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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Naoya Inoue is a Big Favorite in Title Bout with Luis Nery

Undisputed super bantamweight champ Naoya Inoue returns to the spotlight in his first-ever fight at Tokyo Dome after 21 straight wins in world title matches.

In his legendary boxing career, undisputed super bantamweight world champion Naoya Inoue has fought only four times outside of Japan.

Without a doubt, this has helped increase his fame and broaden his appeal to boxing fans in his homeland.

Inoue's next bout, on Monday, May 6 against challenger Luis Nery, will be held at Tokyo Dome.

For the record, "Monster" Inoue's last three fights were held at Ariake Arena, which accommodates about 15,000 spectators. Home of NPB's Yomiuri Giants, Tokyo Dome seats 55,000. These numbers give a quick, accurate indication of Inoue's rising fame at this stage of his career.

Looking ahead to his showdown with Nery (35-1, 27 knockouts), Inoue said he's confident that he'll add another successful footnote to his illustrious career.

Speaking at a news conference on Saturday, May 4 in Yokohama, Inoue (26-0, 23 KOs) also said having his next fight at Tokyo Dome is significant.

"It's rare that the timing of a fight can be aligned to take place in such a splendid environment," Inoue said, according to Kyodo News.

The momentous occasion marks boxing's return to the cavernous venue for the first time since February 11, 1990, when 42-1 underdog James "Buster" Douglas shocked the world and handed Mike Tyson his first professional loss.

Of Inoue's four overseas fights, the most recent two were back-to-back bantamweight bouts in Las Vegas, in October 2020 against Jason Moloney and in June 2021 versus Michael Dasmarinas. Now a four-division champion Inoue conquered both men via knockouts ― in the seventh and third rounds.

Naoya Inoue (left) spars with Jonathan Lopez on April 18 at Yokohama's Ohashi Boxing Gym. (Courtesy of Ohashi Boxing Gym/via SANKEI)

All Eyes on Tokyo Dome

Meanwhile, Top Rank, Inc CEO Bob Arum, who remains a fixture in the sport at age 92, said the significance of Monday's event at Tokyo Dome cannot be overstated.

"This is, I think, the greatest, most important boxing event in the history of Japan," Arum was quoted as saying by Boxing Scene at a news conference two days before the fight in Yokohama.

"After so many years since Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas fought in the Tokyo Dome, boxing is back at that famous, huge stadium in Tokyo for this event," added Arum. "All eyes of the boxing world will be on Tokyo on Monday night when this event will be held."

Naoya Inoue: Famous in Japan, Lower Profile Elsewhere

Now 31 years old and an undisputed world champion in a second weight class (he previously held that distinction at bantamweight), Inoue is well-known to hard-core fight fans. But the fact that he hasn't stepped into the ring numerous times in the high-profile American and British media markets has probably contributed to his lesser profile in many locales.

Or as Sky Sports' Cameron Hogwood observed in an analysis published on May 3: "Limited sightings beyond the borders of his home country and obvious language barriers no doubt contribute to a profile denied the same spotlit clamor as his pound-for-pound counterparts, but that does not deter from the wonder, the marvel. The quiet demeanor and baby-faced appearance is a veil for venom, and the sleight frame a disguise for destructive knockout power, the kind of which no man can live with."

Naoya Inoue
A WBC promotional poster for the super bantamweight world title fight on May 6 at Tokyo Dome. (©SANKEI)

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A Compilation of Fight Predictions

The Ring magazine, aka The Bible of Boxing, assembled a panel of 20 boxing pundits' predictions for the fight.

It's interesting to note that not one of the 20 picked Nery to win. And it should be noted, of course, that Inoue has fought in 21 consecutive world title fights without a solitary loss in any of them.

Ring writer Anson Wainwright made a convincing argument that Inoue will triumph, predicting an eighth-round TKO.

"Inoue looks to be in his absolute prime which doesn't bode well for anyone at 122 pounds," Wainwright opined in the predictions report. "He's beaten [Stephen] Fulton and [Marlon] Tapales with considerable ease." 

Added Wainwright, "Nery is a good fighter, but Inoue is on another level. I suspect he'll punish the Mexican before breaking him down in around eight rounds for a comprehensive and very satisfying stoppage win."

Naoya Inoue
Naoya Inoue is 26-0 with 23 knockouts in his pro career. (©SANKEI)

Fellow panelist Norm Frauenheim predicted a sixth-round KO win for Inoue.

"It's the perfect storm ― perfect for Inoue," Frauenheim declared. "The storm is about to be unleashed on Luis Nery, who in the end might regret that the Japan Boxing Commission lifted a lifetime ban of the Mexican junior featherweight. Nery isn't exactly popular in Japan after missing weight following a positive drug test in bouts involving Shinsuke Yamanaka. But apparently a beating is better than a ban and that's what Inoue's army of fans can expect at the Tokyo Dome. Expect Inoue to overwhelm Nery in his ongoing bid to overtake Terence Crawford in the pound-for-pound debate."

WBA bantamweight champion Takuma Inoue trains on April 11 at Ohashi Boxing Gym in Yokohama. (©SANKEI)

Other Title Fights on May 6 at Tokyo Dome

The Inoue-Nery match is the big headliner, but there are three additional title bouts on Monday's fight card.

Takuma Inoue (19-1, five KOs), Monster's younger brother and the current WBA bantamweight champion, is set to defend his title against top-ranked challenger Sho Ishida (34-3, 17 KOs).

In his first title defense, WBA flyweight champ Seigo Yuri Akui (19-2-1, 11 KOs) takes on third-ranked Taku Kuwahara (13-1, eight KOs).

WBO bantamweight champ Moloney (27-2, 19 KOs), an Australian, awaits his encounter with ex-kickboxer Yoshiki Takei (8-0, eight KOs), who is ranked 10th by the WBO.


Chicago Cubs starter Shota Imanaga pitches against the New York Mets during the second inning on May 1 at Citi Field. (Brad Penner/USA TODAY SPORTS)


Cubs' Imanaga Improves to 5-0

Chicago Cubs starter Shota Imanaga continues to be one of MLB's most impressive newcomers in 2024.

The left-hander is now 5-0 in six starts in his first season with the Cubs. Imanaga tossed seven scoreless innings against the New York Mets on Wednesday, May 1 at Citi Field. That helped to lead the Cubs to a 1-0 victory.

Imanaga, the National League's Rookie of the Month for March/April, held the Mets to three hits, walked one and struck out seven. His ERA is 0.78, and Imanaga expects the need to make pitching adjustments as the season progresses.

"I think personally there's probably not that much data on me," Imanaga said through an interpreter, according to The Associated Press. "As they watch more video, they're gathering more data, they're going to have a plan for attack against me. So once that happens, I just need to make an adjustment and then I need to prove myself."


New York Mets right-hander Kodai Senga tosses batting practice at Citi Field on April 29. (KYODO)

Mets' Senga Pitches Batting Practice for First Time Since Injury Setback

Diagnosed with a torn posterior shoulder capsule in February, New York Mets starter Kodai Senga missed spring training and has not yet appeared in a game this season.

On Monday, April 29, the Mets right-hander took an important step in his comeback from the injury. He threw 21 pitches in his first live batting practice session since the injury diagnosis.

The Mets are targeting removing Senga from the injured list in late May or early June. A minor league rehab assignment could begin around May 11, reported.

Mets manager Carlos Mendoza said he was encouraged by the 31-year-old Senga's physical progress after watching him pitch batting practice.

"The way the ball was coming out, there was no hesitation," Mendoza was quoted as saying by "He was just letting it loose, using all of his pitches. Since he went down, the thing I've been saying is, 'How is he going to bounce back?' I think the biggest thing is tomorrow and the following day. But so far, he looked pretty sharp today."

As an MLB rookie, Senga was 12-7 with a 2.98 ERA and made 29 starts for the Mets in 2023.

Los Angeles Dodgers starter Yoshinobu Yamamoto delivers a pitch to an Arizona Diamondbacks batter on May 1 in Phoenix. (KYODO)

Yamamoto Shines in Blowout Victory

Los Angeles Dodgers hurler Yoshinobu Yamamoto is 3-1 with a 2.91 ERA in seven starts in his MLB debut season.

Yamamoto collected his third victory on May 1 as the Dodgers throttled the Arizona Diamondbacks 8-0 in Phoenix. He limited the Diamondbacks hitters to five hits in six scoreless innings, issued two walks and fanned five batters.

"I think I'm able to keep myself very calm and that's one of the biggest reasons I'm able to execute my pitches," Yamamoto said, speaking through an interpreter, according to The Associated Press.

The former Orix Buffaloes ace has held the opposition to 29 hits in the first 34 innings of his MLB career. His walk-to-strikeout ratio has been a key factor in his success in a Dodgers uniform. Yamamoto has walked eight and struck out 42.

Masataka Yoshida (GETTY IMAGES/via KYODO)

Boston's Yoshida Placed on 10-Day Injured List

Boston Red Sox designated hitter Masataka Yoshida was placed on the 10-day injured list with a left thumb strain on Wednesday, May 1. The move is retroactive to Monday, April 29.

Yoshida is batting .275 with two homers and 11 RBIs in 24 games.

Japan celebrates after winning the U-23 Asian Cup final against Uzbekistan at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha on May 3. (KYODO)


Japan Wins Under-23 Asian Cup Title

Substitute Fuki Yamada lifted Japan to a 1-0 victory over Uzbekistan in the Asian Football Confederation's U-23 Asian Cup final on Friday, May 3 in Doha, scoring in the 91st minute.

Japan booked a spot in the Olympic tournament at the Paris Games by beating Iraq 2-0 in the U-23 Asian Cup semifinals on Tuesday, April 30.

The top-three finishers in Doha secured berths for the 2024 Olympics.

Japan's Fuki Yamada scores a 91st-minute goal against Uzbekistan. (KYODO)

In the third-place match, Iraq defeated Indonesia 2-1.

Yamada's goal provided immediate exhilaration for Japan and the team's fans. But that euphoria was put on hold when defender Hiroki Sekine was called for a handball shortly thereafter. Uzbekistan's Umarali Rakhmanaliev took the penalty kick, and Japan goalkeeper Leo Brian Kokubo made a spectacular diving save.

Japan's Leo Brian Kokubo makes a diving save of Uzbekistan's Umarali Rakhmonaliyev's penalty kick late in second-half injury time. (Ibraheem Al Omari/REUTERS)

Japan captain Joel Chima Fujita, a former J.League midfielder who plies his craft for Belgium's Sint-Truiden, was selected as the tournament MVP.

"It was an extremely tough game but the players really worked hard," Japan manager Go Oiwa said, according to Kyodo News.

"We gave some nervy moments for the people watching back home, but we're heading to Paris as the Asian champions and it'll be great if they can give us another push."

Japan won its first U-23 Asian Cup title in 2016.

Oiwa's team will compete against Paraguay, Mali and Israel in Group D at the Paris Olympics. The soccer tourney starts on July 24.

Judoka Uta Abe, a gold medalist at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, participates in the Japan women's national team training camp on May 3 in Tokyo. (KYODO)


Olympic Champion Abe Fired Up About Paris Games

Making key preparations for the 2024 Olympics, the Japan women's judo national team opened a training camp on Monday, April 30 at Tokyo's Ajinomoto National Training Center.

Uta Abe, a four-time world champion and defending 52-kilogram Olympic gold medalist, told reporters on May 3 that training camp has reinvigorated her. Specifically, she mentioned that getting ready for Paris has motivated her to push herself.

"I have been practicing very well," Abe was quoted as saying by NHK, "[and] I think the gold medal will come by persevering when the going gets tough."

Abe has set a lofty goal for herself in the French capital. "I want to give my 120 percent," she noted, "and shine the brightest on the stage in Paris."

On the opening day of training camp, retired five-time Olympic judo medalist Ryoko Tani visited the team and gave a one-hour motivational lecture to around 30 judoka. It was an eye-opening experience, according to Abe, Jiji Press reported.

"It was a wonderful hour, it was a wonderful time," Abe was quoted as saying by Jiji Press, reacting to Tani's speech. "And it made me realize how wonderful it is to keep on winning and that I can still challenge myself."

Yuji Shimogama of the Saitama Wild Knights scores a second-half try against the Yokohama Canon Eagles on May 4 at Resonac Dome Oita. (KYODO)


Wild Knights Complete Perfect Regular Season

After winning 15 of 16 matches in the 2022-23 Japan Rugby League One season, the Saitama Wild Knights were even better in the 2023-24 campaign.

Coach Robbie Deans' squad went 16-0 this season, wrapping up its perfect record with a 43-14 triumph over the Yokohama Canon Eagles on Saturday, May 4 in Oita.

The Wild Knights were the League One champion runners-up in the playoffs in May 2023, falling 17-15 to the Kubota Spears in the title match.

Indeed, coming oh-so close to winning it all a season ago has fueled their competitive fire this season.

Saitama held a 31-14 halftime lead over Yokohama in the teams' season finale at Resonac Dome Oita.

Looking ahead to the League One playoffs, the Wild Knights and Eagles (10-6) will have a rematch of Saturday's clash in the semifinals on May 18.

On May 19, Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo (13-1-1) will face Tokyo Sungoliath (10-1-5) in the other semifinal.

Reigning champion Kubota finished in sixth place with an 8-1-7 record, missing out on a playoff berth.

Los Angeles Lakers forward Rui Hachimura shoots a layup as Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic defends during an NBA first-round playoff game on April 29 in Denver. (NBAE/GETTY IMAGES/via KYODO)


Nuggets Oust Lakers in NBA Playoffs

The reigning NBA champion Denver Nuggets eliminated the Los Angeles Lakers from the playoffs for the second straight year on Monday, April 29, ending Rui Hachimura and his teammates' title quest.

In Game 5 of the first-round playoff series, Denver beat visiting Los Angeles 108-106 to advance to the Western Conference semifinals.

Hachimura averaged 7.8 points and 3.8 rebounds in the five games, including 15 points and five rebounds in Game 5.

On Friday, May 3, Lakers head coach Darvin Ham was fired after two seasons at the helm. Ham had a combined record of 90-74 during his tenure. He guided the Lakers to the Western Conference finals in his first season in charge, and Denver swept LA 4-0 to reach the NBA Finals.

Hachimura is a candidate to play for the Japan men's national team at the Paris Olympics.


Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.



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