By Derek Bonnett
The New Year is always preceded by some excellent boxing cards in Japan. Each year, some of the nation’s greatest talent, which is considerable at this time, steps into the ring end things with a bang. On December 29, reigning WBO super flyweight champion, Naoya Inoue took on former two-time champion Kohei Kono at Ariake Colosseum in Tokyo in what would be his sternest opponent since dethroning Omar Andres Narvaez in 2014.
The bout started with a heated tempo as Inoue clearly looked to meet the high expectations of his supporters by becoming the first man to stop Kono. Immediately, Inoue established a jab which set his work above Kono’s for the remainder of the bout. While Kono charged in trying to slay "Monster" to the body, the champion peppered him with jabs to set up big right hands or left hooks. In round two, Inoue matched Kono’s body attack as the two exchanged thudding shots to the torso. Inoue’s right hand came over Kono’s low guard repeatedly in the second and third. The champion was not just throwing active punches, but hard, bone-breaking shots, which Kono took, but stumbled here and there. Kono appeared to dig deepest in round four, but his aggression only elevated Inoue’s game and the younger champion continued to pocket the rounds. Kono, fighting well, was simply outmatched. Inoue boxed well in the fifth after absorbing several winging shots from the challenger. He stabbed Kono with an annoying jab long enough to clear any possible cobwebs, but Kono persisted and finished the round with a nice left hook to the chin. Inoue swallowed it down whole to take a close round. Kono started the sixth looking to pick up where he left off, but his reckless assault led to his undoing. The two combatants exchanged along the ropes, but Inoue landed a left hook that leveled the challenger. Flat on his back, Kono looked cooked. Inoue celebrated to the crowd, but Kono rose at what seemed like nine and nine tenths seconds. On unsteady legs, Kono looked to his corner, but his face told the whole story. Inoue waded in on a seek and destroy mission. A series of three right hands dropped Kono for the second time and the bout was waved at the 1:01 mark.
At the time of the stoppage, Inoue led 50-45 on the unofficial SecondsOut card. Inoue raised his record to 12-0-0 (10) and registered his fourth title defense. Already looking like a Hall of Famer at age twenty-three, Kono gave his career the jumpstart it needed going into 2017 and a potential showdown with Roman Gonzalez. Kono, always entertaining, fell to 32-10-1 (13). Kono is thirty-six years old and after losing for the second time this year may be at the end of a strong career.
On the undercard, Akira Yaegashi stopped Samartlek Kokietgym in the twelfth and final round of a dominating performance on the cards. Yaegashi’s IBF light flyweight title was on the line. Ryota Murata continued his rise as a middleweight prospect with a third round stoppage of Bruno Sandoval in a middleweight bout. Ryo Matsumoto stopped Victor Uriel Lopez in six rounds of a super bantamweight bout to avenge a shocking upset from earlier this year. Also, Ryuji Hara won a unanimous eight round decision over Hiroya Yamamoto in a light flyweight bout.