A Japanese 26-year-old is set for superstardom after winning millions of dollars in a career-defining battle against Nonito Donaire

Naoya Inoue and Nonito Donaire produced a fight for the ages in Saitama, Japan, on Thursday.

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Naoya Inoue and Nonito Donaire produced a fight for the ages in Saitama, Japan, on Thursday.
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Photo by Toru Hanai/Getty Images

  • Naoya Inoue just beat Nonito Donaire in a technically brilliant World Boxing Super Series final on Thursday.
  • Donaire thumped Inoue with punches so hard he had double-vision from round two onwards, a bloody nose, and a horrible gash on his eyelid.
  • But Inoue overcame it all to put Donaire on the floor in the 11th, before winning a unanimous decision on the judges’ scorecards.
  • Inoue wins the Muhammad Ali trophy, millions of dollars, and was then a confirmed signing at Top Rank, a massive promotional organization headquartered in Las Vegas.
  • Watch fight highlights below.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Naoya Inoue has hit the big time.

The 26-year-old Japanese boxer just outhustled the all-time great Filipino fighter Nonito Donaire in a back-and-forth battle for the ages at the Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, on Thursday.

The bout, which concludes the bantamweight World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) season, propels Inoue into superstardom as the unbeaten prizefighter will cash a paycheck worth millions of dollars. He has even signed a deal with one of the biggest and most powerful promoters in world boxing, Top Rank, in Las Vegas.

“That was a fight for the ages,” Kalle Sauerland, the WBSS promoter, told Business Insider after the event. “An absolute war.”

An absolute war it absolutely was as Inoue had to overcome a nasty tear on his eyelid which leaked blood into his eye, and a beaten nose that bled profusely during the bout, to grind out a gutsy victory over Donaire, a former four-weight world champion destined for the Hall of Fame.

It was a passing-of-the-torch fight similar to Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko’s blockbuster heavyweight duel in 2017, when the younger Joshua had to pass a tough test to beat the older, more accomplished warrior, whose own stock rose despite the defeat.

Donaire, the defeated fighter this time around, gave Inoue plenty of things to think about but it is a credit to the younger boxer that he was able to adjust his gameplan and assert his own dominance during key exchanges.

Donaire landed a potentially jaw-denting straight right in the ninth round but Inoue showed great recuperative ability to ride out the effects of the blow and evade the onslaught that followed.

It was Inoue who landed the punch of the night, though. In the penultimate round, it appeared like Donaire was in no fit state to continue after taking a bodyshot that pained him so greatly he ran around the edge of the ring, grimacing, before dropping to the canvas on his knees to buy some time and take the count.

Somehow, Donaire got back to his feet.

Watch it all unfold here:

Inoue won ringside judges’ scores of 116-111, 117-109, and 114-113.

“I had double vision since the second round, but I was victorious and I am very proud of myself,” Inoue said in the ring after the fight on the Sky Sports broadcast. “I believe that I have a bright future … Nonito Donaire was very, very strong. I think Donaire is a true champion.”

Naoya Inoue holding the Muhammad Ali trophy.

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Naoya Inoue holding the Muhammad Ali trophy.
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Photo by KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images

“Both guys were totally gone in stages of the fight but came back, multiple times, in great back and forth,” Sauerland told Business Insider. “What 12 rounds of action. It was one of the greatest fights I’ve ever seen live.

“Donaire played a massive role in it, and it was outstanding to show the people who wrote him off before the fight, that he still belongs at the very top of the sport. He showed that he’s not just a great puncher, but he’s got just as big a heart as a punch. Tonight he cemented his legacy and his place in Hall of Fame.”

On Inoue’s deal with Top Rank, Sauerland added: “It’s great to see that the WBSS has given Inoue this audience during this last year and I wish him all the success now and in the United States as well.”

Sauerland even said it may not be the only WBSS championship Inoue competes for. “You never know, maybe we’ll see him in another weight class at the WBSS. I’m sure he’ll go up and through the weights and win more world titles.”

With victory, Inoue’s record moves to 19 wins unbeaten, with 16 wins by knockout. He left the Saitama Arena with his IBF bantamweight world title, Donaire’s WBA belt, and the Muhammad Ali trophy for good measure.

Donaire has 40 wins (26 by KO) against 6 losses.

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