled to face Donaire in a 2021 unification only for the fight to fall apart.
Donaire (42-7, 28 KOs) won titles in four divisions and was ranked as high as the top three pound-for-pound dating back to 2013. But he has navigated an inspirational resurgence in recent years following multiple title defeats at 122 and 126 pounds before deciding to move back down to bantamweight for this memorable twilight run.