When Naoya Inoue first started boxing as a first grader in Japan, he had no aspiration of fighting professionally, let alone making beating people up a career or becoming a world champion. He just did it.
It was only years later, after training at the same gym as future three-division world champion Akira Yaegashi and sparring with him, that Inoue began to consider the possibility.
“That’s when I realized what level I was at,” Inoue told ESPN, through an interpreter. “And that’s what basically gave me that thought of wanting that urge — to want to be a world champion.”
That’s a role Inoue (20-0, 17 KO) has held for a while now, going into Saturday’s Top Rank Boxing main event against Michael Dasmarinas in Las Vegas, where he’ll defend the WBA and IBF bantamweight titles (ESPN and ESPN+, 10 p.m. ET, with prelims at 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+).
He’s held at least one world title belt since 2014. First it was the WBC junior flyweight title, which Inoue won against Adrian Hernandez in 2014. Then it was the WBO junior bantamweight title against Omar Narvaez the same year. He held that belt for three years before moving up to bantamweight, where he’d win the WBA “regular” bantamweight belt against Jamie McDonnell in 2018.
Inoue added the IBF and The Ring bantamweight titles in a second-round TKO of Emmanuel Rodriguez in 2019, and the WBA “super” bantamweight title on Nov. 7, 2019 when he won an absolute war against Nonito Donaire in the World Boxing Super Series final.
As long as he beats Dasmarinas (30-2-1, 20 KO), he said his next plan is to unify the belts at bantamweight (Donaire owns the WBC belt and John Riel Casimero the WBO title) — something he hopes to accomplish by the end of 2021. The 28-year-old from Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan hasn’t thought much beyond that, but he’s also started to enjoy the attention that comes with each fight.
He said he’s able to live pretty much a normal life. When fans recognize him, he reciprocates the attention, but it hasn’t been too intrusive. He’s gotten comfortable in the spotlight once he started climbing the pound-for-pound rankings.
“At first it wasn’t something that I was paying too much attention to,” Inoue said. “And then all of a sudden I was No. 9 and then gradually started to make my way up, and when I realized it, I started paying attention a bit more to the rankings.”
If he keeps winning and keeps unifying titles, that attention should grow. But Inoue tries to remain grounded. When he isn’t fighting, he doesn’t have any other major hobbies. His downtime is spent at home with his family — “the time that I enjoy most,” he said.
As Naoya continues to grow his name in boxing, he hopes to build a legacy that he and his family can be proud of.
“Basically,” Inoue said. “I just want people to see my boxing, and see me as a great boxer.” — Michael Rothstein
Full breakdown and prediction
Inoue is a sizable betting favorite going into Saturday night’s fight, but Dasmarinas presents two unique challenges compared to Inoue’s opponents to this point: he’s a southpaw and he’s lanky.
How will that affect Inoue’s plan, and how will he adjust? Check out Timothy Bradley Jr.’s breakdown, which includes his prediction for the fight.
Mikaela Mayer: Inside the music
Before Mikaela Mayer became a boxer, an Olympian and a world champion, she was a musician. Before she fought in front of international crowds and had fans chanting her name in pro fights, she craved the energy of being on a small stage during Warped Tour as a bassist in Lia-Fail, a hardcore metal band. Together, she and Nita Strauss — then part of Lia-Fail, and now a world renowned guitarist who tours with Alice Cooper — traveled the country, sometimes playing the early, early set on a show in front of bartenders and random stragglers.
Ahead of Mayer’s title defense against Erica Farias, read the full story, by Michael Rothstein.
By the numbers
3: Numbers of fights in the U.S.; second time fighting in Las Vegas
1: 1 of 5 Japanese boxers to win titles in three different weight classes, and 1 of 2 boxers to win two bantamweight title fights by first-round stoppage (Hozumi Hasegawa)
85%: KO percentage, sixth-highest among current titleholders
20: Knockouts for Dasmarinas in 30 professional fights
8: Number of opponents with losing records of the 33 that Dasmarinas has faced
3: Mayer is the third member of 2016 U.S. Olympic boxing team to win world title (Shakur Stevenson, Claressa Shields). She’s also in her third straight 10-round bout.
Title fight: Naoya Inoue (20-0, 17 KOs) vs. Michael Dasmarinas (30-2-1, 20 KOs), 12 rounds, for Inoue’s IBF and WBA bantamweight titles
Title fight: Mikaela Mayer (14-0, 5 KOs) vs. Erica Farias (26-4, 10 KOs), 10 rounds, for Mayer’s WBO women’s junior lightweight title
Adam Lopez (15-2, 6 KOs) vs. Isaac Dogboe (21-2, 15 KOs), 10 rounds, featherweights
Lindolfo Delgado (11-0, 11 KOs) vs. Salvador Briceno (17-6, 11 KOs), 8 rounds, junior welterweights
Guido Vianello (7-0-1, 7 KOs) vs. Dante Stone (5-1, 3 KOs), 6 rounds, heavyweights
Eric Puente (5-0, 0 KOs) vs. Jose Antonio Meza (7-5, 2 KOs), 6 rounds, lightweights
Omar Rosario (3-0, 1 KO) vs. Wilfred Mariano (3-0, 2 KOs), 4 rounds, junior welterweights
Charlo wants better opposition
The way Jermall Charlo flicks his left hand forward, circles his opponent and lands convincing punches makes him look every bit like the middleweight champion that he is. When Charlo is at his best, he also looks like the best pure 160-pounder in the world.
There’s just one big issue. While he is undefeated, Charlo’s string of victories haven’t included top opponents. Juan Macias Montiel, Charlo’s foe on Saturday at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET) also won’t boost Charlo’s case for middleweight supremacy.
That doesn’t mean the 31-year-old isn’t looking for a chance to display his skills against another champion. In fact, he craves it.
“I want it bad,” Charlo told ESPN. “I’ve never had a unification fight. That’s something I want. I want all the belts in the division.”
Montiel (22-4-2, 22 KOs) is the type of opponent that could lead to a Charlo (31-0, 22 KOs) showcase. Charlo wants bigger fights against bigger names — specifically Gennadiy “GGG” Golovkin. Charlo said GGG’s camp didn’t respond to talks about a potential unification fight. Golovkin, the IBF titleholder, instead could be headed for a unification fight against WBA titlist Ryota Murata in December.
A fight against the winner, something Charlo wants, could be the thing to boost his status as one of boxing’s best pound-for-pound fighters. And given Charlo’s age, the clock is ticking if he wants to maximize the potential many believe he possesses.
“In order to be the best middleweight in the world, you gotta beat the best,” Charlo said. “That’s what we’re inching forward to doing. It’s just little bumps in the road that we gotta keep jumping over. Montiel is one.” –Ben Baby
By the numbers
3: Charlo is making the third defense of the WBC middleweight title he won in June 2019 when he defeated Brandon Adams
-2500: Charlo’s odd to win per Caesars William Hill. Charlo has been the betting favorite in all of his world title fights thus far
22: Number of KO victories by Montiel in the same amount of fights as a professional
Title fight: Jermall Charlo (31-0, 22 KOs) vs. Juan Macias Montiel (22-4-2, 22 KOs), 12 rounds, for Charlo’s WBC middleweight title
Gabriel Maestre (3-0, 3 KOs) vs. Cody Crowley (19-0, 9 KOs), 12 rounds, welterweights
Angelo Leo (20-1, 9 KOs) vs. Aaron Alameda (25-1, 13 KOs), 10 rounds, junior featherweights
Isaac Cruz Gonzalez (21-1-1, 15 KOs) vs. Francisco Vargas (27-2-2, 19 KOs), 10 rounds, lightweights
Alexis Salazar (23-3, 9 KOs) vs. Jairo Ariel Rayman (16-1-1, 7 KOs), 10 rounds, middleweights
Richard Medina (9-0, 6 KOs) vs. Omar Castillo (6-2, 3 KOs), 8 rounds, featherweights
Willie Jones (7-2, 4 KOs) vs. Brian Jones (15-11, 9 KOs), 6 rounds, welterweights
Desmond Lyons (6-2, 2 KOs) vs. Jose Israel Ibarra (5-1, 2 KOs), 6 rounds, junior lightweights
Silva steps into the boxing spotlight
There are a handful of other cards to keep an eye on Saturday, including a boxing pay-per-view from Estadio Jalisco, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, that’s set to be headlined by former middleweight champion Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and UFC legend Anderson Silva.
Silva, the record-setting former UFC middleweight champion, takes on Chavez Jr., the son of boxing Hall of Famer Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. — and the elder Chavez is set to fight in an exhibition on the undercard, against another legacy fighter, Hector Camacho Jr.
By the numbers
58: Totals fights as a professional for Chavez Jr. (52-5-1, 34 KOs)
5: Loses in his last six fights after starting his career 46-0-1
2: Silva’s career fights in boxing before Saturday’s bout (1-1, 1 KO). First boxing match since 2005
45: Total fights for Silva in MMA. 34-11 (17-7 in UFC, started 16-0)
20: UFC-record 20 main events for Silva. He also holds the record for the longest win streak in UFC history (16), most finishes (9) and most knockouts (7) in title fights.
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (52-5-1, 34 KOs) vs. Anderson Silva (1-1, 1 KO), 10 rounds, cruiserweights
Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. vs. Hector Camacho Jr., 6 rounds, middleweight exhibition
Omar Chavez (38-6-1, 25 KOs) vs. Ramon Alvarez (28-8-3, 16 KOs), 10 rounds, middleweights
Damian Sosa (17-1, 10 KOs) vs. Abel Mina (13-0, 7 KOs), 10 rounds, junior middleweights
Kevin Torres (17-1-1, 14 KOs) vs. Jorge Luis Melendez (13-7-2, 8 KOs), 8 rounds, junior welterweights
Mario Alberto Ramirez (15-1-1, 4 KOs) vs. Pedro Castro (8-2-1, 4 KOs), 8 rounds, junior lightweights
Jesus Acosta Ayala (15-2-1, 10 KOs) vs. Leonardo Padilla (19-3, 14 KOs), 8 rounds, junior lightweights
Cesar Gutierrez Flores (11-0-2, 4 KOs) vs. Oscar Mejia (14-4-1, 6 KOs), 8 rounds, featherweights
Jose Luiz Vazquez Hernandez (2-0, 1 KO) vs. Jonathan Luis Perez Zuniga (6-1, 3 KOs), 8 rounds, featherweights
Brian Barragan Rico (6-0, 5 KOs) vs. Ruben Estrella, (8-4-2, 3 KOs), 6 rounds. junior flyweights
Erik Inzunza (7-2, 7 KOs) vs. Carlos Daniel Acosta (8-4, 5 KOs), 6 rounds, junior lightweights
Karen Rubio (5-1, 0 KOs) vs. Estefany Alegria (1-0, 0 KOs), 4 rounds, women’s junior flyweights