Boxing
Steve Kim, ESPN 59d

Steve Kim: Why Inoue is my No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world

Boxing

Yes, Japan's Naoya Inoue is my No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. No, that is not a typo.

With all due respect to Vasiliy Lomachenko and Terence Crawford -- who are generally listed at the top of most P4P rankings -- and Canelo Alvarez and Oleksandr Usykky -- who usually follow right behind them -- it's "The Monster" from Yokohama that's dominating world-class foes at an unprecedented level.

You could accuse me of being a prisoner of the moment -- and admittedly I've certainly been guilty of that. But even before his latest destruction, a second-round blowout of the respected and previously undefeated IBF bantamweight champ Emmanuel Rodriguez in the World Boxing Super Series semifinals, I had begun to lay out the case for Inoue (18-0, 16 KOs).

The way he decimated the well-regarded Rodriguez was enough to sway me to put him into the top spot. In April's rankings, I had him fourth behind Lomachenko, Crawford and Usyk. He was already considered among the elite prizefighters in the world, and has been for quite a while.

While I won't argue with anyone that has the above-mentioned trio above him, in my eyes Inoue has most emphatically checked every box that determines what a pound-for-pound fighter really is.

Despite having just 18 fights under his belt, Inoue's résumé is the very definition of quality over quantity. Like "Hi-Tech" Lomachenko (13-1, 10 KOs), he has won world titles in three separate weight classes (junior flyweight, junior bantamweight and bantamweight) and within each weight class -- like Lomachenko -- he was considered the best boxer in that division.

In his fourth professional fight, Inoue defeated Ryoichi Taguchi, who eventually became a unified titleholder at 108. In his sixth fight, he stopped Adrian Hernandez -- a two time world champion and, at the time, a veteran of over 30 fights -- to win his first world title.

Victories over then junior bantamweight world titlist Omar Narvaez and bantamweight world titleholder Jamie McDonnell, who hadn't lost in a decade, helped him break the top 10.

It's also not just that he wins, it's how he's done so. Nobody is passing the eye test the way Inoue is, and when it comes to pound-for-pound rankings, that absolutely matters because it's about elite boxers who separate themselves from the very good ones.

Let this sink in: Inoue's last six opponents (three of whom were former world titleholders) have been knocked out by only one man -- guess who? And McDonnell, Juan Carlos Payano and Rodriguez couldn't even make it to the halfway point of Round 2.

And get this, at age 26 he's just entering his physical prime. His best days are still in front of him.

Finally, the true definition of pound-for-pound -- which was created basically to spotlight the skills of Sugar Ray Robinson and his transcendent skills -- is if every fighter was the same size/weight, who would come out on top? Granted, while you could certainly argue that the ballet-like movements of Lomachenko and the athletic versatility of Crawford would cause the most headaches in this regard, can you name a better blend of speed, fundamental technique and power as Inoue?

There might be a select few who can punch as hard as he can, and some can match his speed. But how many can blend them to the level that Inoue does?

So yeah, résumé? Check. Recent dominance? Check. Talent? Check. Trajectory of career? Check.

That's why Inoue is my No. 1.

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