2019 Fight of the Year: Naoya Inoue vs Nonito Donaire
SAN DIEGO, Calif., January 2, 2020 – From super flyweight to welterweight to heavyweight, 2019 proved to be a year full of outstanding fights for boxing fans to enjoy.
It was easy to find outstanding choices for our 2019 Fight of the Year shortlist. We have narrowed the finalists down to three.
Daniel Roman vs TJ Doheny, April 26 – The Forum, Inglewood, California
Daniel Roman and TJ Doheny delivered 12 rounds of unexpected action combatworthy of competition with any Marvel movie. Except in this case, the action was all for real. Neither man wanted to let his title slip through his hands in this bantamweight unification showdown. And if either was going down, the loser was going to make the winner pay.
Roman of Inglewood (27-2-1, 10 KOs) won by majority decision against Doheny of Australia via Ireland (21-1, 15 KOs). Roman became the unified WBA and IBF Super Bantamweight World champion by scores were 116-110 X 2 and 113-113. It was a fight where the stock of both men went up, win or lose.
“I respect him as a fighter and a person,” said Roman, thanking Doheny for taking the fight. “I realized I can’t stand and trade with him; he’s a strong guy.” Roman said when he started targeting the body, he knew it was the right approach. “I felt as soon as I connected with body shots, his conditioning started going down,” said Roman.
Doheny may have lost the bout, but he won enormous respect from his opponent and the Forum fans. Doheny congratulated Roman and his team. “He’s a great fighter, and he’s a great gentleman. That means more to me than anything,” said Doheny. “Plan 1 was to come to Los Angeles and become the unified champion. That didn’t happen. Plan 2, to give the people of Los Angeles an absolute war, and I hope I entertained them tonight.” Mission accomplished.
Andy Ruiz Jr. vs Anthony Joshua, June 3 – Madison Square Garden, New York
Prizefighting doesn’t get much bigger than this: two men in the heavyweight division slugging it out at The Mecca of Boxing. The road to this bout had more twists and turns than any mountain road, and there were plenty of potholes. Ruiz Jr. of Imperial, California was the last minute, improbably challenger, the chubby kid from the desert up against the undefeated glamour star of the division in Joshua. There isn’t a boxing fan or even a casual view in the world who doesn’t remember where he or she was when Joshua called it quits.
Naoya Inoue vs Nonito Donaire, November 30 – Super Arena, Saitama, Japan
But as good as both fights were, along with many other contenders, our 2019 Fight Of The Year goes to the World Boxing Super Serial final in the bantamweight division between the phenomenal 26-year-old undefeated three-weight division champion, and the 37-year-old 2012 Fighter of the Year who was a last-minute replacement due to injury. No one saw Nonito Donaire of the U.S. via the Philippines being in any way competitive with “The Monster” Naoya Inoue of Japan. Boxing fans were never so glad to be wrong.
While the Ruiz Jr. vs. Joshua shocker made a big impression, Inoue and Donaire pitted two men fighting with skill, heart, and determination. In their own way, both athletes presented the best possible versions of themselves at this moment in time.
Inoue is every bit the knockout threat Deontay Wilder is, except that he weighs 100 pounds less at 118 pounds. None of his fights in the entire tournament against the world’s best had gone past two rounds. What could the admittedly faded Donaire do?
All Donaire did was give Inoue the fight of his young life, rocking him in the second round so hard he broke Inoue’s orbital bone. Both men repeatedly buzzed each other, cut and battered. Donaire got off the canvas twice to survive to the final bell. The 11th round would have sent most boxers home, but Inoue and Donaire put on a display of courage we won’t get to see again for a long time, if ever. It’s the kind of fight where it’s a shame either man has to lose in the record books, but Inoue prevailed by scores of 117-109, 116-111, and 114-113.
It’s a fight so good, Donaire likely made himself a first-ballot lock for the International Boxing Hall of Fame in a loss. We encourage you to watch again, or watch for the first time.
BONUS – “WTH?” Fight of 2019: Efe Ajagba vs Igor Kiladze, December 21, Toyota Center, Ontario, California.
Just because we can, the five rounds of mayhem known as Ajagba vs. Kiladze was a ‘have to see it to believe it’ kind of fight. Igor Kiladze of Georgia has multiple losses to top names but puts up a solid challenge. He was expected to provide Ajagba of Nigeria now training in Texas some good rounds of work before Ajagba got his win. It didn’t quite work out that way, with Kiladze putting Ajagba on the canvas before finally being stopped. Fans were on their feet for the surprising Georgian and for the sheer entertainment of it all.
Fans will now begin their vigil for the 2020 Fight of the Year. Perhaps it will be the anticipated rematch between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury – or any other match made among the top names in the red-hot heavyweight division. How about the soon to be scheduled fight between phenom Teofilo Lopez and one of the greatest boxing scientists on the planet, Vasiliy Lomachenko? Could it be a third fight between Canelo Alvarez and Gennadiy Golovkin? Maybe the next spectacular knockout by The Monster, Naoya Inoue? We look forward to starting the clock and looking back 364 days from now.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal is a veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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