By Joe Koizumi
Photos by Naoki Fukuda –
Unbeaten Naoya “Monster” Inoue (13-0, 11 KOs), 115, scored his fifth defense of his WBO 115-pound belt as he made short work of mandatory challenger Ricardo Rodriguez (16-4, 5 KOs), 114.5, knocking him out at 1:08 of the third round on Sunday in Tokyo, Japan.
Inoue decked the Mexican-born US citizen with a countering left hook for the second time of the fatal round, and Rodriguez couldn’t beat the count of referee Ramon Pena from Puerto Rico. Naoya looked too strong and fast for the apparently overmatched Ricardo.
It’s a very lopsided affair, but this reporter describes the official scores before the spectacular knockout for record-keeping. Lisa Giampa, Pat Morley and Larry Hazzard Jr. (all from US) identically tallied 20-18 after the second session.
As Naoya reviewed “This was my best performance,” he looked sharp and speedy from the outset. Fleet of foot and fast of hand, Inoue began to show he was superior to Rodriguez, jabbing sharply with precision. The Mexican-born challenger who speaks Spanish more fluently than English despite his US nationality attempted to mix it up in the close range, and once forced the champ to the ropes with a flurry of punches. Averting all, Inoue quickly turned around and kept outpunching the game but limited challenger after he probably realized Ricardo’s punching power and hand speed.
The second witnessed Naoya’s new weapon, that is, switch-hitting. He, midway in round two, switched so smoothly that we temporarily didn’t realize he switched to southpaw stance, but he had the crowd stunned with his solid and strong southpaw left that almost bucked the knee of Rodriguez twice. Inoue was like Hamed.
Inoue, with remarkable reflexes, always tries to hit without getting hit in the ring and in the gym as well, and did the same this night. He averted all punches thrown by the WBO Latino 115-pound champ with his shifty footwork and quick upper body movement.
Naoya sent him to the deck with a quick three-punch combination, the last of which was a very well-timed short left hook. Rodriguez gamely raised himself and resumed fighting. Inoue, however, exploded a Sugar Ray Robinson countering left hook against Gene Fullmer with Ricardo’s legs seemingly paralyzed against his will to stand up and fight on. The third man mercilessly tolled the fatal ten.
The winner, 24, coolly said in the ring, “People said I was a prohibitive favorite, but I was very careful about my overconfidence or carelessness. I’m happy to win as planned. Since I had my composure, I attempted switching to southpaw. I’m satisfied with solid southpaw lefts that almost stunned Rodriguez with only seventh percent of power behind the shots. Yes, my next will be in the US, which I am very much looking forward to. I wish to show my real power in the ring of the States. In the future I hope to invade in the bantam or super-bantam categories.”
The crestfallen loser Rodriguez, 27, gloomily said, “The fight was going on as our fight plan, but Inoue was a great champion with very strong counterpunch.”
Japanese champion Naoya Inoue celebrates after defeating Ricardo Rodriguez of the U.S. in their WBO super flyweight boxing world title match in Tokyo, Sunday, May 21, 2017. Inoue knocked out Rodriguez in the third round to defend his title. (AP Photo/Toru Takahashi)
Japanese champion Naoya Inoue celebrates after knocking out challenger Ricardo Rodriguez of the U.S. in the third round of their WBO super flyweight boxing world title match in Tokyo, Sunday, May 21, 2017. Inoue defeated Rodriguez in the round to defend his title. (AP Photo/Toru Takahashi)
Japan’s Naoya Inoue poses with his WBO super flyweight champion belt after defeating Ricardo Rodriguez of the U.S. in their boxing world title match in Tokyo, Sunday, May 21, 2017. Inoue knocked out Rodriguez in the third round to defend the title. (AP Photo/Toru Takahashi)
Credit: Additional photos / Toru Takahashi / Associated Press
Promoter: Ohashi Promotions.
WBO supervisor: Tsuyoshi Yasukochi (Japan)