ON December 26, Naoya Inoue bids to win all four belts at super-bantamweight after doing the same at bantamweight. The Japanese phenom, who has also won belts at light-flyweight and super-flyweight, faces Filipino Marlon Tapales at the Ariake Arena in Tokyo with the winner set to be recognised as the world champion at 122lbs.
Inoue’s last two fights have taken place at the same venue. In December 2022, a cautious Paul Butler attempted to frustrate the ‘Monster’ only to succumb in the 11th round – handing Inoue the fourth and final piece of the bantamweight jigsaw.
Then, in July, a confident Stephen Fulton was tipped to give Inoue his toughest test to date. The American was a seasoned super-bantamweight while his opponent was debuting at the weight. What transpired was a stunning virtuoso performance from Inoue, 25-0 (22), whose speed, reflexes and power proved too much for the Philadelphian. In the eighth frame the fight was over and Inoue walked away with the IBF and WBA belts. It was one of the finest displays by Inoue in his 11-year career. The manner of the win placed him top of the pound-for-pound pile but Terence Crawford’s violent wizardry against Errol Spence in Las Vegas four days later has left the debate open as to who is the best fighter in the world.
On Boxing Day, Inoue will be the long odds-on favourite to take the WBC and WBO belts from Tapales, 37-3 (19). The ‘Nightmare’ stood face-to-face with Inoue in the ring shortly after witnessing the beatdown of Fulton. “I want to fight Naoya Inoue because I want to prove myself that, you know, I’m a champion,” he told the pro-Inoue crowd inside the Ariake Arena on July 25. “Let’s do this”, Inoue responded.
One crumb of comfort for fans of Tapales will be his winning record against Japanese fighters. Currently it stands at four wins and one loss (to Ryosuke Iwasa in December 2019). However, getting the better of Hayato Kimura, Shohei Omoro (on two occasions) and Hiroaki Teshigawara will not strike fear into supporters of Inoue.
In an uninspiring contest last time out, Tapales upset the odds when he defeated Murodjon Akhmadaliev by split decision, ruining the Uzbek’s plans of challenging the winner of Inoue-Fulton in the process.