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Can Rafael Espinoza beat Naoya Inoue?

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Newly minted WBO featherweight champion Rafael Espinoza makes the maiden defense of his title against Sergio Chirino Sanchez at the Fontainebleau Las Vegas on June 21. If successful, the super-busy Mexican boxer-puncher could find himself in the Naoya Inoue sweepstakes.

Despite his unbeaten record and high knockout ratio, Mexico’s Espinoza came out of nowhere to dethrone then-champion Robeisy Ramirez at the Charles F. Dodge City Center in Pembroke Pines, Florida, on December 9.

WATCH: Rafael Espinoza vs. Sergio Chirino Sanchez, exclusively on ESPN+

Espinoza (24-0, 20 KOs) entered that bout as a significant underdog and was viewed by most fans and experts as an afterthought. Ramirez was a double Olympic champion who had been on sparkling form since losing his professional debut (later avenged) and he was targeting a big-money superfight.

When the bell rang, the boxing world was in for a big surprise. Espinoza outpunched Ramirez from start to finish, rising from a fifth-round knockdown to take command of the fight and drain the champion’s resources. A 12th-round knockdown by Espinoza sealed his majority decision victory and a lifelong dream was fulfilled.

According to CompuBox, the new champ landed 222 of an astonishing 995 punches thrown. That’s where the fight was won. Ramirez landed 119 of 376 shots, which were anemic numbers by comparison. The Cuban star could do nothing to contain the onslaught, and he didn’t have the engine to match it.

The Sporting News takes a deep dive into the career of Espinoza and assesses his chances of destroying “The Monster”.

Born on April 21, 1994, in La Palma, Michoacan, Espinoza turned professional at 18 years of age. Like most of his countrymen, “El Divino” stayed very active throughout the embryonic stages of his career and his power was obvious.

Of his 20 knockouts, 15 opponents were stopped inside three rounds and seven of them failed to get out of round one. While none of Espinoza’s opponents were notable, he did move up in class last year and contested three scheduled 10-round fights before his title shot.

The Ramirez triumph was his introduction to top level and a solid indicator of his quality.

Inoue has already proved himself at super bantamweight and is now the undisputed champion. Stephen Fulton (TKO 8), Marlon Tapales (KO 10) and Luis Nery (KO 6) were arguably the best opponents available at this weight and all were systemically obliterated.

The WBA has ordered Inoue to face Murodjon Akhmadaliev next. The Uzbekistan native is a former unified titleholder at 122 pounds, but he’ll be a huge underdog against one of the best fighters in the world. Should Inoue win, he will be almost out of worthwhile super bantamweight opposition and a move up might be necessary.

Earlier this year, Inoue spoke to The Ring’s Daisuke Sugiura and stated that a move up in weight could happen in 2025.

“I’m planning on fighting three times this year,” said Inoue. “I’m sure these three fights will take place at super bantamweight. My move up to featherweight will depend on how I feel and how my body feels next year.”

These numbers are huge. Inoue is 5-5 with a 67 ½-inch reach, whereas Espinoza is 6-1 with a 74-inch wingspan. That’s advantages of eight inches in height and six-and-a-half inches in reach.

It’s almost unheard of for a featherweight to stand 6-1, but it does happen. Inoue has overcome taller and rangier fighters than himself in the past, but nothing resembling Espinoza.

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This is where reality kicks in. It’s one thing beating Robeisy Ramirez and quite another beating a pound-for-pound superstar like Naoya Inoue.

While Inoue would be dwarfed in terms of height, the Japanese star has the requisite artillery to cut Espinoza down to size. One can envision The Monster slipping inside and pounding away at the body almost exclusively.

Espinoza could conceivably win some rounds and he might cause technical problems. It’s just difficult to imagine him sustaining his attack through 12 rounds. It’s more likely that Inoue lands something fight-ending after wearing down the WBO champ with clean effective punching and a brutal body assault.

Both fighters are promoted by Top Rank, so if Espinoza can remain unbeaten and hold on to his world title, then expect to see this matchup in 2025.

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