Statement made: Naoya Inoue’s the best at 122. What’s next?
On Tuesday, Japanese superstar Naoya Inoue sent out a message to the boxing world when he picked a part the very capable Stephen Fulton to claim the American’s WBC and WBO junior featherweight titles in eight one-sided rounds at a packed Ariake Arena in Tokyo.
Heading into the contest many expected Inoue to have his hands full with Fulton. Though surprisingly, Inoue was favored 18-3 in The Ring Fight Picks. Several picked Inoue to win inside the distance but said if that happened it would likely be late in the fight.
In the first round, Inoue (25-0, 22 knockouts) took a look at Fulton (21-1, 8 KOs) and then went full throttle, ramping things up to 11, in Round 2. The sudden shift was like watching a high-end sports car move away from the competition with ease. It was a mission statement from the 30-year-old “Monster” and Fulton looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights of that sports car, unable to keep up.
Inoue’s speed and power separated him and Fulton, who fought gamely and tried to find a way into the fight, but such was the sharpness of Inoue’s power-boxing Fulton simply wasn’t able. Inoue’s jab was on point, as were his combinations.
Try as he might Fulton couldn’t hold him off, he needed to land something to stop the Japanese standout in his tracks but given his lack of power that appeared unlikely. It looked like Fulton, who was perceived as the bigger man, brought a peashooter to a gun fight.
Inoue banked the opening four rounds. The gritty Philadelphia native dug in and won the fifth on one of the scorecards and the seventh round on two of the official scorecards. While he was getting beaten and under heavy fire, he hadn’t looked visibly hurt.
That changed early in Round 8 when Inoue broke through in spectacular fashion landing a jab to Fulton’s body, which lowered the defending titleholder’s hands, a huge right hand sent shockwaves through Fulton’s body, his legs dipped and he lurched forwards, Inoue pounced uncorking a left hook that dropped Fulton flat on his back. He gamely rose but the writing was on the wall. Inoue is merciless and isn’t the type to let his opponent hang around. He jumped on Fulton and had his opponent covering up when referee Hector Afu stopped proceedings at 1:14 of the eighth round.
Inoue, who became only the second Japanese male to win world titles in four weight classes after Kazuto Ioka, looked very comfortable in his new weight class and asserted his dominance from the get-go, already all roads at 122 pounds go through him.
To paraphrase Larry Merchant, “We all knew Naoya Inoue was great, he might be better than we thought.”
According to CompuBox, Inoue outlanded “Scooter” in seven of the eight rounds and landed more than double the amount of punches the American did (114 compared to 47) in the contest.
IBF and WBA titleholder Marlon Tapales was on hand and entered the ring to offer his congratulations and ask to face Inoue to decide who is the undisputed junior featherweight champion. Inoue gladly accepted only asking for the fight to take place this year. Good news for all concerned and a rare moment of clarity in boxing when the thing that makes most sense rarely happens next.
The hope is these two can meet, most likely in Japan, where Inoue is box-office in the fall. On this showing, he would be strongly favored.
Not wishing to get ahead of myself but you wonder just what Inoue’s ceiling might be. The power carried to 122 pounds. If he can get past Tapales you’d think he’d step up to featherweight next year. Two of the current titleholders, IBF ruler Luis Alberto Lopez and WBO titlist Robeisy Ramirez, who won on the undercard are with Inoue’s U.S. promoter, Top Rank. Both are very good and would present new challenges to Inoue, ones we hope we get to see.
Inoue is already widely considered the best Japanese fighter in history, now he’ll look to establish his credentials further a field. It may be tough for him to supplant Manny Pacquiao as the best Asian fighter ever but he’s a first ballot at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota and could well be an All Time Great.
For a few days at least Inoue is the pound-for-pound No. 1 by throwing down the gauntlet to Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford, who collide in their high stake’s welterweight clash on Saturday.
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