BN Verdict: Inoue bludgeons Nery and does it with feeling

WHEN a humbled Luis Nery attempted to approach Naoya Inoue after their super-bantamweight title fight tonight (May 6) in Tokyo, he did so either to congratulate him or apologise, yet was greeted as though his face, this face Inoue had gleefully punished for five and a half rounds, was one Inoue had never before seen.

In fact, just a cursory, over-the-shoulder glance was all Inoue would give Nery in that moment, preferring to lap up the praise from his friends and cornermen, all of whom surrounded him in celebration of his latest victory. The scorned Nery, meanwhile, sensing he was not wanted, left them to it and returned to the opposite corner, his face a mess, and his tail between his legs.

As for why Inoue chose to react like that, one can only speculate. It might have been the pre-fight comments. (“Overrated, over-confident and ordinary,” was how Nery described Inoue beforehand.) It might have been the history. It might have been relief.

Certainly, though, there appeared no love lost between Inoue and Nery, whose latest trip to Japan came six years after messing Shinsuke Yamanaka around not once but twice (a failed drug test in 2017; then an inability to make weight in 2018) and subsequently finding himself banned by the Japan Boxing Commission from ever fighting in Japan again. Suffice it to say, although this ban was recently lifted, Nery’s past behaviour wouldn’t have sat well with Inoue, Yamanaka’s countryman, nor with the 55,000 fans inside Tokyo Dome; usually a crowd so inconspicuous yet tonight content to boo Nery before the first bell.

Inoue and Nery (Photo: Naoki Fukuda)

That, in many ways, set the tone for what was to come. It also made what happened in the first round all the more shocking, both for Inoue and those expecting Inoue to exact Yamanaka’s revenge. For at no point during the plotting of this preferred narrative did anyone ever expect Nery, the designated fall guy and piñata, to swing a wild left hand a minute and a half into tonight’s fight and catch Inoue on the point of the chin, leaving him on the canvas for the first time in his 27-fight pro career. Yet that is exactly what happened. Inoue, amped up and for good reason, loaded up on everything early, only to then discover Nery, 35-2 (27), was not just happy to throw with him but, in these punches, possessed a power Inoue at the very least had to respect.

It hurt him, too, that opening blow. Far from just a flash knockdown, or some kind of fluke, Inoue was visibly stunned by the first Nery left hand and therefore took every second of referee Michael Griffin’s count, refusing to rise until he was confident his legs would facilitate the process.

When realising they would, Inoue got up, at which point Nery, smelling his opportunity, crowded him and let fly with some more shots, throwing at Inoue whatever he could imagine and muster. It was a storm of sorts, one Inoue would have no doubt expected, but it didn’t last particularly long. In fact, by the end of the round it was Inoue who could be seen rocking back Nery’s head with a right uppercut. It was also Inoue, the four-weight champion, who took a moment to shake out his arms and smile through his gum shield.

Inoue measures Nery (PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images)

Maybe he knew. Maybe he knew that the impact of that Nery left hand had been brief rather than prolonged and maybe he knew that its greater impact – in terms of how it would influence the fight – meant only more punishment for its architect, Luis Nery. That would explain, perhaps, why Inoue started the second round with so much confidence, and so much vigour, and why he seemed so eager to level the score, which of course he did, soon knocking Nery down with a counter left hook as he came forward, his feet square.

Already, despite being dropped himself in round one, Inoue had managed to both even things up and put the fight back on track, any misalignment only temporary. Suddenly now, whereas a round ago fans inside the Tokyo Dome would have been wondering whether they were about to witness one of the year’s big upsets, there was the familiar feeling of inevitability again attached to the whole affair. No different from any prior Inoue fight, he had, as early as round two, somehow responded to a knockdown with one of his own and, in the space of a few minutes, had you forgetting the first one had even occurred.

This was the feeling not just of fans but Nery, too, whose frustration grew in the third and fourth rounds before the mission then became one of the kamikaze variety in the fifth. It was this round, the fifth, the Mexican southpaw began to maraud forward aimlessly and with the kind of reckless abandonment indicative not so much of desperation but a man wanting to be put out his misery; or, at best, rush the end of the story so as not to experience the pain of whatever was going to happen in each of the three acts.

Now stiffened by every shot, Nery, 29, was dropped for a second time in the fight by an Inoue left hook with 30 seconds to go in round five. Following that, he dragged himself upright, but reluctantly, sheepishly, and with all the energy of a teenager in bed on a Monday morning. “Oh, if I must,” his eyes and body seemed to say, for surely he knew, as we all knew, what was to come in the next round.

Inoue closes in (YUICHI YAMAZAKI/AFP via Getty Images)

If, however, you thought Inoue, having detected his man was hurt, would just sprint across the ring and finish the job, you were wrong. Instead, figuring the best way to have him served up would be in a state of shock, ignorance and vulnerability, Inoue allowed Nery to have his last stand in the sixth, only to then respond to him flurrying away with punches by chopping Nery apart with a series of right hands, the last of which snapped Nery’s head back and caused his body to wither and deflate to the floor. So dramatic was the fall, in fact, and so damaging was the punch, the referee saw no reason to even count, halting the bout at the one-minute and 22 seconds mark of round six.

Just like that, it was over. Inoue, 31, now had his 27th straight pro win, with 24 of them coming via stoppage, while Nery, the apologetic heel, was left feeling never more alien and never more alone. In some respects, one could argue he tonight got the very worst version of Inoue, as far as treatment goes. This, you see, wasn’t the Naoya Inoue who breaks opponents’ hearts and faces with a violent compassion before then thanking them for coming. It was instead a more spiteful Inoue, a more merciless Inoue, and a more unforgiving Inoue. It was a monstrous Inoue. A disrespectful Inoue. The scariest version yet.

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