Naoya Inoue vs Nonito Donaire was the 2019 ‘Fight of the Year’ you likely missed, but it was a modern classic

On November 7, 2019, an historic fight took place on the outskirts of Tokyo.

Japan’s Naoya Inoue conquered Filipino legend Nonito Donaire, but was forced into a far tougher task than expected by his steadfast veteran foe.

Inoue and Donaire instantly went toe-to-toe
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Going into this World Boxing Super Series tournament final, the 26-year-old rising pound-for-pound star had blown away his quarter and semi-final opponents in a combined total of five minutes and 29 seconds.

The 36-yer-old Donaire, once a pound-for-pound star in his own right, had arguably fluked his way to the final.

His quarter-final opponent Ryan Burnett suffered what was ultimately a career-ending back injury mid-fight and then his semi-final opponent Zolani Tete was forced to pull out with a shoulder issue on fight week.

Donaire knocked out his over-matched semi-final replacement Stephon Young and was thought to be surely in too deep against Inoue.

The fight was taken to the favourite’s home country of Japan and scheduled for a Thursday night. It would therefore air at an incredibly inconvenient time for viewers in the Western world.

Some UK fans were distracted by the KSI vs Logan Paul YouTuber showdown happening two days later and so overlooked this lunchtime clash.

Meanwhile, many US viewers opted not to get up early to witness the event.

It would be their loss.

The pair met in the centre of the ring
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From the opening bell the fight burst straight into life as both men exchanged heavy artillery with neither initially being blown away by the other’s power.

Inoue was expected to smash through Donaire as he had most of his previous opponents, however, this did not come to pass in the early rounds as Donaire stood up to the 26-year-old’s ruthless aggression.

The ‘Filipino Flash’ fired back in the second and caught Inoue with one of his famous left hooks, cutting him badly.

This single punch changed the entire fight. The ‘Monster’ later revealed it caused an orbital fracture and left him with double vision in his right eye.

Donaire chin-checked Inoue and cut him with his legendary left hook
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From this moment on, the Japanese star realised he was not in for as easy a time as expected.

Donaire pressured Inoue and tested him like never before in the middle rounds, but was badly hurt as the home fighter battled back at the end of the fifth.

Despite the pain, Donaire fought his own way back into the fight before seizing control in the ninth round when he staggered Inoue with a colossal right hand.

Inoue held on for dear life to survive the session and then regained dominance in the following minutes. He later revealed this was the first time he’d ever clinched an opponent in his entire career.

Inoue somehow stayed on his feet in round nine
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After recovering in the tenth, Inoue ensured that round 11 would prove key in deciding the fight.

He ended a fast combination by planting home an inch-perfect left hook to the body which sent Donaire tottering around the ring before the excruciating agony forced him to wilt to his knees.

The referee’s count reached ten, Inoue began to celebrate, but in an astonishing demonstration of heart, the 36-year-old then recovered to his feet.

Donaire should’ve been counted out, but was allowed to fight on by an official who was quite possibly enjoying the contest too much and didn’t want it to end. Nobody complained.

The final round was all-out war, with Inoue emerging victorious through a unanimous decision of 116-111, 117-109, 114-113.

This victory crowned him as the unified WBA & IBF bantamweight world champion, as well as Ring Magazine belt-holder and WBSS tournament king.

In the aftermath, the modern classic was quickly written down in the history books as one of Asia’s greatest ever battles.

And the mutual admiration shared between the pair was evident a day later when Donaire posted a video and statement on social media.

Inoue won the day, but Donire shared in his victory
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The Filipino explained that, despite losing, it was he who had taken home the WBSS trophy.

Inoue agreed to lend it to him so he could keep a promise to his children and teach them a lesson about being respectful in defeat.

All in all, not bad for a Thursday lunchtime fight.