GLASGOW, Scotland — Naoya Inoue strengthened his grip on the bantamweight division with a crushing two-round victory over Emmanuel Rodriguez in their world title unification fight Saturday.
The Japanese boxer, known as “The Monster” and No. 7 in ESPN’s pound-for-pound rankings, floored the Puerto Rican Rodriguez three times on his way to winning the World Boxing Super Series semifinal.
Inoue (18-0, 16 KOs), 26, made a second defense of the WBA world bantamweight title while capturing the IBF belt from Rodriguez, who was making a second defense at the SSE Hydro.
Inoue will face American-Filipino Nonito Donaire (39-5, 25 KOs), the WBA’s “super” world champion, in the final of the eight-man elimination tournament at an undetermined date later this year.
The 36-year-old Donaire, of California, who holds the more prestigious version of the WBA belt, watched from ringside and did not hide how impressed he was by Inoue, who had a sizable contingent of fans in attendance in Scotland.
“It’s incredible; he came in here and did what he had to do,” Donaire said.
“This is what we have been waiting for. We always thought we would meet each other — it’s destiny. This is what boxing is all about — the best fighting the best. He’s a monster, and I have to figure out a way to tame the monster. It makes me feel like I’m 21 again.”
Inoue, a 5-foot-5, baby-faced assassin from Yokohama who has won world titles in three weight divisions, will begin the final as favorite after this swift demolition and thrilling exhibition of his punching power, timing and speed.
“Donaire has had a great career and is a great fighter,” Inoue said in the ring alongside Donaire.
“I don’t know how I’m going to fight him yet, but I’m going to go away and figure out a way before the final.”
The 26-year-old Rodriguez (19-1, 12 KOs), of Vega Baja, suffered the first setback in his seven-year professional career and, despite being sent to the canvas three times in the second round, he began the fight well.
They both went at it in an entertaining first round, and Rodriguez showed no signs of being intimidated by “The Monster” as he walked forward throwing shots.
“He [Rodriguez] came on with a lot of pressure in the first round, and I didn’t know how I was going to turn it around,” Inoue said.
Inoue landed the better shots in the opener, immediately causing Rodriguez problems with his impeccable timing and lightning-fast punches. Inoue repeatedly landed with fast right hands and grew in confidence as the first unfolded.
The second round was a massacre.
After slipping a shot from Rodriguez, Inoue landed a sublime left hook to the chin to drop his opponent. Rodriguez was up quickly, but after a count of eight was then quickly returned to the canvas. This time, showing the variety in his arsenal, Inoue sunk Rodriguez with a crunching body shot.
Rodriguez was left shaking his head and wincing in pain as he knelt on the canvas before getting up at the count of eight.
Inoue then dug another left into Rodriguez’s body, and the Puerto Rican was again floored. When he got up, the fight was mercifully stopped after 1 minute, 19 seconds of the second round.
On the undercard, England’s Paul Butler (29-2, 15 KOs) finished Mexico’s Salvador Hernandez Sanchez (14-9-1, 9 KOs) with a left hook to the body in Round 6. Former world champion Butler, whom Rodriguez unanimously outpointed for the vacant IBF belt in May last year, becomes the reserve opponent for Inoue-Donaire with the win.