Photo Document] Naoya Inoue, World Super Bantamweight Champion of 4 Unified Bantamweight Groups, “Cruel Fists” and “The Real Face of an Angel | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Photo Document] Naoya Inoue, World Super Bantamweight Champion of 4 Unified Bantamweight Groups, “Cruel Fists” and “The Real Face of an Angel

 The best shots of a former professional boxer photographer who was fascinated by the rare monster and continued to photograph him for 12 years

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He is 17 fights, 10 wins, 6 KOs, and 7 losses in his professional career, mainly in the featherweight division, one level above super bantam.
In 1999, after hanging up his gloves, Hiroaki Yamaguchi became a photographer.
Since then, he has faced many boxers through his viewfinder, using his “predictive power,” which is a strength of an experienced fighter.

He first became acquainted with Inoue in 2012, and his initial perception of Inoue was that he was “one of the stronger boxers.
Until I witnessed the spectacular KO that is still burned into my eyelids.

On December 30, 2002, a monster was born,” said photographer Hiroaki Yamaguchi.

I had been photographing Inoue since before his debut, and although he was strong, I didn’t have the impression that he was a “monster. I think he was not suited to the light-fly weight class.

The next fighter to move up two weight classes was Omar Narvaez (48), the WBO super flyweight champion.

December 30, 2014.
vs. Omar Narvaez (WBO super flyweight title match)

‘The moment Narvaez put his gloves on the canvas for the first time and a monster was born. It was the biggest shock in all the years I have been photographing Naoya Inoue.

What I saw through the viewfinder was a shocking sight. Narvaez, who had been called the unbeaten champion, went down early in the first round. A left body blow overwhelmed the proud champion to the point that he lost his will to fight.

Since then, the monster has KO’d his opponents in almost every fight.

Inoue’s power, speed, accuracy, and defense are all at a very high level. And yet, he also has a high boxing IQ. For example, the first fight against Nonito Donaire (41). Inoue suffered a serious injury early in the fight, a fracture of the right orbital floor. He survived a big pinch, in which he had double vision of things and could not grasp the distance, by raising his guard and hiding his right eye. When I asked him about it, he said, “Donaire once got through a crisis of a fracture of the infraorbital floor in the same way. He was using what he could glean from the video footage on the spur of the moment.”

IQ also comes into play here.

He observes his opponent, reads his opponent’s habits, and searches for which attack pattern will be effective, then strikes without hesitation the moment he senses it.

The fusion of talent and hard work is what the cruel fist is all about.

November 7, 2019
vs. Nonito Donaire (WBSS bantamweight tournament final)

After a spectacular striking battle against the strongest opponent of Inoue’s career, Inoue won a damaging yet complete decision. Yamaguchi said, “Eliminating the star of the five-weight division gave the world recognition to a monster.”

May 18, 2019
vs. Emanuel Rodriguez (WBSS Bantamweight Tournament Semifinal)

In the 2nd round, he took down IBF champion Rodriguez with a left body to the liver. He managed to get back to his feet, but “the damage was serious and he lost his will to fight. With this blow, the winner was decided” (Yamaguchi).

December 26, 2023
vs. Marlon Tapales (unification of four world super bantamweight titles)

In an early lead-blow exchange, Inoue’s jab hit first. He was quick to step in with no motion. It is a picture that symbolizes Inoue’s speed, which his opponents were amazed by,” said Yamaguchi.

December 13, 2022
vs. Paul Butler (unification fight for the four world bantamweight championships)

This is the moment when a fighter hunts down an opponent who is running away without striking and lands a clean hit” (Yamaguchi). Butler was a passive fighter, but he grabbed him in the 11th round and won by TKO, achieving unification of the four organizations.
Inoue’s broad back muscles before the weight loss were so thick and magnificent. The sweat pouring out of his body shows the amount of effort he put in,” said Yamaguchi.
Inoue was overjoyed when he defeated Butler, who was running away from him, with a series of strikes. Mr. Yamaguchi said, “He has climbed a corner post before, but it is rare to see him make a big jump.
With his younger brother Takuma (28, WBA bantamweight champion). Mr. Yamaguchi says that Takuma’s smile in between training sessions is as gentle and calm as an angel’s.
Stamina’s expression after sandbagging. By pushing himself so hard that he can’t get up, he gains inexhaustible stamina” (Mr. Yamaguchi).
Commemorative photo by his mother, Miho. According to Mr. Yamaguchi, “I haven’t seen her in the ring recently, but she was photographed at ringside during the Tapales match.
A shot taken during the interview. Shingo’s father, Miho (left), who is not good at taking pictures, smiles. I want to become a photographer who is said to be the best in the world at taking pictures of him,” said Yamaguchi.

The Greatest Boxer of All Time, Going to Unprecedented Places

Naoya Inoue was born in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1993. In ’22, he became the first Japanese boxer to win the PFP No. 1 ranking.

From the February 23, 2024 issue of FRIDAY

  • Photographed by Hiroaki Yamaguchi

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