There is admittedly some irony to pouring cold water on the premise of Naoya Inoue vs. Gervonta “Tank” Davis not long after boxing’s newest powerbroker poured gasoline on a potential fight between Terence Crawford and Canelo Alvarez.

These kinds of fights — one boxer jumping up well above his best weight to take on another in his more natural habitat — aren’t unprecedented. But they are rare for a reason. 

And in the case of Inoue, it is both unnecessary and unlikely.

There’s nothing wrong with daydreaming about fantasy fights or discussing potential pairings, whether they involve current combatants, historic figures, or one from each category. That kind of thing has forever been fodder for debates at water coolers, bars and barbershops, and continues in this modern era on message boards and social media.

Two things in particular are feeding into this Inoue-Davis conversation:

First, Inoue is dominating the junior featherweight division just as he did at bantamweight. His first match at 122 was against the consensus top guy, unified titleholder Stephen Fulton. Inoue stopped him in eight rounds. His next match was against another unified titleholder Marlon Tapales, who was dispatched in 10. Inoue fought this past Monday against a top contender, Luis Nery. Although Inoue was dropped in the opening round, he seized command and put Nery away with a sixth-round technical knockout.

In the span of five months, Inoue won two fights, all four major world titles, and became the undisputed champion. In the span of nine-and-a-half months, Inoue has beaten three of the top five names in this weight class. If 2024 goes as expected, Inoue will have faced the other two: Sam Goodman and Murodjon Akhmadaliev. And he will of course be the favorite in each of those bouts.

Second, there is a deep pool of talent, including some big stars, in the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions. That’s not to say that the potential fights awaiting Inoue at 126 or 130 aren’t challenging or significant in their own right. For some fans, however, their eyes get wider at the idea of Inoue against Davis or Shakur Stevenson than against the likes of, say, featherweight titleholder Luis Alberto Lopez.

There is a third factor. While not held by everyone, it still merits mentioning here:

“Everyone wants ‘Monster’ Inoue to move up … basically they want to see him get beat, not move up,” tweeted Stephen “Breadman” Edwards, a boxing trainer and occasional pundit who works these days with former super middleweight titleholder Caleb Plant.

Edwards noted how Inoue started off at 108 (where he won a world title), leapfrogged the flyweight division and moved up to 115. Inoue beat longtime titleholder Omar Narvaez and reigned there for a few years before moving up to bantamweight. Inoue became undisputed at 118 and has now done the same at 122.

“That’s five divisions. How much moving up do you have to do?” Edwards wrote. He soon added: “Inoue has moved up way more and unified multiple times and it still ain’t enough. […] Inoue has done enough for people to leave him alone. He’s arguably #1 pound-for-pound and done more than any active fighter.”

Inoue moving much farther through the weight classes simply doesn’t need to happen. And it most likely won’t happen.

Earlier this year, Inoue confirmed that he probably will max out at featherweight.

“I wouldn’t decide to start fighting at featherweight or super featherweight just because the money is good,” Inoue told Daisuke Sugiura of The Ring in a February interview. “I don’t think that’s what I want. There are many fighters who have chased the money but ended up not being able to perform well and quit. The reason I box is not for the money; I do this to show my best self. It’s also true that I’m motivated by fighting strong opponents, but there are weight divisions in boxing for a reason. […] I don’t need to build my body up to move up to featherweight. I’ll move up once my body naturally grows into the heavier weight class. This has been the case throughout my professional career.”

Inoue said his body usually gets up to 141-143 pounds between fights. What that means — my words, not his — is he would be undersized against the top lightweights of today.

Again, these kinds of moves aren’t unprecedented. The most famed example of recent memory is Manny Pacquiao.

Pacquiao also started his career in the junior flyweight division. He won titles in eight divisions — 112, 122, 126, 130, 135, 140, 147 and 154 —  including the lineal championships at flyweight, featherweight, junior lightweight and junior welterweight. Depending on who you talk to, some say he was lineal champ at welterweight as well.

Of course, Pacquiao serves as the most famous example exactly because of how difficult that kind of accomplishment is. And the thing about boxing is that you can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. Not all bodies are made the same.

As everyone who knows Pacquiao’s story recalls, he was a malnourished 16-year-old when he started fighting as a pro, so thin that he put heavy objects in his pockets so the scale would read 106 pounds, not the 98 pounds he actually weighed. Pacquiao had just turned 21 years old when he arrived at the 122-pound weight class. He was 25 when he debuted at featherweight.

Inoue, conversely, is 31 years old. He’s been at junior featherweight for less than a year. By the time Pacquiao was 31, he’d already knocked out Ricky Hatton for the championship at 140 and stopped Miguel Cotto for a world title at welterweight.

Then there are the style differences. Pacquiao first caught mainstream attention because of his mix of blinding hand speed and one-punch power, a devastating combination that helped him demolish Marco Antonio Barrera at featherweight in 2003 and led to him dropping Juan Manuel Marquez three times in the first round of their 2004 fight before Marquez steadied himself and adjusted. Pacquiao was able to retain plenty of pop as he moved up — not a given in boxing — but it was also his evolving style and improved boxing ability that helped him succeed, with movement that took him in-and-out, delivering furious flurries and then darting away.

Everybody’s body is different. 

Roy Jones Jr. was a junior welterweight when competing as a 17-year-old amateur, a junior middleweight when he was robbed of Olympic gold, and as a pro he fought all the way from middleweight to heavyweight. We aren’t expecting every middleweight to be able to move up to 175 and excel, never mind to attempt to compete at heavyweight. We certainly don’t ask that of fighters who were 140-pounders as teens.

These are extreme examples. These are exceptional examples.

That’s not to say Inoue isn’t already exceptional. Yet as great as Inoue is, his body could be nearing its ceiling. The more pounds he adds, the less likely that his physical and stylistic advantages will convey with him. Even if Inoue were to remain on the lighter end while facing heavier opponents — as Pacquiao did against some foes — that does not mean Inoue’s power would have the same effect it does now.

It is premature to talk about Inoue at 135 when we haven’t even seen him at 126 or 130 yet. Lots of fighters have been great in one division, only to have their competitive advantages diminished or wholly neutralized in the next.

Two of the examples that come to mind: 

Nonito Donaire had won world titles at 112 and 118, was the lineal champ at 122 before being out-boxed by Guillermo Rigondeaux, and was able to pick up a belt at 126, but he was absolutely undersized against Nicholas Walters — who knocked him out — and promptly retreated from the featherweight division.

Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson was great at flyweight and junior bantamweight but couldn’t get past Rafael Marquez at bantamweight.

None of that took away from their legacies. They just hit their limits. And those limits happened to come against opponents who ranged from good (Walters) to great (Marquez, Rigondeaux).

Why, then, should we not also pour cold water on the idea of Crawford against Canelo?

The argument: Jermell Charlo, after all, was the undisputed junior middleweight champion and the taller man when he stepped up two divisions and stepped in against Canelo last September. Yet Jermell wound up recognizing that Canelo had the size advantage. Given that Charlo was undisputed at 154 and Crawford undisputed at 147, shouldn’t that temper any excitement for a fight between Canelo and Crawford? Crawford is set to make his junior middleweight debut this August against titleholder Israil Madrimov. Crawford would be going up another two weight classes to face Canelo.

The answer: We can question how competitive the fight between Crawford and Canelo would be. We can ponder whether Crawford would be as brilliant and as effective, both on offense and defense, against the super middleweight champion. We can wonder whether he could hurt Canelo, or at least keep him honest.

We can also wonder those things about Inoue against Davis or other lightweights. But the biggest difference — the difference between gasoline and cold water — is that Crawford wants to face Canelo.

“I’m looking for mega-fights right now, and right now [a fight with Jaron “Boots” Ennis], that’s not a mega-fight,” Crawford said last November. “That’s my standpoint on it. I’m looking to fight guys like Canelo. That’s pretty much it, man, and a rematch with [Errol] Spence, and that’s it.”

Crawford’s legacy, like Inoue’s, is secure. But the huge paydays long eluded him, even while he won The Ring championship at lightweight, the undisputed championship at junior welterweight, and a world title at welterweight. 

Last year’s undisputed championship win over Spence earned Crawford far more money, and far more attention, than he’d ever received before. A fight with Jermell Charlo at 154 is the biggest match that Crawford could make in that weight class. But the Saudi whose mega-millions are changing the sport is the same person who is funding Crawford vs. Madrimov and the same person who says he wants to make Canelo vs. Crawford. So it’s no surprise that Crawford would leap at the opportunity. He’ll either go down or go down in history, and he’ll be well-compensated either way. Even if Turki Alalshikh were not involved, Crawford would earn a smaller yet still significant payday against Canelo.

(Of course, there are other opponents most of us would prefer to see Crawford and Canelo face instead.)

Inoue is a huge star in Japan. He has no urge to move up farther than his body will comfortably go. And he shouldn’t be derided for that. There’s no lack of ambition, no safety-first approach, from Inoue and his team.

He was 5-0 when he fought Adrian Hernandez, then one of the top 108-pounders, for a world title. He was 7-0 when he moved right up to 115 to take on Narvaez, needing just six minutes to end Narvaez’s extended reign. He went for — and through — all of the titleholders at 118. He went straight at the number-one name at 122 and now is making sure that no one else in that division has a claim.

“He’s already the first undisputed bantamweight champ in almost 50 years and the first at 122 ever,” tweeted Cliff Rold, the highly respected boxing writer for The Corner Stool. “If he can do it again at featherweight, there hasn’t been one since 1967. That’s aspiration enough. If he’s going to move up, there’s plenty to do without leaping three [divisions].”

And guys like Davis and Stevenson, who both hold Inoue in high regard, recognize the size difference and what that would mean.

“I’m not fighting him,” Davis posted on Instagram last December. “He’s NOWHERE near my weight.”

“He’s a fighter’s fighter. He’s got the whole package,” Davis recently told Rob Tebbutt of Boxing News. “If I can get down to 130 and he can move up a little bit, that would be cool. But I don’t really see myself really fighting him. That would be a reach.”

(Beyond Inoue never having competed at featherweight or junior lightweight, Davis hasn’t fought in the 130-pound weight class since his October 2020 knockout of Leo Santa Cruz.)

In an interview last October, Stevenson said in one breath that he wants to fight Inoue, then in the next explained why that shouldn’t happen. 

“Tell him [to] come up and fight me. I would love to fight Inoue,” Stevenson said. “He’s a hell of a fighter. Honestly, he’s one of the fighters that I’ve been watching the most lately. I give him his credit in terms of skills, his speed, his power — everything is tremendous. But I think he [is] just a little too small.”

The Inoue-Davis conversation seems mostly to be driven, then, by fans and reporters asking the fighters themselves about it, or raising the topic with members of their teams or other people in boxing

Then again, the fighters themselves could always change their minds.

“Pacquiao-Mayweather seemed far-fetched when Pacquiao was at 130 and Floyd was at 147 — and then it wasn’t,” Rold said. “If we get there, I hope we see Tank unify lightweight and Inoue unify featherweight first, so when they meet in the middle you have a classic clash of champs.”

That seems a fitting point to end on. Just because we shouldn’t expect Inoue and Davis sharing the ring together doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to look forward to them accomplishing, or attempting to accomplish, individually. 

Inoue has at least two solid contenders awaiting him at 122 and then can set sights anew on 126. Davis, one of boxing’s biggest stars in the United States, has plenty of titleholders and contenders he can face at 135 and has shown he can also compete at 140.

It is fair to daydream. It is fine to discuss. But our lives, and their legacies, won’t be missing anything if the fight between Inoue and Davis doesn’t happen. 

We sure as hell won’t want to miss it, however, if it does.

Follow David Greisman on Twitter @FightingWords2. His book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” is available on Amazon.

Read the full article here