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Class act in boxing

By Joaquin Henson
Sun, 10 Nov 2019

What went down in Saitama last Thursday was a strong reminder that professional boxing is alive and well. Nonito Donaire, Jr. and Naoya Inoue battled for 12 rounds like their lives depended on the outcome, giving it their all. Over 20,000 fans jammed the Saitama Super Arena to witness an epic duel between two stout-hearted warriors. When it was all over, they embraced and showed respect for each other with no animosity, no rancor.

Inoue and Donaire were brilliant, not only in their skills but also in their courage. Thrice, Donaire was thrown off balance and toppled to the canvas but each trip was a result of the physicality that marked the encounter, not by malicious intent. Referee Ernie Sharif ruled each topple a slip. Sharif called a knockdown in the 11th when Donaire took a knee after taking a left hook to the stomach. The only shoddy taint that ruined the perfect storm was the disparity in the judges’ scorecards. Octavio Rodriguez of Panama scored it 117-109 with the audacity of awarding the fifth round to Inoue, 10-8, without a knockdown. Inoue rocked Donaire with a right in that round and the Filipino Flash nearly fell but recovered quickly. In the ninth, the table was reversed as Donaire landed his own version of a right that clearly staggered the Japanese who clinched for dear life to survive the assault. Rodriguez didn’t score it 10-8 for Donaire in that round. Another judge Luigi Boscarelli of Italy had it 116-111, also for Inoue. The third judge Robert Hoyle of Las Vegas saw it 114-113 for the Japanese. Without the knockdown in the 11th round, Hoyle would’ve scored it a draw.

After the fight, Donaire was in tears and approached Inoue’s camp to borrow the Muhammad Ali trophy, symbol of supremacy in the World Boxing Super Series format that gathers the titleholders in certain divisions for the purpose of determining a universal champion. Donaire had promised his two sons Jarel, 6, and Logan, 4, he would bring back the trophy the next morning when they got up from bed. The two boys had conspired to sketch a good-luck card on a pizza box for their father and it was hung on the wall of the fighter’s dressing room at the arena. The boys slept in their hotel during the fight.

When the boys woke up, they saw Donaire wearing shades to hide the swelling around the eyes and wept. Donaire assured them he was OK, that losing happens in boxing and maybe next time, he’ll get another chance. Jarel couldn’t hold back the tears. Then the boys did a video with Donaire in between them, thanking and congratulating Inoue in what had to be an emotional first in boxing lore.

“We wanted to thank Naoya for lending the trophy and the Japanese nation for the hospitality and wonderful reception,” said Donaire. “I came to Japan to take the Ali trophy. I promised my sons they would see it in the morning. And with tears in my eyes, I humbly asked Inoue to borrow it for a night, not for me but for my word. It’ll be a life lesson my boys will soon learn. That you do your best and you come short. You will win. You will lose. But in either aspect, you will do so graciously. It’ll pain them to see my face. They’ll kiss my wounds. They’ll see a trophy we don’t get to take home and understand what it means to want to train harder. And I told them about the battle I fought. That I’d rather put my life on my warrior’s shield than give up. And that we will always fight.”

Oddsmakers gave Donaire only a slim chance to win and installed Inoue a 10-1 favorite. But they almost ate their words as Donaire proved Inoue isn’t invulnerable after all. The fight will go down in boxing history as one of the most exciting championship duels ever in any division and a shining example of why the sport has survived the test of time despite the shenanigans, shrewdness and shadowy antics of operators. When gladiators like Donaire and Inoue leave it all in the ring then show respect for each other, it gives you a good feeling about the purity of sports competition.

Click here to view a list of other articles written by Joaquin Henson.

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