Naoya Inoue: Fighter of the Year 2014

By Matt McGrain on December 30, 2014
Naoya Inoue: Fighter of the Year 2014
Naoya Inoue closed it out like a 31-year-old veteran rather than a 21-year-old kid. (AP)

Omar Narvaez was the #1 super-flyweight in the world, a southpaw, and 43-1. Naoya Inoue, on the other hand, was 7-0…

While most of America slept and as Europe re-organized itself in the light of the latest morning after the night before, Naoya Inoue set about making himself the Fighter of the Year for 2014 with only two days of December remaining.

The setting was Tokyo, Japan and the opponent was Omar Narvaez of Argentina.

Narvaez has never scaled the heights of pound-for-pound, even during his sensational 2005-2011 form that saw him repel challenger after challenger to his Buenos Aires fortress, a fortress he rarely departed, and that when he did, never found him in the backyard of the best. When he was eventually beaten it was in something of a suicide mission up at bantamweight against then-pound-for-pound elite Nonito Donaire. Three inches shorter, four inches bereft of reach, Narvaez survived, dropping a wide decision but keeping his feet. Dropping back down to super-flyweight he continued to quietly defend his strap and was out three times in each of the last three years becoming easily the busiest veteran in the sport. By the time he landed in Tokyo he had won twenty-one fights in defense of one alphabet bauble or another in a little less than a decade. He was the #1 super-flyweight in the world, a southpaw, and 43-1.

Naoya Inoue, on the other hand, was 7-0.

On paper, this makes Narvaez appear a disastrous choice, but in fact experience was not the concerning factor here but size. For all his inexperience, the amateur star came crashing into the professional ranks. In April he had crushed Adrian Hernandez, then ranked the #1 light-flyweight in the world. Hernandez was an established destroyer of prospects, just like Narvaez, and an astute tactician and technical puncher, just like Narvaez. It was not a close fight. Rather it was one where all of the veteran’s tricks were brought to nothing against a power-punching prospect that does not appear to experience fear in the normal way.

Still, that fight had taken place at light-flyweight; today, Inoue moved up two weight divisions to super-flyweight, and that exposed him to some of boxing’s definitive questions: would the extra water-weight slow him? Would it expose a hitherto unexposed stamina issue? Would a larger opponent mean more trouble for him? Would his power carry? Because if Narvaez could hold Inoue’s shot it seemed likely that, despite the inevitable slippage inflicted by age, the veteran would have more chance of drawing “Monster” into shallow water, drowning him.

Rather, the devastation that Inoue wrought upon him was incredible.

It was not just the fact that Inoue seemed faster than ever before; nor the fact that he hurt Narvaez, who survived Nonito Donaire for twelve, with every punch he landed – it wasn’t just the way he impetuously brushed off the punches of one of the longest-established elite fighters on the planet with one hand then the other; it was as much the fact that he looked so much the bigger man. He was always going to appear taller, but he also appeared heavier, thicker, more vibrant, more the super-flyweight than the man who had been boxing there for the best part of four years. 

He stiffened Narvaez with a body punch after twenty seconds, and dropped him after thirty with a pair of booming rights that the Argentine shrugged off after just a two-count, appearing embarrassed rather than seriously hurt when in fact the fight had already been decided. He dropped him for the second time with a cuffing left-hook after just ninety seconds. Narvaez looked in danger of succumbing to a collective of hurtful punches rather than a single knockout blow as this left-hand, though perfect in form, was far from flush. He is everything his paper record indicates however – both the good and the bad – and he went back to work like the consummate professional he is, on his toes, trying to reorganize. 

That said, it was Inoue’s clarity that would have seen ring men on five continents nodding with satisfaction as he, too, re-married his fight plan, stalking and punching rather than rushing. He sought and found Narvaez with both his jab and with body-work, the two things specifically that prospects, hell, that seasoned veterans forget when they have a dangerous opponent in trouble. With the footwork of a more experienced man, with the temperament of a fifteen-year veteran he stalked Narvaez around every inch of that ring as the older man sought some rampart that would provide him with an advantage. The younger man snapped, cuffed and battered his opponent around the ring, but never once over-extended and was only rarely hit, circling gracefully when Narvaez looked to pin him, planting his feet again for the harder punches.

The Argentine showed his heart at the beginning of the second, seeking to close and hit, but the Japanese had his left dialled in, peeling off lead right hands to the body for variety. Moving forwards against a hurt opponent at speed he is already among the most fluid punchers in the world, Marquez, Pacquiao, Gonzalez. As a straight-up counterpuncher he is gaining, and the one he dropped Narvaez with for the third knockdown was sublime. As Narvaez gallantly waded forwards, crouched, compact, cracking for the ribs, Naoya did not step away but rather narrowed his body at the hips, turned, and corked off a short, blistering left-hook that vanished Narvaez to the canvas. It was sublime technique. It is not something 7-0 fighters are capable of. 

The fight was now over, but Inoue closed it out like a 31-year-old veteran rather than a 21-year-old kid. His dedication to bodywork is a wonder and here it paid direct dividends as Narvaez, absorbing the latest in a long line of scintillating punches to the ribs and gut, took a knee and neglected to rise. The cynics among us have suggested today that Narvaez quit; only in the sense that the French quit at the battle of Waterloo.

Hernandez was ranked the #1 light-fly in the world when Inoue crushed him in April; Narvaez was the #1 ranked super-fly when Inoue crushed him hours ago in Tokyo. Inoue has proven his vast superiority to two divisional number #1’s three weight classes apart in the same year. He has come from nowhere in 2013 to the cusp of a pound-for-pound ranking at the end of 2014 and he has looked absolutely sensational doing it. With all due love and respect to the other nominations I have seen for fighter of the year, Gennady Golovkin,  Terence Crawford, Roman Gonzalez and Sergey Kovalev, they will just have to squabble over second place. Sensational work in multiple weight divisions in a single calendar year is rare, but it happened in 2014 and it should be acknowledged. 

As for 2015, that seems a rather terrifying prospect. Naoya Inoue answered some of those questions a move in weight presents to a fighter and the ones that went unanswered only did so because even a fighter of Narvaez’s quality was not good enough to draw them from him. The fact is, Inoue looks better at super-fly than he did at light-fly. It is sometimes the case that additional poundage uncages a fighter from the sapping guerrilla war that is weight-making. Inoue seems such a fighter. My guess is that he will not remain a super-flyweight; there are just too many choice money-makers to be made at flyweight. Should he remain at the higher poundage, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and McJoe Arroyo seem the likeliest candidates for the first defense of his new bauble, but at the lower weight lay the real challenges. Flyweight is far and away the best division in boxing and the notion of Naoya Inoue’s joining it is pleasing and alarming in equal measures.

Boxing is a world born of chaos and it’s a fool who makes hardline predictions over any length of time, but here’s one I feel confident in making: should he do so, it’s likely that both the fighter and the fight of year will emerge from a battle torn flyweight division this time next year.

Youth is wasted on the young.

Except when it’s not.

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2014.12.30 井上尚弥【二階級制覇】vs オマール・ナルバエス

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  1. nicolas 10:55am, 01/03/2015

    ERIC: You are absolutely right about these division in flyweight. I have always felt that the divisions below flyweight are a joke, it takes the three weight classes from fly to minimum fly to have over 1,000 fighters world wide. Batam and Superfly make over 1000. Roman Gonzalez probably would have been world flyweight champ a long time ago if it was not for these lower weight divisions. Also lets not forget the multiple divisions. I was very happy recently to see the the IBHOF finally recognized Maso Obha who was world flyweight champ I believe of the WBC in the early 70’s, who lost only one fight before being killed in a car crash in the early 70’s. A lot of those fighters like Charchai Chionoi, Betulio Gonzalez have not gotten the recognition that they truly deserve, when I think the flyweights may have really been at there best. Obha finally got in because they made before 1988 an old timers category. There have been some very good fighters since, but there careers at those weights are sullied by the many organizations, and the two extra organizations we now have.

  2. nicolas 10:47am, 01/03/2015

    KIRWAN: Narvaez was a skillful boxer, but a great boxing master? He was only champ because of the fighters he fought. I doubt he would have been able to defeat that flyweight from Thailand, who was WBC champ for years, Victor Darchinyan, and lets not forget, while he showed defensive skills against Nonitor Donaire, he showed no offensive skills when he tried to go up to win the Batamweight title, and lost every round on all the cards as I remember. Donaire was also a flyweight champ. The only name fighter he beat was the Frenchmen Asloum, who later would win a light flyweight world title, During his career he did not fight the best of the division, fly or super fly. The WBO always seemed to have fighters in there rankings to fight him who were not even in the top ten of rankings by news sites, or the other organizations.

  3. oldschool 03:41pm, 01/01/2015

    Eric, I agree. The great flyweight champion Pascual Perez defended his title weighing 105 lbs. If he was fighting today, he’d have won 4 belts.

  4. Kirwan 01:25am, 01/01/2015

    GREAT ARTICLE from a real boxing journalist from a real boxing site! kudos!
    But don’t be too harsh on Narvaez he was a great boxer master.
    Boxing revolution & evolution is underway, Naoya Inoue!

  5. Darrell 05:33pm, 12/31/2014


  6. Koolz 03:26pm, 12/30/2014

    Swan it’s just my opinion on Golovkin.
    I am huge fan of Inoue and perhaps he does deserve fighter of the year.
    ok Roman has called out Inoue but I don’t see him beating The Monster if the fight ever happens. 

    Roman Gonzales is in deed great, I just don’t consider him to be as good as GGG.
    Golovkin already beat the best in Europe before he fought Proksa.
    I don’t see any fighter better the GGG right now.

    If Golovkin moved down in weight he would beat the best.  If he moved up in weight he would beat the best…Though Ward might be 50/50 fight.

    If anyone has a chance find Inoue training video for the fight he just won it’s pretty damn awesome.  Inoue has great speed and really can move!
    Fuji TV showed it.

  7. Swan 02:38pm, 12/30/2014

    Koolz: Please man, we all love Golovkin, but he is not better than Gonzales. The reason I bring up Gonzales: is because they have almost Identical fighting styles but Gonzales is much better, In comparison Gonzales has also fought better opposition.

  8. David Gonzalez 01:50pm, 12/30/2014

    Very impressive, this boy reminds me of the young Wilfredo Gomez.

  9. Koolz 10:14am, 12/30/2014

    I have been watching Inoue since his first pro fight.  Even after all this time I still consider Golvokin to be the best.  No matter the weight Division GGG is genius.
    Not sure if Inoue is fighter of the year or not.  It’s been a hell of year, no one can say boxing is dead. 
    Inoue is pretty damn gifted, he is a natural.  If you watch his training video you can see how fast his hands are too.

  10. nicolas 09:47am, 12/30/2014

    I had predicted that Naravez would lose, he was just a paper champion at flyweight and super flyweight. I perhaps did not think he would lose this big.

  11. Eric 09:25am, 12/30/2014

    One of the biggest problems with boxing is the multiple weight classes & “champions.” For fighters weighing between 105-115lbs, there are four seperate weight divisions. Unbelievable. I know these are small fighters and a couple of pounds are much more important, but come on. They might as well set up the junior cruiserweight division at 187lbs, to cover the 25lb gap between light heavy & cruiser.

  12. Koolz 09:15am, 12/30/2014

    I just saw it!  Damn what a Body Shot!  Ok Roman let’s see you take on the Monster!

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