Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Ruiz-Joshua II: Preview and Prediction

Andy Ruiz's shocking seventh-round knockout of heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua has been the defining moment of boxing in 2019. A late-replacement opponent, Ruiz got off the canvas in the third round and won a battle of left hooks later in the frame to turn the tide in the fight. He would drop Joshua four times over the course of the match to become an improbable heavyweight champion. Ruiz had never lacked skills, but his portly shape, inconsistent punch output, and short reach left him with limited ways to win the fight. However, Joshua's over-aggressiveness after scoring his knockdown in the third provided Ruiz with the opening he needed to let his fast hands work their magic. 

Ruiz's victory over Joshua was more than a well-timed left hook. Despite facing few world-level opponents in his professional career, he was the fighter who appeared to be more seasoned in the ring. He didn't punch himself out in the third round trying to finish Joshua, a mistake that many fighters would have made. He realized that it would take more, and he kept enough in the tank to remain fresh and vibrant. In the fifth and six rounds he expertly worked Joshua's body to deplete him further. After hurting Joshua again in the seventh, Ruiz didn't smother his own work on the inside. His shots were purposefully placed and landed with maximum impact. Yes, Joshua had played into Ruiz's hands earlier in the fight (more on this later), but there was nothing flukish about Ruiz's victory; it was well earned. The better man won on the night. 


Photo Courtesy of Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing

Ruiz (33-1, 22 KOs) and Joshua (22-1, 21 KOs) meet for the rematch on Saturday at the Diriyah Arena in Saudi Arabia. Despite Ruiz's conclusive victory in June, he remains the betting underdog heading into the fight. When considering how the rematch might play out, there are a number of factors to consider, so let's jump right in: 

Perhaps Ruiz's biggest advantage in the first fight was the element of surprise. Joshua was originally supposed to face Jarrell "Big Baby" Miller, a hulking heavyweight who frequently weighs in at over 300 lbs., but whose chief skill is volume punching. Miller is two inches taller and has a four-inch longer reach than Ruiz. And although these dimensions don't scream out as massively different, the two fighters succeed in vastly divergent manners. Miller swarms opponents with volume and physicality. Few heavyweights can keep up with his pace of 80-100 punches a round. Ruiz on the other hand is far more economical with his punch output and relies on his quick counters at close range to cause damage. In short, these were two significantly different opponents. 

It's safe to say that Ruiz doesn't look the part. His body jiggles in the ring. When not in close range he has few weapons. Although he's good on his feet, no one would confuse him for a top-class athlete. But if Ruiz gets an opponent in his wheelhouse he has a plethora of ways to score. Accustomed to fighting taller opponents, Ruiz has become adept at throwing every punch in his arsenal to the body. He's also fluid with combinations, wonderfully mixing in shots to the body and head. In addition he has excellent timing and accuracy. If there's an opening in close quarters, he'll find it. 

After the first two knockdowns in June Joshua's trainer, Rob McCracken, implored his fighter not to trade hooks with Ruiz. And ultimately what did Joshua in during the seventh was an exchange where he refused to follow his trainer's guidance. In another battle of left hooks, Ruiz won, and Joshua sustained further damage; he wouldn't make it to the end of the round. 

In the aftermath of the defeat, there was a clamor from many boxing outposts for Joshua to dump McCracken and select a new head trainer. Many believed that Joshua was underprepared for Ruiz and didn't seem mentally switched on for the fight. How much of that criticism should be leveled at McCracken is up for debate. 

I believe that McCracken is one of the best in the business. He did a wonderful job as Carl Froch's cornerman, featuring great game plans in fights against Lucian Bute and the rematch against Mikkel Kessler. He also made crucial in-fight adjustments that led to Froch getting come-from-behind wins, such as in the Jermain Taylor and George Groves fights. Froch's ability to come back certainly speaks to the fighter's skill set, self-belief and ability to implement needed changes, but it also illustrates McCracken's clear-headedness during big moments, especially when things don't go his way with the initial fight plan. 

McCracken has worked with Joshua since his amateur days and if anyone deserves credit in addition to the fighter for his development into a multi-dimensional heavyweight force, it is McCracken. However, it's certainly worth pointing out that relationships can grow stale or lose effectiveness over time. So the first big decision heading into the rematch is whether Joshua was right to keep McCracken for the rematch. 

Although there are rare exceptions, when fighters ignore their coaches' wishes and start to freelance in the ring that's not usually a good indication of the health of the boxer/trainer partnership. I believe that McCracken was giving Joshua sound advice in the corner during the Ruiz fight, but Joshua ultimately went in his own direction. He either didn't fully believe in McCracken's commands or he wasn't lucid enough to process them – and let's not discount that possibility. 

One significant opportunity that Ruiz will have in the rematch is Joshua's relatively poor powers of recuperation. While Joshua was able to recover in his thrilling fight against Wladimir Klitschko in 2017, he needed several rounds after getting dropped in the sixth to get back on solid footing. Furthermore, once Joshua was hurt in the third round against Ruiz, he never made a full recovery. If Ruiz can hurt Joshua again in the rematch, he will have several rounds to get the stoppage. This can be a huge factor for a fighter like Ruiz, who doesn't possess true one-punch knockout power. 

The ultimate key for Joshua in the rematch will be to avoid getting hurt, and this will be a tough proposition. Ruiz will be live all 12 rounds inching his way forward, looking to capitalize on mistakes and openings, and trying to get the knockout. And if I didn't see Joshua accomplish a similar task earlier in his career, I would say that beating Ruiz would be too much for him to handle. However, Joshua fought such a fight in 2018 against Joseph Parker, a boxer with similar dimensions to Ruiz. In that bout Joshua controlled much of the action with jabs and right hands from the outside. When Parker made his way forward, Joshua mostly tied up instead of engaging on the inside. It was a poor fight to watch, but ultimately it resulted in a comfortable Joshua victory. 

Joshua's Parker fight presents the blueprint for how he can beat Ruiz, but this will require a disciplined effort, and he has to dispose of the notion of trying to look spectacular. (Many pundits have pointed to Joshua's desire to make a big statement in his American debut for his over-eagerness in the third round – rushing in for the stoppage win and misjudging Ruiz's comportment in the ring.)

I think it's fair to say that Joshua lacked some degree of respect for Ruiz in the first fight and I highly doubt he will fall into that trap in the rematch. Part of the reason why Joshua was able to win with such relative ease against Parker was his healthy respect for the opponent. Parker was a fellow titlist (beating Ruiz, by the way, to earn his belt) and possessed imposing dimensions on the inside. Against Parker, Joshua remained cautious and patiently put rounds in the bank. 

In preparing for the rematch Ruiz will need to do more than wait for a perfect opportunity to land a game-changing counter punch. He and trainer Manny Robles will have to assume that Joshua and McCracken will try to take away Ruiz's counter left hook. Thus, Ruiz will have to offer some additional dimensions to win the fight. 

I believe that the key for Ruiz will be the double jab to the body; that probably will be his best way to get inside. Joshua will respect those shots enough to defend them. Should Ruiz be effective with the double jab, that will open up additional opportunities for his power shots. If he's successful look for the following combinations: double jab to the body/overhand right to the head and double jab to the body/overhand right to the head/left hook to the head. 

Ruiz will need to patiently set up these combinations and he can't worry about losing rounds early in the fight. He must stick with the jab. And if Joshua keeps his defense tight, then Ruiz has to proceed to hitting the body. The double jab to the body/straight right hand to the body will work too. His main focus should be working the body with enough regularity to get Joshua to lose his defensive shape. That will be essential in causing further damage. 

For Joshua to win he will need more than jabs from the outside. Ruiz will eventually find his way through the jab if that's all there is. He'll eat them and keep coming. Joshua must fire his right hand with maximum impact at points. And if Ruiz starts inching a little too close, single right uppercuts will work as well. The point is one power shot, a good one, and get out of the pocket. Don't get into prolonged exchanges. Turn Ruiz, step away and reset the action. Make Ruiz try to win when on the move, where he can't plant his feet. 

The pick is Joshua by unanimous decision, but this fight will be fraught for AJ from bell to bell. Ruiz will be setting traps throughout the bout and Joshua will need to be physically and mentally sharp all match. I believe that Joshua knows how to win this type of fight. And I'm banking on that the destruction caused by Ruiz in June will be enough for Joshua to follow McCracken's game plan to a T. 

However, if there are moments of freelancing from Joshua, if he switches off at points in the fight, if he starts to let machismo get the better of him, then Ruiz will have his opportunities to win the fight. Let's say that Joshua wins eight or nine rounds and survives a couple of shaky moments. In the end it won't be a convincing victory, but in this particular matchup, style points don't matter for Joshua. The win is everything for him at this stage of his career. And if he stays on his feet and controls the outside, that should be enough to raise his hands at the end of the fight. It won't be inspiring stuff, but sometimes pragmatism is the answer.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com.
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.  

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Opinions and Observations: Wilder-Ortiz II, Smith-Ryder

Remember those nature videos about lions attacking their prey? Camouflaging themselves in the high grasslands of the savanna, they lie in wait. They are patient. Their prey get comfortable, let their guard down and no longer perceive an imminent threat. It is then that the lions pounce – attacking with ferocity, devouring their unsuspecting victims. In a matter of seconds it's all over.  

Deontay Wilder is such a lion, although he hides in plain sight. He waits. He remains focused. He deals with the distractions of pesky shots from an opponent. He's looking for that one opening to pounce, that moment where a foe gets a little too comfortable. And then he sees the opportunity. He attacks. In a snap of a finger the target winds up supine, lifeless and defeated. It's a clinical destruction. The hunter gets his prey.  


Wilder unleashes his right hand
Photo Courtesy of Ryan Hafey


Through 43 fights only two of Wilder's opponents have made it to the final bell. One, Bermane Stiverne, was destroyed in a rematch. The other, Tyson Fury, needed an act of almost indescribable intestinal fortitude, and the right referee, to survive. Each felt Wilder's right hand missile. 

It's no great secret what Wilder's opponents try to do in the ring: avoid the right at all costs. A handful of them have won numerous rounds against him. They land their shots. They beat him with activity. They capitalize on his indifference to winning rounds. But the problem that many of them have is that they are trying to beat him. That means they have to open up enough offensively to win rounds. At a certain point it's not enough just to avoid the right hand. If they want to win, they need to do so convincingly. 

Eventually defensive shortcomings, overconfidence and/or fatigue manifest. These three problems work in Wilder's favor. Wilder carries his power all 12 rounds. He doesn't burn himself out wasting punching. He has excellent conditioning. In addition, he has such belief in his right hand that he never feels that a fight is out of reach. And with his power, it isn't. 

Luis Ortiz boxed very well on Saturday. He landed a number of powerful left hands. He moved much better than he did in their first fight in 2018. But some of the same issues from their initial meeting re-appeared in the rematch. Ortiz found it so easy to hit Wilder that he started to take more chances in the ring. Instead of patiently sticking behind single shots that were successful early in the fight, he entered into a shootout with Wilder in the seventh round. And as the old adage says "never bring a knife to a gunfight"; Wilder had the 12 gauge shotgun. 

Wilder ended matters near the end of the round with a blinding jab and a perfectly thrown right hand. Ortiz, eyes scrambled, body discombobulated, couldn't beat the count. And if there were controversies in the first fight (the New York commission taking some extra time to examine Wilder before a round started), all of that has been put to bed now. Ortiz has had his chances, performed well, but ultimately could not remain on his feet for 12 rounds.



Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Trapp


For all of Wilder's flaws as a fighter, and they have been well-documented, he manages to land his right hand on everyone. The footwork can be ponderous, his punch volume can be anemic, he loads up too much on big shots; yet, despite all of his opponents’ hyper-vigilance regarding his right hand, he still detonates it. And it's not just about power. His hand speed is terrific. His technique with the shot has perfect torque. Sure, he can slap with his left hook and he doesn't always punch through the target with his jab, but when he throws the right hand, it's with textbook precision. 

Similar to most Wilder fights, the knockout masked the other aspects of his performance, good and bad. After six completed rounds, at best he could have won two of them. He had so much trust in his chin that he sometimes didn't even bother to block or avoid shots (this flaw will one day cause a huge problem for him). In addition, his punch volume was poor. 

As they often do, Wilder's other punches played a role in his victory. In the sixth Wilder started to throw his left hook with regularity. It didn't always land with authority, but there was actually a sequence in the round where he connected with a shot high on Ortiz's head. In response, Ortiz moved away from the hook toward Wilder's right hand. Now think about that for a moment. The hook was so effective that it scrambled Ortiz's senses for a brief instant and convinced him that moving to Wilder's eraser would somehow be a better course of action. Although Wilder didn't capitalize on that moment, it was worth pointing out, for it exposed a flaw with Ortiz: Wilder's power was so significant that he could be taken out of his game plan. 

The one other effect of the hook is that it provided Ortiz with more openings to counter. This was of course fool's gold. Ortiz deciding to be friskier on offense played right into Wilder's hands. Deontay, like those lions, waits for targets to lose their vigilance. 

Let's also take a moment to reflect on Wilder's jab. Wilder may not have thrown more than two dozen jabs in seven rounds, or at least ones that were intending to land. Yet, Ortiz had enough respect for it that he moved his glove to try to parry it in the final combination. Now with the glove further away from Ortiz's body, Wilder had the opening that he needed. And that was that. The speed and power of Wilder's jab was enough of a concern for Ortiz to attempt to defend it. Wilder doesn't get that particular knockout on Saturday without the jab. 

Wilder will always be vulnerable in fights, but in my estimation he should be favored against any current heavyweight. Until I see evidence that he can't land his right hand, I'm just not sure how many opponents can take the shot. And I'm certainly not convinced that Fury would be able to rise up again. But this conjecture is for another day. Wilder has helped usher in a wildly entertaining era of heavyweight boxing. All of the top fighters have unique skills; all have flaws. I don't know which boxer will wind up emerging on top, but I know I don't want to miss it. The reintroduction of fun into the heavyweight division has been a wonderful development. 

***

Super middleweight champ Callum Smith survived a rugged fight against John Ryder on Saturday. He wound up winning a unanimous decision 117-111, 116-112 and 116-112, but ignore those scorecards (especially Terry O'Connor's dreadful 117-111); they didn't reflect the competitiveness of the fight. Most saw it very close. I had Ryder winning it by two points, 115-113.

Smith's lackluster performance couldn't come at a worse time in his career. Paraded as a potential Canelo Alvarez opponent prior to Saturday's fight, Smith seemed no more than ordinary. Perhaps Ryder was a "trap fight," a bout that Smith couldn't get up for in training. Smith also had subpar outings against Nieky Holzken and Erik Skoglund in the first two rounds of the World Boxing Super Series Tournament, which Smith would subsequently win in a great performance against George Groves. 



Photo Courtesy of Mark Robinson

Physically, Smith looks enormous at the weight. He's a muscular 6'3", has an enormous reach and solid power. His dimensions present significant problems. However, he seems to be missing a consistency gene. There are times where he looks like a top fighter in the sport while on other occasions he appears to be easily beatable. Saturday was an example of the latter. 

John Ryder and trainer Tony Sims came into the fight with a great game plan: Make it rough on the inside, back up Smith whenever possible and take away Callum's significant reach advantage. Although Ryder isn't a master boxing technician, he was successful at getting into close range. He jabbed with Smith. He employed excellent head movement to take away Smith's straight right hand. He used angles when coming in. Perhaps most importantly, once he was on the inside, he stayed there. He knew exactly what he needed to do to win the fight. 

It wasn't as if Smith was completely outclassed in the fight. He had moments where he landed excellent left hooks and right uppercuts. When he was on the front foot he was able to neutralize a lot of Ryder's offense. It's not that he was necessarily an undeserved victor. There could be a case for him squeaking by with seven rounds, but more significantly, in this era of potential superfights, he failed to impress. 

Joe Gallagher has trained numerous champions over the years and has received almost every award that is available for a trainer to win, but he didn't have a good night on Saturday. There was no Plan B for Callum Smith. Why did Smith continue to cede control of the center of the ring? Why was he voluntarily backing up to the ropes? Why wasn't he investing more to the body? Smith and Gallagher were lucky to leave victorious from the Echo Arena in Liverpool (Smith's home town by the way). That performance, by fighter and trainer, won't be enough to defeat the best that the sport has to offer. 

Perhaps Callum does fight down to his level of competition. There are fighters like that in the sport. I'm certainly not dismissing his future prospects, but Saturday's performance was concerning. 



Photo Courtesy of Mark Robinson


As for Ryder, his hard luck continues. Billy Joe Saunders scraped by with a 7-5 type of win against him in 2013. Many believed that Ryder earned victories against Rocky Fielding and Jack Arnfield, which were close defeats. If he wins even one of these four fights (counting Saturday's bout against Smith), perhaps the whole trajectory of his career would be different. Now, at age 31 and with a record of 31-5, he will continue to be viewed as a capable "opponent", but he was so close to being more. 

Boxing's not a kind sport. It's sometimes referred to as the cruelest, and here is yet another example. John Ryder may never have another opportunity to win a title. He may never perform against a top-level fighter the way he did on Saturday. And in another generation he will most likely be forgotten – a blip for the historians, a distant memory from fans of his time. 

He deserved better on Saturday: better judging, fairer scores, more respect from his opponent and promoter. He should be more than a footnote. But boxing is not a meritocracy, not when judges are involved. It's never been and never will be. And if you don't knock guys out, especially the right guys, you run the risk of being relegated to history's dustbin. Hopefully Ryder gets one more shot, but how many times can a fighter get the short end of the stick and remain confident and committed to the sport? We may have seen Ryder's best on Saturday, and he wasn't winning that fight absent something miraculous happening. Very good was not good enough.  

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com.
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.  

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Punch 2 the Face Radio

This week's Punch 2 the Face Radio covered all things Wilder-Ortiz II. Will the rematch play out differently from their first fight? Brandon and I break down all the angles, and we also give our picks for the undercard, which should be entertaining. We previewed the other big fights for this weekend: Cancio-Alvarado II, Can-Robles and Smith-Ryder. In addition, we looked ahead to some of the big fights in December and January.

To listen to the podcast click on the links below:
 
Blog Talk Radio link:
iTunes link:
Stitcher link: 
Also, find us on Spotify: Punch 2 the Face Radio, Episode 152.



Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.  

Monday, November 18, 2019

Pound-for-Pound Update 11-18-19

There have been numerous changes to the Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound list since the last update in July. Toward the top, Saul Alvarez defeated Sergey Kovalev via 11th round knockout to win a light heavyweight title. Alvarez has now won major belts in three different weight classes and he moves up in the Rankings from #5 to #2.

Errol Spence beat Shawn Porter via split decision to become a unified titlist at welterweight. With the win, Spence rises a spot from #9 to #8. 

In another unification bout, Artur Beterbiev knocked out Oleksandr Gvozdyk in the 10th round in a light heavyweight showdown. Beterbiev, now 15-0, has stopped all of his opponents in his professional career. He debuts in the Rankings at #9. 

Also making his debut on the Pound-for-Pound list is Josh Taylor, who defeated Regis Prograis by majority decision to win the World Boxing Super Series tournament at 140 lbs. He now holds two titles at junior welterweight. He enters the Rankings at #15. 

Dropping out of the Rankings are Roman Gonzalez, who leaves because of over a year of inactivity, and Wanheng Menayothin, who continues to win at strawweight, but has been eclipsed in the Rankings by other fighters. Gonzalez had previously been ranked at #15 and Menayothin at #20. 

Here is the updated Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound List. 
  1. Naoya Inoue
  2. Saul Alvarez 
  3. Vasiliy Lomachenko
  4. Terence Crawford
  5. Oleksandr Usyk
  6. Gennadiy Golovkin
  7. Juan Estrada
  8. Errol Spence
  9. Artur Beterbiev
  10. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
  11. Manny Pacquiao
  12. Mikey Garcia
  13. Donnie Nietes
  14. Kosei Tanaka
  15. Josh Taylor
  16. Leo Santa Cruz
  17. Miguel Berchelt
  18. Josh Warrington
  19. Daniel Roman
  20. Ken Shiro
Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.   

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Opinions and Observations: Inoue-Donaire

Throughout Naoya Inoue's meteoric rise in boxing he had faced minimal resistance. He had won world titles at 108, 115 and 118 lbs., yet so few of his fights challenged him in the ring. Only two of his 18 bouts had even gone the distance. And this unprecedented run was not a mirage; he had defeated worthy opposition. He stopped Adrian Hernandez, who many ranked as the top guy at junior flyweight when they fought. Omar Narvaez was also ranked number one at junior bantamweight when they met in 2014. In addition Inoue beat credible contenders, titlists and future champs such as Ryoichi Taguchi, David Carmona, Kohei Kono, Jamie McDonnell, Juan Carlos Payano and Emmanuel Rodriguez. In fact, bettering this solid slate of opponents propelled Inoue's rise to the elite in the sport. But where were the tough fights?  

Perhaps then it may have been surprising that Nonito Donaire, the old war horse at 36, who had lost two of his last five fights coming into Thursday's bout, was the first one to draw blood on Inoue. After all, Donaire's place in the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament seemed at first as nothing more than a cute publicity stunt, a nod to a former champ with name recognition whose best days were at least a half-decade behind him.  


Photo Courtesy of the World Boxing Super Series


Although some unforeseen circumstances (injuries and replacement fighters) led to Donaire reaching the tournament final, he quickly proved on Thursday that he wasn't there for a final career cash out; he was in Japan to win the whole damn thing. In the second round he detonated his patented counter left hook on Inoue's right eye. The shot immediately opened a cut and sent Inoue to the ropes in retreat. In an unfamiliar sight, Inoue was forced to clinch. I'm not sure that he had ever been hit with something so ferocious. Suddenly Inoue, The Monster, was human. 

Few fighters can force a Day of Reckoning like Donaire. He's been one of the elite power punchers in the sport over the last decade and will be able to roll out of bed when he's 80 years old and flatten someone with his left hook. 

And it wasn't just this one moment. In the eighth he landed a jarring counter right hand and Inoue was once again in trouble. His eye started bleeding all over the ring and Donaire was in the ascendancy.  

But in the 10th round Inoue demonstrated his championship mettle. With pulverizing right hands and left hooks, he turned the tables on Donaire, who needed the bell to save him from further damage. In the 11th Inoue cracked a left hook to the liver and as is often the case with that type of shot, the punch short-circuited Donaire. A delayed reaction occurred and Donaire was forced to take a knee. Somehow he was able to make it to his feet (some shoddy work from ref Ernie Sharif may have helped), but Donaire was in real trouble. The stoppage was close to arriving until he landed a left hook that made Inoue stop and recalibrate. It was that shot which enabled Donaire to see the end of the round, and subsequently make it to the final bell. 

In the end Inoue won by a unanimous decision, with scores of 117-109, 116-111 and 114-113 (I also had it 116-111). Ultimately, his more consistent work in the middle rounds of the fight and his strong close proved to be the difference. With the victory Inoue is now a unified titlist at bantamweight and the winner of the 2018-2019 World Boxing Super Series Tournament. 

Inoue faced his first real gut-check moment as a professional on Thursday. And despite experiencing the most extreme duress of his career, he was the one who swept the championship rounds, erasing any possible doubt as to who deserved to be the victor. This fight turned out to be the final test in his development. Sure, we knew about his blazing hand speed, crushing power and pinpoint accuracy, but could he catch? He has now answered that question in the affirmative.

Inoue-Donaire highlighted the best that boxing has to offer: world-class punching, elite-level skills, wonderful ebbs and flows, tactical adjustments, and respect being earned in the ring. Both fighters were hurt at multiple points in the fight – Donaire in the 5th, 10th and 11th and Inoue in the 2nd, 8th and 9th. Each took turns leading and countering. Both displayed menacing firepower. It was thrilling to watch, exhilarating, the type of fight that reaffirms boxing fans' love for the sport. 

In the aftermath of Thursday's result it's natural to ask questions of Inoue. Was he a tad overrated or did his performance highlight even additional dimensions to his all-around boxing ability? I fall in the latter camp. Inoue faced an excellent version of Donaire, the one who was once among the best in the sport.

Since aligning with trainer Kenny Adams, Donaire has rediscovered many of his former dimensions. He took his right hand out of storage, and with wonderful results. He looked comfortable leading. Donaire wasn't plodding along, waiting, waiting, and waiting for an opening to land his left hook. No, he was using all of his weapons, not only to capitalize on mistakes, but also to create his own openings. Overall it was his most well-rounded performance since his stoppage of Toshiaki Nishioka in 2012. 

Since that victory seven years ago Donaire would rise and fall. He had periods where he had lost his passion for the sport. He made several trainer switches. He developed some bad habits in the ring. But on Thursday it was like old times. Here, in the winter of his career, he had suddenly found himself, and he was going for broke against one of the best fighters in boxing.  

After the fight Inoue showered Donaire with praise and admitted that there were still areas to improve for future fights. To my eyes there are two places in particular where Inoue needs to focus: His head is a little still, which makes him able to be countered by a capable craftsman. In addition, he does spend an extra second or two in the pocket admiring his own work. He's used to seeing opponents crumble from his power shots. Yet some foes have the beard to take shots and throw some in return. Inoue wasn't expecting to get hit by some of Donaire's blows; he's going to have to learn to respect his opponents a little bit more in the ring. 

But all of that is fine for another day. Ultimately, Inoue demonstrated yet again that he is can't miss television. With guns blazing in his fists and possessing the heart and determination to overcome adversity, his total package has few rivals among active fighters. And with his new deal with Top Rank, expect American boxing audiences to fall for the Japanese dynamo. 

As for Donaire, whether he decides to call it quits after Thursday's fight or if he continues to soldier on, he has once again reminded boxing fans of his greatness. From 2007-2013 he truly was one of the elite in the sport. He certainly was a devastating puncher, but at his best he was much more than that. He had intelligence, ring savvy, a multiplicity of skills and a rock-solid chin. His record of 40-6 doesn't even begin to do him justice.  

At the age of 26 Inoue is squarely in his prime. He has the pedigree in the ring, the media platform and the potential opponents at 118 to 122 lbs. to become a commanding figure in the sport. But threats abound, from the technical savvy of Nordine Oubaali to the straight left of Zolani Tete to the crushing punching power of Luis Nery. Inoue is now in the thick of a great run of opponents and expect that trend to continue. He believes in the concept of risk. And while he may or may not emerge as the definitive fighter of this era, he certainly wants to find out in the ring. He demands challenges. He chases greatness. And that should make us all happy campers. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com.
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.