Marlon Tapales sets target on Fulton-Inoue winner for undisputed championship
Marlon Tapales isn’t looking to rack up any soft defenses after winning the IBF and WBA junior featherweight titles with an upset over Murodjon Akhmadaliev this past weekend.
The 31-year-old from Kapatagan, Philippines is hoping to lock in a unification fight against the winner of the Naoya Inoue vs. Stephen Fulton WBC/WBO 122-pound title bout on July 25.
Tapales, who won a split decision last Saturday in San Antonio to lift the belts, will be at ringside in Japan to watch that fight. He would be open to fighting whoever comes out on top, but says a matchup with Inoue is one he has long coveted.
“[Inoue is] number 1 pound for pound so everybody wants to fight him, including me. I’m a champion now so I feel I’ve got a ticket to fight him too, so I can prove that I can be pound for pound like him,” said Tapales (37-3, 19 knockouts) of Inoue, the former undisputed champion at 118 pounds who also held belts at 108 and 115 pounds.
Tapales’ co-promoter Sean Gibbons of MP Promotions says he has spoken with Inoue’s co-promoter Akihiko Honda of Teiken Promotions about a possible fight for November or December. That schedule should work out, since Tapales wouldn’t have any mandatory defenses due for the next few months. Tapales was the IBF mandatory challenger, meaning he should have at least nine months before he is ordered to defend that belt. The WBA doesn’t have a mandatory challenger, so the top two available contenders will have to meet to decide who gets the next crack at that title.
An Inoue win is far from certain against Fulton (21-0, 8 KOs), who unified the titles in 2021 with wins over undefeated fighters Angelo Leo and Brandon Figueroa, and last defended them last June with a one-sided decision win over Daniel Roman.
Tapales views Fulton-Inoue as a “50-50 fight” and says he would gladly face either fighter to unify the belts, but his team says a clash with Inoue would be a more attractive fight financially and stylistically.
“We would really like to see Inoue, that’s a bigger fight, it doesn’t get any bigger in Japan. Financially speaking I think Inoue still brings more to the table. I think Marlon is more an Inoue fan than he is of Fulton,” said Gibbons, who co-promotes Tapales alongside Shane Shapiro.
“I think Inoue is a better style for Marlon than Fulton, who is going to stick, box and run around. Inoue isn’t going anywhere, he’s gonna be right there with you.”
Jim Claude Manangquil, who manages Tapales, says he likes Tapales’ chances because he is coming up in weight from 118 pounds.
“[Tapales is] feeling really confident after winning the championship. I’m pretty confident he’ll be the first ever Filipino undisputed champion,” said Manangquil.
The victory over Akhmadaliev helped revive Tapales’ career after a rollercoaster run which included getting off the canvas twice to win the WBO bantamweight title against Panya Uthok in 2016, only to lose it on the scales before his first defense the following year.
Many had written Tapales off after he fell short in his bid for the IBF interim junior featherweight title in 2019, being stopped in eleven rounds against Ryosuke Iwasa, but Tapales says he never lost hope because Manangquil continued to show faith in him.
“I never lost hope for my career because I know I was in good hands. I kept winning and kept in shape, because I knew one day this would happen,” said Tapales, who is now trained by Ernel Fontanilla and Ting Ariosa.
Gibbons says the plan is to give Tapales the kind of fanfare which eluded him the first time he was world champion. He says Tapales will fly back to the Philippines on Monday, and will make the media rounds and get a parade in his honor in his hometown. A trip to Malacañang Palace to visit with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is also in the works.
Tapales is also looking forward to spending time with his family, including his two year old daughter, whom he has sparsely gotten to spend time with because of his journey to become champion again. Tapales, who first relocated to the United States for training in July of 2021, has only gotten to spend three or four months with her so far.
“It’s been a long time that I’m away from my family. I miss them so much but for me it’s like a motivation for my career and my future,” said Tapales.
“This is for them, for their future.”
Ryan Songalia has written for ESPN, the New York Daily News, Rappler and The Guardian, and is part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected].