With a historic night of boxing action heading to the SSE Hydro this weekend, world-class bantamweights Naoya Inoue (17-0, 15 KO’s) and Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-0, 12 KO’s) face off for a coveted spot in the World Boxing Super Series final.

The winner of Saturday’s mouth-watering unification bout will also be crowned ‘Ring’ Magazine bantamweight champion – adding to an ever-heightening sense of anticipation.

Japan’s three-weight world champion Inoue – considered by many a pound-for-pound attraction – is aiming to claim his 13th world title victory in just his 18th pro outing against the unbeaten Rodriguez. The aptly-named ‘Monster’ has amassed a fearsome reputation as both a devastating puncher and instinctive finisher, with neither of his previous world title fights at 118lbs lasting beyond the opening round.

Having made the step up to bantamweight just under a year ago, the 26-year-old Inoue made light work of WBA world champion Jamie McDonnell when the pair met in Tokyo.

McDonnell’s significant size and reach advantage counted for very little during the contest, with the Japanese challenger closing the distance efficiently early doors and landing flurries of heavy shots to both the head and body. The bout concluded inside the first round – paving the way for Inoue to take his place as the number one seed in this year’s bantamweight WBSS.

The quarter-finals proved to be another somewhat comfortable night’s work for Inoue, who took on former bantamweight world champion Juan Carlos Payano back in October. The home favourite took just 70 seconds to dismantle the previously-unstopped southpaw, who was unable to recover from a venomous one-two combination.

Standing in the way of Inoue’s Super Series aspirations, however, is Puerto Rico’s undefeated Emmanuel Rodriguez – who firmly believes he is the man to derail ‘The Monster’. The 26-year-old caught the eye against Britain’s former bantamweight world champion Paul Butler last year when they squared off for the vacant IBF crown as part of the Bellew-Haye 2 undercard.

Rodriguez came out of the blocks flying – knocking Butler down twice the first round with a series of unanswered punches. Though Rodriguez didn’t get the stoppage that seemed to be a formality after the early exchanges, he did claim a shutout victory over twelve rounds to become the IBF world bantamweight champion.

Knowing a victory would secure a semi-final spot against the dangerous Inoue, Rodriguez took on Australia’s teak-tough Jason Moloney in the WBSS quarter finals in October. Though the fight seemed to be tilting towards Rodriguez at the halfway stage, Moloney applied significant pressure down the home stretch, with the Puerto Rican having to dig deep to secure a split decision victory.

Rodriguez, though a wide betting underdog, could prove to be the biggest test of Inoue’s career to date. The fundamentally solid Puerto Rican has demonstrated both his excellent counter-punching ability and willingness to trade in bunches when necessary, though he will have to remain wary of the constant threat posed by one of the sport’s most devastating punchers. The added incentive of booking a place in the WBSS final should be a huge source of motivation for both men at the SSE Hydro this weekend, in a contest that is likely to ignite quickly into a fan-friendly affair. 

Article by: Ryan Elliott

Follow Ryan on Twitter at: @rbe_73