Naoya Inoue Targeting Super Bantamweight After Undisputed Bout at 118
Unified bantamweight champion Naoya “Monster” Inoue (23-0, 20 KOs) is coming off a spectacular second-round knockout over previous WBC 118-pound belt-holder Nonito Donaire (42-7, 28 KOs). A rematch of their November 2019 epic battle in the finals of the WBSS Bantamweight tournament, many expected their second encounter to be another classic. However, Inoue obliterated Donaire, giving the boxing public a performance that raised his stock to a higher level.
Inoue now holds three (WBC/WBA Super/IBF) of the four recognized world titles in the division. Currently, he’s ranked third in the 3Kings Boxing Top Ten fighter rankings. But some pundits have taken the ultimate step, ranking him the best pound for pound Fighter in boxing today.
On June 27, Inoue had a press conference at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Japan in Tokyo, during which he talked about the rematch with Donaire. Explaining that his fitness was next level, Inoue said he was in the best shape of his life and the fight went as expected. He expressed gratitude for the win, feeling his career is going as planned. The Japanese superstar also gave thanks to the media for covering him.
But now, it’s time to move on. When the media asked about what’s on the immediate horizon, the “Monster” has two things in mind. One is a unification showdown against WBO champion Paul Butler (34-2, 15 KOs) for undisputed honors at bantamweight. Secondly, he would like to move up in weight and compete at 122 pounds in 2023.
“My short-term goal is to unify the four sanctioning bodies’ titles this year. So, if I can achieve that goal by the end of this year, I’d like to move up to super bantamweight and challenge in that class as well.”
The unified champ went on to say long-term goals beyond 118 and 122 will depend on how he feels physically, but he wants to retire by age 35. Following his win over Donaire, Butler went on the record to state that he’s ready to fight Inoue anytime, anywhere. Inoue is managed by Hideyuki Ohashi and co-promoted by Akihiko Honda and Top Rank. When asked about the status of a fight with Butler, Inoue revealed his Japanese representatives have reached out to Butler’s representatives and negotiations are underway.
Progress is moving along, but Inoue is unsure of a specific date or locale and doesn’t care if the fight takes place on home soil of Japan, in Butler’s home area of the UK, or the United States. All that matters is that it takes place before the end of the year.
REASONS BEHIND MOVING UP
This is not the first time that Inoue stated a desire to move up to junior featherweight. It’s a goal that he revealed on social media at the beginning of the year. He explained during this press event why he desires to compete in that higher-weight division.
“Looking at my condition, super bantamweight is the best weight class for myself. If the timing is right and I have a good opportunity, then I will go up to super bantamweight after my last bout in the bantamweight class.”
Two fighters have separated themselves from the pack at 122 pounds: WBC/WBO champion Stephen Fulton Jr (21-0, 8 KOs)and unified IBF/WBA Super champ Murodjon Akhmadaliev (11-0, 8 KOs). Under the Japanese superstar’s dream scenario, the fights go in this sequence. Fulton fights Akhmadaliev for undisputed honors at 122 later this year while Inoue defeats Butler to collect all the belts at 118. Immediately after, he moves up to challenge the winner of Fulton-Akhmadaliev for all the titles in that division.
In boxing, it can be dangerous for a fighter to plan too far ahead. You’re only one punch or one fight from having your dreams end. However, Inoue has proven to be not your average fighter. Based on what he’s done so far, it would be foolish to say what he wants is outside the realm of possibility.
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By: Michael Wilson Jr.