Naoya Inoue beat Nonito Donaire by unanimous decision in a modern classic on Thursday in Japan.
The three-weight world champion and rising pound-for-pound star was pushed to the limit by his legendary Filipino opponent, but came through in a truly magnificent battle.
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 by many to walk through Donaire, however this did not come to pass in the early rounds as the 36-year-old 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.
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 at the end of the fifth and it seemed as though the end may be nigh.
Despite the pain, Donaire battled on and came back into the fight before a massive ninth round in which he badly hurt the ‘Monster’ with a massive right hand.
Inoue held on for dear life to survive the session and then regained control in the following minutes.
Round eleven would ultimately prove key in deciding the contest as it produced the fight’s only knockdown.
Inoue ended a combination by planting home an inch-perfect left hook to the body which sent Donaire staggering around the ring before being forced to wilt to his knees.
In an astonishing demonstration of heart, the 36-year-old recovered to his feet to beat the count and fought on to see out the contest.
The final round was all-out war, with Inoue ultimately emerging victorious through scores of 116-111, 117-109, 114-113.
This victory crowned him as the unified WBA and IBF bantamweight world champion, as well as Ring Magazine belt-holder and WBSS tournament king.
“Donaire was a very, very strong opponent,” Inoue said post-fight.
“I had double vision since the second round, but I was victorious and I am very proud of myself. I believe that I have a bright future.
“I think Donaire was a true champion. I will keep fighting and be victorious.”
Inoue will now move on to sign a co-promotional deal with Bob Arum’s Top Rank and fight in America, Todd DuBoef has confirmed.
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