Naoya Inoue announced on his Instagram account yesterday that he will next be fighting Ricardo Rodriguez in Tokyo on May 21st in his 5th defense of his WBO super flyweight title. The bout was ordered by the WBO as a mandatory defense. Rodriguez is ranked #2 by the WBO. Rex Tso of Hong Hong is currently ranked #1 by the WBO and is not available as he just fought on March 11th. The highest rated next available opponent was Rodriguez.
Inoue had been gunning for bigger fish as he and his gym owner (promoter) Mr. Ohashi told me. It has been no secret that they wanted a fight with Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and if not him then a unification with another division champion was preferred. However, Chocolatito had mandatories of his own and Inoue just had an optional defense last December against previous champion Kohei Kono whom he TKO’d.
It now appears that a future unification with Chocolatito is off the table for now. With the upset of the year so far, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai stunned a sold out Madison Square Garden crowd by getting the decision win over P4P champ Roman Gonzalez. Gonzalez had been picked to win the bout and by many accounts had done just that with true grit as his bloodied face blinded one eye for most of the fight. The win was supposed to set up an attractive rematch with Teiken stablemate Carlos Cuadras, (another fight Chocolatito was picked to win.) with an attractive Inoue showdown looming at year’s end. Both Inoue and Gonzalez before March 18th had been undefeated super flyweight champions who were both ranked in the Top Ten Pound for Pound Rankings by many pugilist observers, including No Sparring. The rarity of this occurring wasn’t lost on myself or other journalists who one by one wished for this fight in annual “Wish List” articles.
Inoue, the Japanese “Monstor” has the tools to dethrone any fellow super flyweight champion and reign for numerous years though there is one caveat: Inoue is still growing and could move up maybe another two divisions before his career is over. Inoue has been able to move up to bantamweight for maybe about a year but has been waiting for the coveted Gonzalez fight. With time ticking on how long Inoue could maintain his current weight, Father Time was also taking his tole on Gonzalez, now 29. For a boxer in the lower weight divisions, 29 is considered “aging veteran” more so than “in his prime” status as these smaller brawlers take as much punishment as they dish it out with hundreds upon hundreds of punches each fight. Inoue had been commentating live during the Gonzalez-Rungvisai fight for Japanese viewers and was just as shocked as the rest of us. In the immediate aftermath of the Gonzalez loss conflicting reports emerged that Inoue would move up to bantamweight immediately though later announcements were made that he would remain at 115lbs as long as he could. This was confirmed with the Rodriguez fight announment at a press conference today in Yokohama.
Super flyweight still holds attractive options for Inoue including bouts with Juan Francisco Estrada, Carlos Cuadras, and the winner of the probable Gonzalez-Rungvisai rematch. The future is just as bright at bantamweight with a mouthwatering showdown against undefeated Japanese star Shinsuke Yamanaka, also ranked in the P4P by a few members of the press.