Naoya Inoue rallies to retain undisputed junior featherweight title

Naoya Inoue gets knocked down for the first time in his career, but he rallies for a big KO victory over Luis Nery. (1:35)

Inoue knocked down for first time, comes back to win by KO (1:35)

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Naoya Inoue suffered the first knockdown of his illustrious career in the opening round but rebounded to floor Luis Nery three times en route to a Round 6 KO victory to retain his undisputed junior featherweight championship on Monday in Tokyo.

There were 44,000-plus on hand for the first boxing event at the famed Tokyo Dome since the Mike Tyson-Buster Douglas heavyweight title shocker in February 1990. And those fans witnessed another surprise when Mexico’s Nery dropped the Japanese star with a counter right hand in Round 1.

Naoya Inoue, left, retained his undisputed junior featherweight championship with a sixth-round KO victory over Luis Nery in Tokyo. PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images

Inoue, the -1600 favorite per ESPN BET, smirked and breathed a sigh of relief as he walked back to his corner after the round.

“How did you like that big surprise in the first round?” the 31-year-old asked the crowd in Japanese after the fight. “… That gave me motivation and I was so focused until the end of the fight.”

The following round, Inoue (27-0, 24 KOs) returned the favor with a counter left hook, the fifth knockdown of Nery’s career. Inoue, ESPN’s No. 2 pound-for-pound boxer, slapped his gloves together as the referee counted.

“The Monster” deposited Nery on the canvas with another left hook in Round 5. Then in Round 6, Inoue backed up Nery (35-2, 27 KOs) and delivered a sharp right hand that sent the challenger’s head crashing onto the bottom rope as the referee halted the bout without a count at 1:22.

Ahead of Monday’s fight, the Japan Boxing Commission reinstated Nery’s boxing license after he was indefinitely suspended in March 2018. The ban was handed down following Nery’s pair of stoppage wins over Japan longtime champion Shinsuke Yamanaka.

Nery scored a fourth-round TKO win over Yamanaka to capture the WBC bantamweight title in August 2017 but was suspended afterward when the banned substance zilpaterol was found in his system. Nery argued the finding was the result of tainted meat consumed in Mexico.

In the March 2018 rematch, Nery stopped Yamanaka in Round 2 but did so after he weighed 121 pounds for a 118-pound title bout. The pair of violations led to the ban and widespread scorn from Japanese boxing fans. The crowd booed Nery during introductions.

“I know there’s some difficult feelings among Japanese boxing fans because of his fights in the past, but I personally appreciate Nery,” Inoue said. “That’s why I shook hands with him after the fight.”

Punch Stats Punches Inoue Nery Total landed 107 54 Total thrown 239 194 Percent 45% 28% Jabs landed 45 20 Jabs thrown 112 70 Percent 40% 29% Power landed 62 34 Power thrown 127 124 Percent 49% 27% — Courtesy of CompuBox

Inoue outlanded Nery 107-54, per CompuBox. He also connected on the cleaner, sharper, harder shots. It was Inoue’s eighth consecutive victory inside the distance.

With the first defense of his four 122-pound titles behind him, Inoue still has two mandatory challengers to deal with. Uzbekistan’s Murodjon Akhmadaliev is the WBA’s No. 1 contender, while Australia’s Sam Goodman is the top-ranked 122-pounder with the WBO and IBF.

Goodman, ESPN’s No. 7 junior featherweight, entered the ring afterward and shook hands with Inoue.

“I’m looking forward to the negotiation to fight against Sam Goodman in September,” Inoue said.

“I’ve been mandatory for over a year, either give up the belts or fight me,” Goodman responded. “Let’s get it on.”

Despite his dominance across four weight divisions — he was also undisputed at 118 pounds along with title reigns at 108 and 112 — this wasn’t the first time Inoue encountered adversity inside the ring.

When he outpointed future Hall of Famer Nonito Donaire in ESPN’s 2019 Fight of the Year, Inoue fought through a broken orbital bone and fractured nose. Just like he did back then, Inoue rallied vs. Nery to remain undefeated.

Inoue collected all four belts in December when he knocked out Marlon Tapales in Round 10. He made his 122-pound debut in July with an eighth-round TKO win over Stephen Fulton. Inoue was named ESPN’s 2023 Fighter of the Year.

Prior to the fight, Nery told BoxingScene that Inoue was an “overrated … ordinary fighter.” ESPN’s No. 3 junior featherweight, Nery’s only previous defeat came in May 2021, a seventh-round KO loss to Brandon Figueroa in a 122-pound title unification.

Nery’s 11th-round KO victory over Azat Hovhannisyan was named ESPN’s runner-up for 2023 Fight of the Year.

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