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Naoya Inoue Retains World Titles with a 6th-Round TKO of Luis Nery

After being knocked down for the first time in his career in the first round, Naoya Inoue found his punching rhythm and seized control at Tokyo Dome.

In his latest fight, Naoya Inoue demonstrated that although his aura of invincibility slipped away for a few seconds, he remains a master at exploiting his opponent's weaknesses.

After being handed the first knockdown of his career nearly two minutes into the first round against Mexican challenger Luis Nery on Monday night, May 6 at Tokyo Dome, Inoue knocked down his opponent in the second, fifth and sixth rounds.

The unbeaten super bantamweight world champion was more aggressive and more effective in landing punches in bunches throughout the match. In short, the totality of Inoue's onslaught was too much for Nery to handle. 

That led to the fight's defining moment as the partisan crowd of roughly 43,000 spectators cheered him on.

In an overpowering display of devastating punching power combined with jaw-dropping hand speed, Inoue clinched the technical-knockout victory at the 1:22 mark of the sixth round as Canadian referee Michael Griffin signaled the fight was over. Nery fell victim to a combination of sharp blows from Inoue, including a right uppercut to the head near the ropes, a punch that dropped him to the canvas.

Naoya Inoue
Luis Nery loses his balance after being hit by a Naoya Inoue punch in the sixth round. Referee Michael Griffin stopped the fight seconds later. (©SANKEI)

It signaled the end of Nery's title shot and marked Inoue's first simultaneous defense of all four super bantamweight title belts (WBA, WBC, WBO and IBF).

After the fight, Nery (35-2, 27 KOs) did not speak to reporters. He went to a local hospital.

Naoya Inoue
Naoya Inoue embraces his father and trainer Shingo Inoue after winning the fight. (©SANKEI)

Naoya Inoue: Among the World's Best of the Best

Is Naoya Inoue the best professional boxer in the world today?

Based on all that he's accomplished in his career ― world titles in four weight classes and 27 wins in 27 fights (24 knockouts) ― respected boxing experts narrow the argument down to two fighters, Inoue and current world welterweight king Terence Crawford (40-0). Like Inoue, Crawford has also captured undisputed world titles in two weight classes. No other male boxers in the four-belt era (since 2004) have accomplished that feat.

Inoue became the undisputed super bantamweight champ by beating Filipino Marlon Tapales via a 10th-round KO on December 26, 2023, at Tokyo's Ariake Arena. He previously held all four championship belts as a bantamweight.

Naoya Inoue
Naoya Inoue and Luis Nery fight in the fifth round. (©SANKEI)

Inoue Bounces Back From an Early Setback

As the star attraction on a five-fight card at Tokyo Dome, which was hosting its first world boxing title fight since 42-1 underdog James "Buster" Douglas stunned previously unbeaten world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson on February 11, 1990, Inoue experienced a shock of his own.

The temporary setback, however, did not define the fight. Instead, it added fuel to his motivational fire to seize control.

Naoya Inoue
The punch that led to Naoya Inoue being knocked down in the first round. (©SANKEI)

How did Inoue react to being knocked down?

"It was a great feeling to knock him down [later], but how about that surprise in the first round?" Inoue said after his 22nd consecutive world title fight.

"As a boxer, when that happens to you it fires you up. It gave me a lot of energy."

With a clearly visible advantage triggered by his feet and with his hands, Inoue dictated the fight from the second round onward.

This reporter's scorecard had the pride of Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture, leading on points (49-46) entering the sixth round.

Naoya Inoue
Naoya Inoue, who is 27-0 in his pro career, reacts after beating Luis Nery. (KYODO)

After the fight ended, Inoue basked in the glow of the euphoric moment.

"I'm so happy to be here," he told the captivated crowd. "Thank you so much, everyone."

He also admitted that the fight was a nervy experience.

"There was a lot of pressure on me as the main event in the first boxing [show] at Tokyo Dome in 34 years," Inoue told a news conference. "But it gave me strength."

Inoue then elaborated on how he channeled his mental focus into results in real time against Nery.  

"From the moment I went down, I was able to recover calmly," Inoue declared, according to Agence France-Presse. "I think it was precisely because I went down that I was able to fight the way I did."

Naoya Inoue
Naoya Inoue and Luis Nery clash in the fifth round. (©SANKEI)

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Inoue vs Nery: How the Fight Unfolded

In the first round, Inoue was knocked down for the first time in his illustrious pro career. Nery landed a left hook to Inoue's head, causing the champ to lose his balance.

Inoue came out swinging hard in the second round and it paid dividends as he went on the offensive. Then he hammered Nery in the face with a potent left hook, and the Mexican was knocked down for the first time.

In the third and fourth rounds, Inoue gained the upper hand on Nery. Inoue rocked him with a flurry of combinations, effectively utilizing both hands to keep Nery guessing.

In the fifth round, Nery was knocked down again.

How'd it happen? Inoue connected with another potent left hook, which Nery had no answer for on defense with about 30 seconds left in the round.

The unbeaten champ's success at exploiting Nery's weaknesses reminded this reporter of what Brandon Figueroa said in the run-up to this fight.

"I found a lot of holes in his style when I fought him," Figueroa, who defeated Nery, and captured his WBC and WBA super bantamweight belts, with a seventh-round KO in May 2021, was quoted as saying by Boxing Scene.

"Nery is too open, while he throws a lot of those wild hooks with his guard down," added Figueroa.

In the sixth round, Nery couldn't escape from Inoue. The fast-charging world champion tagged Nery with a strong straight right early in the round.

After Nery countered with a two-punch combination, Inoue soon followed with several blows, backing his foe into the ropes.

This spelled trouble for Nery, the victim of Inoue's lethal right hand, the final punch of an impressive sequence of body and head shots.

The Boxing Villain in Japan

Nery, 29, who was booed during the pre-fight introduction, won his two previous matches in Japan against Shinsuke Yamanaka.

In August 2017, their first match was a fourth-round TKO win for Nery in Kyoto, giving him Yamanaka's WBC bantamweight title. It was later learned that Nery had tested positive for the banned substance Zilpaterol before the fight. Nery claimed it was due to food contamination.

The WBC decided to mandate a title rematch.

Nery was 3 pounds (1.36 kg) over the weight limit before the fight in March 2018 in Tokyo, thus he was stripped of his title before the bout. If Yamanaka had won, he still would have claimed the title belt.

Instead, Nery triumphed via a second-round TKO. He was later banned for life by the Japan Boxing Commission. But that ban was lifted in February, enabling him to face Inoue.

Naoya Inoue
Australian super bantamweight Sam Goodman (left) shakes Naoya Inoue's hand after the fight. Goodman and Inoue are expected to fight in September 2024. (©SANKEI)

What's Next for Naoya Inoue?

Before he left the ring, Inoue, resplendent with his four world title belts, stood next to up-and-coming Australian super bantamweight Sam Goodman, 25, and the two men expressed interest in fighting one another.

"Let's get it on," Goodman blurted out, issuing a challenge to Inoue as boxing fans listened intently.

The two men then shook hands in the ring.

Inoue later said he wants to fight Goodman (18-0, eight KOs) in September. Goodman is ranked No 1 in the 122-pound (55.34-kg) weight division by the IBF and the WBO.

Talk of an Inoue-Goodman clash has been ongoing for several months, according to published reports.

No Limit Boxing CEO George Rose, who promotes Goodman, spoke to Fox Sports Australia in February 2024 about his desire to stage an Inoue-Goodman fight in Australia. Rose noted that Inoue's global appeal makes the proposed event Down Under an enticing possibility.

"Inoue is a once-in-a-generation fighter and in my opinion, the world's number pound-for-pound [boxer]. When you look at his records, his world titles, all of the achievements ― it's phenomenal.

"It's why the guy is packing out stadiums in Japan, why he has such a huge following globally and why whenever he takes a world title fight, it's something the whole world tunes in for."

Challenger Yoshiki Takei (right) in action against WBO bantamweight title holder Jason Moloney in the second round. (KYODO)

From Kickboxing World Champion to Boxing World Champion

Yoshiki Takei, a former K-1 super bantamweight champion (2017-20), captured his first boxing world title by outpointing WBO bantamweight title holder Jason Moloney of Australia on Monday's undercard.

Takei (9-0, including eight KOs, in a pro career launched in 2021) said he thought he sealed the win with a strong, determined performance in the 12th round.

Fighting at his biggest venue as a pro boxer, the 27-year-old insisted that he felt that the large crowd gave him power, energizing him throughout the bout.

"I knew he was strong before the fight," Takei told reporters, referring to Moloney, "and I trained really hard because of that. [And] it's thanks to Moloney that I was able to toughen up."

Moloney fell to 29-3 (27 KOs).

"Obviously, I'm heartbroken. I just lost my world title, something I've worked my whole life to achieve," Moloney said at his post-fight news conference.

Moloney lamented the fact that "it took me too long to make the adjustments I needed to in the fight."

With Takei's triumph in the co-main event on Monday, Japanese boxers hold all four bantamweight title belts.

Takuma Inoue, Naoya's brother, is the WBA champ. Junto Nakatani is the WBC title holder, while Ryosuke Nishida owns the IBF belt.

Moloney expressed interest in returning to Japan in the near future to meet Takei, Takuma Inoue, Nakatani or Nishida in the ring.

"I'd like to have the opportunity to come back again," Moloney said.

He added, "I would put my hand up to fight any of the four [bantamweight] champions."

Doheny, Akui and Takuma Inoue Also Triumph

In the only non-title fight on Monday's card, Ireland's TJ Doheny (26-4, 20 KOs) earned a fourth-round TKO of Filipino Bryl Bayogos 7-1-1, two KOs) in a scheduled 10-round super bantamweight bout to usher in the bevy of activity.

WBA flyweight champ Seigo Yuri Akui, who hails from Okayama Prefecture, defeated Japanese challenger Taku Kuwahara by unanimous decision, with two judges scoring the fight 117-111 for Akui and the other 118-110.

Akui improved to 20-2-1 with 11 KOs. Kuwahara fell to 13-2 (eight KOs).

WBA flyweight champ Seigo Yuri Akui (right) punches Taku Kuwahara in the seventh round. (©SANKEI)

Indeed, Monday was a busy day for Shingo Inoue, father and trainer of two world champions, both of whom fought on the same night.

The boxing family patriarch worked in the corner for the 28-year-old Takuma in the evening's third match, against Sho Ishida. Their match followed Doheny vs Bayogos and Akui vs Kuwahara and took place before Moloney vs Takei. The evening's last fight was the Inoue-Nery headliner, which got underway at 9 PM.

Like Nery, Ishida achieved a first-round knockdown of his opponent named Inoue.

WBA bantamweight champion Takuma Inoue (left) competes against Sho Ishida in the second round of their title match. (KYODO)

And like his older brother later that night, Takuma Inoue's focus and performance improved after hitting the canvas.

Takuma Inoue went on record his 20th career victory in 21 pro fights (five KOs). This time, he won it on points, 118-109 on two judges' cards and 116-111 on the other's.

Ishida, 32, slipped to 34-4 (17 KOs).

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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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