2018, October 7. Yokohama, Japan. Naoya Inoue brushed aside his first opponent, Juan Carlos Payano, in the first fight of the bantamweight class World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) by winning via a first round knockout. The 25 year old Japanese threw and landed two punches, a one-two combination. The second punch was enough to send the southpaw and former champion Payano to the canvas. Such was the power of that one punch, the Dominican was not able to make the count signalling an end to the fight in just 70 seconds. This was the inaugural fight in the second season of the WBSS. Before the bout began, Inoue went in as favourite to win the tournament despite the inclusion of strong competition from established bantamweight champions Ryan Burnett, Zolani Tete, and Emmanuel Rodriguez. If Inoue, wasn’t feared before going into this bout with Payano, he should be now after showcasing his devastating punching power. As well as keeping his WBC bantamweight title, Inoue now progresses to the semi-final of the tournament. Payano, 34, has previously held both IBO and WBC versions of the bantamweight title. The victory has meant that this year Inoue has spent only 182 seconds in the ring but has knocked out two champions in the process.
Going forward, Inoue will be confident about his upcoming fights. Before the fight began, I had the opportunity to ask Naoya about if he felt more pressure than before now that there is so much expectation surrounding this WBSS tournament, and his potential in it. He essentially shrugged that suggestion off and as he stepped into the ring tonight, he didn’t look like a man who was feeling the pressure, he looked like a superstar.
With this fight being shown on DAZN in the US, I asked Kalle Sauerland if this was a trend we could expect to see for the remaining fights in this season, and for other WBSS seasons to come. He confirmed that this was indeed the case which means US boxing fans will have even more of a reason to be attracted to the sports streaming service. The Matchroom and WBSS content seem to be impressive enough to lure customers over to them, especially those who may have just cancelled their HBO subscriptions after they announced their decision to leave the boxing scene.
There were two other fights of significance on the bill tonight. One of which was between WBC light flyweight champion Ken Shiro of Japan, who defeated Milan Melindo of the Philippines by a seventh round TKO. The other fight was another WBSS bout, the first quarter final in the super lightweight side of the tournament, in which Belarus’s Kiryl Relikh beat Russia’s Eduard Troyanovsky by unanimous decision in their 12-round fight for Relikh’s WBA world super lightweight title.
For Inoue, he will now progress onwards and upwards, edging further and further up the pound for pound rankings with each victory he takes. The challenge he will face in his upcoming fights in the semi-final and final will no doubt get substantially tougher. Should things go to plan, he will most likely face Burnett or Tete in that mouthwatering final. Naoya Inoue looks to be the real deal and so by guaranteeing fight fans the fights they want to see, the WBSS has ensured the demand for it in boxing.
After the fight, I asked Kalle if he thought this fight has pushed Naoya further up the pound for pound rankings. To my surprise, he said that he didn’t think that was the case. When I asked why, he said that tonight, we didn’t get to see Inoue fight, so we didn’t learn anything new in terms of how good a boxer he is. ‘What we did learn’, Kalle added, ‘was that he is probably the most devastating puncher in boxing right now’. After that immense performance, I’m not sure I can disagree with him.
Photo credit: Rishad Marquardt