NAOYA INOUE blasted out old rival Nonito Donaire in less than five minutes to become the world champion at bantamweight. The stunning two-way violence of their first encounter, which Inoue won on points in 2019, was always unlikely to be replicated. So it proved; in the end, this rematch was a one-sided mauling.

Both made a cautious start with Donaire on the front foot, taking the fight to Inoue as both probed with jabs. There was a feeling, however, that it was only matter of time before someone broke through.

It happened just before the bell. As 39-year-old Donaire shaped to come forward, Inoue nailed him with a right to the temple that sent Donaire down heavily. The veteran made it to his feet, but he looked unsteady. Suddenly, in his 49th fight, after several years of teasing but avoiding Father Time, there seemed like no escape.

The referee, Michael Griffin, completed the eight count and wiped down Donaire’s gloves but the bell went before Inoue could take advantage of a dazed Donaire. The one-minute break was not enough time for the “Filipino Flash” to reset effectively.

Inoue came out looking to build on that first round success and hunted Donaire with purpose. A left hook to the head sent Donaire staggering and Inoue drove him along the ropes with a barrage of blows. With Donaire against the ropes, looking on the brink, Inoue bombarded him with hooks and uppercuts from both hands. The referee was poised and ready to step in when a gutsy Donaire let his own hands go. But it would be a final hurrah, not a comeback.

Inoue unleashed another series of punches that sent Donaire teetering to the boundaries again. Donaire tried a slide along the ropes, his lone escape route, but he ended up in a corner and Inoue drove a straight right through Donaire’s guard that sent his head snapping to the right and into the path of a lethal left hook that dumped him on the canvas in a corner. The referee did not need to count as Donaire was not going to get up. After many years of defying the odds, of fighting back, it had to take someone as brilliant and vicious as Inoue to keep him down. Griffin waved the fight over after just 1-25 of the second round. 

The 29-year-old Inoue is 23-0 (20), including 12 inside the distance finishes in his last 13 fights. Only Donaire had heard the final bell.

Inoue, who owns three of four sanctioning body straps at bantamweight, said afterwards that he intends to stay in the division until he’s won the fourth one – the WBO belt – which is currently owned by Paul Butler. After that, he plans to put the super-bantamweight division on notice where fights with the likes of Stephen Fulton Jnr could await the 29-year-old.

It is surely time for Donaire to bring an end to a remarkable career which has seen him win belts at flyweight, bantamweight, super-bantamweight and featherweight. He turned professional in 2001 after winning the US National title but failed to qualify at the US Olympic Trials for the 2000 Olympic Games. He has of course been written off before, after losses to Jessie Magdaleno in 2016 and Carl Frampton in 2018. He rebounded again and again, but never before has he been beaten so convincingly. Regardless, his place as one of the greatest Filipino boxers of all time is secure.

In a 12-round war for the Japanese super-bantamweight title younger brother Takuma Inoue outscored champion Gakuya Furuhashi with the judges seeing Inoue the winner on scores of 120-108 twice and 119-109.