Japan’s Naoya Inoue holds his champion belts after WBA/WBC/IBF bantamweight title unification boxing match with Philippines’ Nonito Donaire in Saitama, north of Tokyo, on June 7. (AP Photo/Hiro Komae)

ASSOCIATED PRESS

SAITAMA, Japan — Naoya Inoue stopped Nonito Donaire midway through the second round Tuesday night, emphatically winning their rematch and unifying three bantamweight world titles.

Inoue (23-0, 20 KOs) wasted no time in his second meeting with Donaire, knocking down the veteran champion at the end of the first round and again midway through the second. Inoue’s relentless pressure and power ended the fight at 1:24 in Saitama Super Arena outside Tokyo.

“To be able to raise my status up at the top, I needed to win this fight, so I decided to make this fight finish at this moment,” Inoue said through a translator. “I pressured myself, and I did it.”

Inoue added Donaire’s WBC belt to his own WBA and IBF 118-pound straps with his fourth consecutive stoppage victory.

The Japanese star known as “Monster” is considered one of the world’s top pound-for-pound talents. Inoue hopes to unify all four major bantamweight titles if he can land a fight with WBO bantamweight champ Paul Butler of England later this year.

“My aim is to be the undisputed champion,” Inoue said. “If I can do that within 2022, I would love to stay in this division. But if I can’t, I’m capable of (moving up in weight).”

Japan’s Naoya Inoue hits Philippines’ Nonito Donaire in their bantamweight title unification boxing match of WBA, WBC and IBF in Saitama, north of Tokyo, on June 7. (AP Photo/Hiro Komae)

Donaire (42-7) entered his rematch with Inoue apparently confident in his ability to trade punches at the center of the ring with the Japanese champion, but Inoue abruptly dropped Donaire with a short right hook moments before the bell to end the first round. Donaire got up comfortably, but Inoue piled on the pressure in the second round and unloaded on Donaire with another series of accurate shots.

“In the very first round, I received the left hook from Nonito, and that punch made me wake up and made me focus for this fight,” Inoue said.

After a short left hand put Donaire on wobbly legs in the center of the ring early in the second round, Inoue finished him in the corner with a right-left combination that dropped Donaire to his back on the canvas. Donaire beat the count, but he didn’t protest much when the referee stopped the bout.

Donaire, who will turn 40 later this year, was stopped for only the second time in his career. He had claimed the WBC bantamweight title a year ago with a victory over Nordine Oubaali.

Japan’s Naoya Inoue celebrates after defeating Philippines’ Nonito Donaire in the bantamweight title unification boxing match of WBA, WBC and IBF in Saitama, north of Tokyo, on June 7. (AP Photo/Hiro Komae)

Inoue and Donaire first met in November 2019 in the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight final in the same arena. Donaire surprised much of the boxing world with his tenacious performance against his younger, favored opponent.

Inoue later revealed his orbital bone had been broken by Donaire’s left hook in the second round, and he fought through the first facial cut of his career to knock down Donaire in the 11th round on his way to a victory by unanimous decision.

In the rematch, Inoue wasted no time or energy in finishing his Filipino American opponent. Donaire has held world titles in four divisions during his 21-year professional career, while Inoue has been a world champion in three weight classes.

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