The World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) is back with a bang this Saturday in Yokohama, Japan.
With Callum Smith’s explosive knockout of George Groves in the super middleweight tournament final at the weekend officially bringing season 1 of the WBSS to an end, season 2 brings us tournaments in two new weight divisions, bantamweight and super lightweight.
In the first bantamweight quarterfinal, newly-crowned WBA (regular) champion and tournament number 2 seed, Naoya Inoue (16-0-0 with 14 knockouts), will defend his title on home soil facing an experienced 118-pounder in only his second fight at the weight in the form of ex-champion Juan Carlos Payano (20-1-0 with 9 knockouts).
Inoue is a three-weight world champion from just sixteen professional contests and has been a wrecking ball so far in his career. The ‘Monster’ is a pressure fighter par excellence, in the mould of hall-of-famer Fighting Harada, arguably Japan’s greatest boxer and one of the finest bantamweights of all time.
Like Harada, Inoue boasts an educated jab, fluent movement and excellent punch variety. However, unlike his legendary countryman, he is also blessed with lethal power in both hands. With an 87.5% KO percentage, Inoue is one of the sport’s premier punchers; an impressive feat for a man fighting in one of the lighter weight divisions.
He is equally capable of taking you out with a combination of howitzers to the head, as he did to former super flyweight titleholder Kohei Kono, or breaking you down with a devastating body attack as he did to challenger Antonio Nieves.
In only Inoue’s eighth professional contest, he challenged long-time super flyweight titlist Omar Narvaez who held the record for the most world title defences across all weights and governing bodies and whose only previous loss was on points to a prime Nonito Donaire at bantamweight. Inoue obliterated the vastly more experienced man in two rounds
Unable to secure a big fight at 115 lbs, Inoue moved up to bantamweight earlier this year. His first opponent at the new weight was no mug either. The UK’s Jamie McDonnell, the reigning WBA (regular) titleholder was one of the most experienced and proven names at 118 lbs and unbeaten in ten years.
He had a reputation for durability, having never been stopped, and was the much bigger man. By fight night, he had rehydrated to 144 lbs, making him a functional welterweight. Inoue blasted the Brit out in the opening stanza.
Payano, the man facing the unenviable task of attempting to derail Inoue’s reign of terror, is the older man by nine years and a seasoned campaigner at bantamweight. The Dominican was the first man to defeat Anselmo Moreno, the longest-reigning bantamweight champion in boxing history, at that weight limit, capturing the WBA (super) title in the process.
He then split two very competitive fights with former US Olympian Rau’shee Warren, defending his title the first round time via split decision and losing a majority decision in the second.
Payano was a two-time Olympian as an amateur and entered the pro ranks with a reputation as a well-schooled boxer. However, as a professional he has shown a willingness to mix it up and brawl at the highest level.
His first fight with Warren was an action-packed war in which Payano survived cuts around both eyes and a final round knockdown to outwork the American over the course of the bout. Warren is however not a big puncher. Neither was Payano able to seriously hurt Warren despite throwing a tonne of punches.
Payano does enter the WBSS on a three fight winning-streak against inferior opposition, though he had to survive a knockdown in his last outing against Filipino prospect Mike Plania before triumphing on points. It does not bode well for his chances against a fighter of Inoue’s calibre.
Let’s put the WBSS bantamweight seedings aside for a moment. While Ryan Burnett deserves his number-one-spot based on his body of work at 118 lbs, Inoue is the clear tournament favourite. At twenty five years of age he is already entering pound-for-pound discussions.
With the ‘Monster’ on a tear and looking just as terrifying at his new weight, the cards are stacked against Payano. His frenetic, high-volume style has given lesser punchers and fighters problems, but to meet Inoue’s power and pressure head-on is akin to a kamikaze mission. To stand any chance, Payano will instead have to rely on all of his veteran guiles as he has never done before.
The Dominican is a proud man and has never been short on heart in the ring. In all likelihood though, neither will be sufficient on Saturday night. Expect Payano to go the same way that world-class fighters like Narvaez, Kono and McDonnell did before him and receive the first stoppage loss of his career.
Prediction: Inoue by mid-rounds KO/TKO
Article by: Paul Lam
Follow Paul on Twitter at: @PaulTheWallLam