“The Monster” may have scored a decisive second-round stoppage of the great Nonito Donaire on Tuesday in Saitama, Japan, but his goal of reaching the lofty position of pound for pound No. 1 was realized by the tightest of split decisions.
By a 5-4 margin in a Ring ratings panel debate, three-weight world champion Naoya Inoue has made history by becoming the first Japanese national to sit atop the mythical rankings. The reigning unified heavyweight titleholder Oleksandr Usyk will drop from No. 1 to No. 2, while Terence Crawford moves down a spot to No. 3.
As the numbers reflect, this was not an easy choice. Usyk is a former undisputed cruiserweight champion and his skillset is beyond reproach. The sophisticated Ukrainian lefty won an assortment of 200-pound titles on the road before scoring a historic points win over Anthony Joshua to put the glamor division on notice.
The unbeaten Inoue (23-0, 20 KOs) is the reigning Ring, IBF, WBA and WBC bantamweight titleholder. The 29-year-old has been feasting on world-level opposition for eight years and holds signature wins over Adrian Hernandez (TKO 6), Omar Narvaez (KO 2), Jamie McDonnell (TKO 1), Juan Carlos Payano (KO 1), Emmanuel Rodriguez (TKO 2) and Nonito Donaire (UD 12, TKO 2).
The rematch victory over Donaire was a massacre. Most of us predicted the win but few foresaw a one-sided blowout. Yes, Donaire is 39 years old, but that cannot be overplayed. He’d never lost at bantamweight and was on great form, having halted two unbeaten opponents – Nordine Oubaali (KO 4) and Reymart Gaballo (KO 4) – since suffering a competitive points defeat to Inoue in October 2019. Subsequently, The Ring rated Donaire as the No. 1 contender at 118 pounds and, thanks to the Oubaali win, he was the WBC titleholder.
My personal take was that Inoue deserved maximum credit for his most recent triumph and had earned the top spot on The Ring’s pound for pound list.
“Nobody has done that to [Donaire,]” agreed long-time Ring contributor Anson Wainwright. “I’d like Inoue at number one. If Usyk is impressive in the rematch with [Anthony] Joshua, he might take back the number one spot, and if we get Crawford-[Errol] Spence, we may get the winner of that, but for now I like Inoue as the pound-for-pound king.”
Wainwright and I had plenty of backing.
“As much as I admire and respect what Usyk has accomplished on the road, it’s hard for me not to think Inoue is the best fighter in the world right now,” said ratings panel member Daisuke Saigura. “I support Anson & Tom here.”
Panel member and editor Diego Morilla was next and equally sure with his reasoning.
“I have been part of Team Usyk for a while, for a lot of reasons. But it is hard to deny that Inoue is the fighter every other fighter should aspire to be. ‘Fast,’ ‘crafty,’ and ‘always in great shape’ are understatements at this point,” offered Morilla.
“And just as nobody questioned [Floyd] Mayweather’s unwillingness to travel abroad to get his belts before crowning him as the pound-for-pound king, I wouldn’t hold that against Inoue either. I support Inoue to jump to number one.”
However, several panel members still feel that Usyk reigns supreme.
“It’s worth repeating that Usyk has won eight belts in two divisions in less than 20 pro bouts AND done most of that work on the road,” said panel member Michael Montero. “He’s a 200-pounder who just beat a man that is naturally 50 pounds heavier (Joshua).
“Inoue is definitely the fighter of the moment, but his accomplishments do not usurp the Ukrainian’s. At least not yet.”
Martin Mulcahey was in the same corner as Montero.
“Count me in for moving Inoue up a spot as well, and Crawford will have his chance to move past Inoue again later this year if he takes on Spence,” said Mulcahey. “With these two talents so close in terms of achievement and eye test, I think the last result can be difference maker… and Inoue’s last result is simply fantastic! Only thing keeping Usyk above Inoue in my mind is how Usyk has gone to his best challengers home nations to beat them.”
Panel members Adam Abramovich and Tris Dixon were in agreement with Usyk maintaining the No. 1 spot.
At this point, the score was 4-4 and our esteemed editor-in-chief Doug Fischer was initially on the fence.
“I thought Inoue’s performance was sensational, he looked like the perfect offensive-boxing force,” stated Fischer. “I’m in favor of him moving up at least one spot (back to No. 2), and in truth, I think the No. 1 spot is a toss-up between Inoue and Usyk. I have no problem with either in that top P4P position.”
When asked if he could go one way or the other, Fischer decided that Inoue was his final choice.