Roman Gonzalez vs. Naoya Inoue: The one that got away

By Tom Gray

Over the past several months I’ve written a feature for THE RING Magazine titled “Fights of Fantasy”, which has proven to be quite popular. I’ve spoken to a variety of boxing experts and gauged opinions on match ups such as Guillermo Rigondeaux vs. Vasyl Lomachenko, Kell Brook vs. Amir Khan, Canelo Alvarez vs. Jermall Charlo and Manny Pacquiao vs. Terence Crawford.

The focus this month was to be a prospective showdown between WBC junior bantamweight titleholder Roman Gonzalez and his WBO counterpart Naoya Inoue. I spoke with Kal Yafai, the WBA titleholder at 115 pounds; Rudy Hernandez, trainer of former WBC titleholder Carlos Caudras; and Martin Mulcahey, esteemed contributor to THE RING and fellow RING ratings panelist.

The feature was written, edited and ready to go. I was happy. And then, out of nowhere, came a southpaw curveball from Thailand. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai — a snowball-in-hell underdog — thought it might be a good idea to pull off an upset by dethroning Gonzalez in New York City on Saturday.

Many felt the verdict was poor (not me) but my latest “Fights of Fantasy” piece, as well as Gonzalez’s pound-for-pound No. 1 spot, had taken a dump regardless.

Rather than shelf the doomed feature completely, however, the decision was made to release it on RingTV.com as a reminder that it’s never a good idea to look ahead in boxing. I would like to extend my apologies to Mr. Rungvisai, now a two-time junior bantamweight titleholder, for taking this liberty. I promise I’ve learned my lesson.

Here, now, are some expert opinions on the Gonzalez-Inoue matchup, which is buried a lot deeper in the fantasy section than it was last week:

KAL YAFAI

Gonzalez is still a great fighter but he took a lot of stick in his win over Carlos Cuadras (UD 12) when he moved up to 115 pounds. He was badly marked up and, even though he hit Cuadras with a lot of punches, Cuadras came out of that fight pretty fresh. I think junior bantamweight is as far as Gonzalez can go and going straight in with one of the world’s best was always going to be tough. Inoue looked impressive against (Kohei) Kono (TKO 6) last time out but I still need to see him against Cuadras, Juan Francisco Estrada or myself. He has the power to hurt anyone but Gonzalez throws so many punches, and you would have to fancy him in terms of experience. The more time that goes by, Inoue’s chances improve because he’s getting better with each fight. To be honest, though, I can’t see it happening because I reckon that Inoue will move up. There are rumors that he’s moving on and Gonzalez will be staying at 115 pounds. I would like to take on Gonzalez at the end of this year or the beginning of next because I think I would be getting him at the right time.

PREDICTION: Gonzalez

RUDY HERNANDEZ

In the fight with Cuadras, it became clear that Gonzalez had entered a division where he finally met his match. I didn’t think we necessarily won that fight but I didn’t think we lost it, and a draw would have been fair. Now I have so much respect for Gonzalez, and I think he’s even better than Alexis Arguello was, but Inoue is a whole different ball game. Inoue looked so impressive knocking out Omar Narvaez (KO 2) and you have to keep in mind that he’s still young. He’s just coming into his peak years and this would be a very difficult match for Gonzalez to win. Inoue is a hell of a fighter and he’s the future of the smaller weight divisions. I think he’ll end up fighting in the States and, if he does, then that would be great for all the smaller guys. I would have to go with Inoue to beat Gonzalez because of youth, speed and he has all the advantages in this division. Roman is coming all the way up from strawweight and we can’t forget the difference in age. He’s not as young as he used to be and there comes a time when you have to pass the torch.

PREDICTION: Inoue

MARTIN MULCAHEY

This is one of the best fights in all of boxing. Gonzalez only has two fights at 115 pounds, whereas Inoue has been at this weight for two-and-a-half years and he’s just a naturally bigger guy. Inoue also has advantages in height and reach, so, as far as physicality is concerned, Inoue is dominant. The fight I like to compare this to is Alexis Arguello vs. Aaron Pryor, which is apt because Arguello was a mentor to Gonzalez. Arguello was moving through the weights; he ran into a physical force in Pryor and he just couldn’t hurt him. That might be the case in this fight, in which the physicality of Inoue is too much for Gonzalez. Age could also be a factor because Gonzalez is 29 years old and Inoue is only 23. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, fighters below bantamweight were done by the time they were 27. They’re lasting a little longer these days but all of that wear and tear is still an issue. You also have to factor in that the fight is likely to happen in Japan, unless HBO puts up the money, and that obviously favors Inoue. He just has small advantages in almost every area.

PREDICTION: Inoue

The next “Fights of Fantasy” feature in THE RING Magazine will take a fresh look at a potential Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin fight. And yes, this will be released before Alvarez meets Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on May 6. As I said, lesson learned.

Tom Gray is a U.K. Correspondent/ Editor for RingTV.com and a member of THE RING ratings panel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Gray_Boxing.

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