In a year filled with great fights, good fights, and many times at the same time, we come to the best match of 2023.
At least until four days later.
If nothing else, we can say with confidence that we’ve arrived for the best week of the year.
We don’t always have two major fights a few days apart. Saturday will feature Errol Spence-Terence Crawford in welterweight in the United States.
Tuesday (ESPN+, 4:30 AM EST), lower focus rates on a match will see match fans around the world watching from before dawn to dusk based on their location. Social media images from Japan give an idea of the scale of the overseas event, with advertisements plastered from subway stations to billboards.
The star of the show is the challenger, Naoya Inoue. Inoue is a terror at winning the junior flyweight, welterweight and welterweight titles, becoming the first undisputed champion in 50 years when he stopped Paul Butler last year.
Inoue vacated all of his bantamweight titles when he entered the fight in the 122-pound class, meaning he wasn’t testing for a new weight class. Inoue is all the way.
The challenger won 11-0 against fighters ranked in the top 10 by TBRB and/or Ring Magazine in 24 professional fights, a ratio of nearly 46% of his career.
While no journalism-focused rating is perfect, they do provide a reasonable insight into the division that agency ratings can’t penalize, in part because they often don’t rank each other’s main rosters.
Of those eleven wins, eight were over opponents ranked in the top five weight classes by one or both bodies at the time Inoue beat the team, and future Unified Titleist won at 108 pounds (Ryoichi Taguchi).
Digging deeper, Adrian Hernandez was the number one ranked junior flyweight by the TBRB, Omar Narvaez was the number one ranked junior flyweight at both bodyweights, and Donaire was the second highest ranked bantamweight before the rematch.
Donaire was ranked first by Ring, who recognized Inoue as champion after Rodriguez’s victory, and second by TBRB with Inoue in first place entering the fray.
This means, in every division he plays in, at some point Inoue has defeated someone as an available opponent and will go straight to the primary consensus featherweight champion.
Inoue challenges Fulton, who is branded “The Beast”.
This is not to say that Inoue’s track record is perfect. Although undefeated, he failed to compete at flyweight and mixed bantamweight divisions including Roman Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada, Srisaket Sur Rongvisai and Carlos Cuadras.
His weight consistency and all his featherweight accomplishments are probably a missing-name barometer when evaluating Inoue’s career as a whole. The combined record of the 11 seeded players in the Eno vs.
Fulton match is 327-30-6, the average opponent record is about 30-3 and varies. Fulton will be the second undefeated opponent for Inoue, who has finished eighth in the top 10 of the same ranking in his last 10 matches and is his third in a row.
Fulton, the 2013 US Golden Glove national flyweight champion, had fewer ranked opponents, but made the most of his last three bouts, entering the Inoue bout with three straight wins.
These three ranked opponents have a combined record of 71-3-2, with a 24-1 average and one change. This pre-match experience advantage was in Inoue’s favor but Fulton did enough to prove his quality in the youth featherweight division.
A unique aspect of the fight is how “Cool Boy” has been thoughtfully prepared at every stage of his professional development for the mission to eliminate the first casualties.
Fulton defeated ten undefeated boxers, including new pro Damen Wood. The combined record for these ten undefeated foes is 101-0-4, making the average about 10-0. This does not tell the whole story.
Prior to his victory over former United player Daniel Roman in Fulton’s final start, he had beaten four consecutive undefeated opponents whose victory totals ranged from fifteen to twenty-two.
At every stage of his career since 2014, Fulton has faced fighters in similar stages of development and taught them how to lose.
He is now embroiled in a fight that could propel him higher in the conversation of the sport’s elite. Fulton’s profession teaches him that there is no reason to believe that Inoue’s hitherto indomitable ability seems inevitable.
Is Fulton’s experience against other ambitious young talents who don’t know how to lose as valuable as Inoue’s matches against a variety of seasoned and tested dishes? This is one of many questions to help convert it into such a special battle.
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Title: WBO Jr. Featherweight (2021-Present, 2 Defenses); WBC Super Bantamweight (2021-Present, 1 Defense)
Previous Titles: None
Height: 5’6 ½
Weight: 122 lbs.
Hails from: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Record: 21-0, 8 KO
Press Rankings: #1 (TBRB, Ring, ESPN)
Record in Major Title Fights: 3-0
Last Five Opponents: 102-3-3 (.958)
Notable Outcomes, TBRB and/or Ring Rated Foes: Angelo Leo UD12, Brandon Figueroa MD12; Daniel Roman UD12
Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: Paulus Ambunda UD12
Previous Titles: WBC light flyweight (2014, 1 Defense); WBO Jr. bantamweight (2014-18, 7 defenses); Lineal/TBRB World Bantamweight (2021-23, 1 Defense); Ring Magazine/IBF Bantamweight (2019-23, 6 Defenses); WBA Bantamweight (2019-23, 5 Defenses*); WBO Bantamweight (2022-23)
Weight: 121 ¾ lbs.
Hails from: Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan
Record: 24-0, 21 KO
Press Rankings: #1 at 118 lbs. (ESPN, BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 17-0, 15 KO (19-0, 17 KO including sub-title fights)
Last Five Opponents: 139-13-1 (.912)
Notable Outcomes, TBRB and/or Ring Rated Foes: Ryoichi Taguchi UD10; Adrian Hernandez TKO6; Omar Narvaez KO2; Kohei Kono TKO6; Jamie McDonnell TKO1; Juan Carlos Payano KO1; Emanuel Rodriguez KO2; Nonito Donaire UD12, TKO2; Jason Moloney KO7; Paul Butler KO11
Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: None
Also won and defended a WBA sub-title at bantamweight in 2018
The Case for Inoue: Inoue is one of the best combinations of speed, power, and technique in any weight class. The danger he presents is two-handed. Some punchers have a great left or right. Inoue has both.
The short right hand he delivers is as technically flawless a punch as there is in boxing, detonating Moloney and Donaire in recent vintage. When timed correctly, it’s a difficult punch to see coming.
Inoue also has devastating power to the body and can throw his left hook from multiple angles, including a near fall away when moving to the right that explodes at contact. Two-handed power, when combined with genuine skill and athleticism, is hard to avoid for twelve rounds.
Against Fulton, if Inoue can’t time his attacks when Fulton gets in range, it will be a long night. Inoue has shown some adaptability, and that will matter if Fulton elects to clinch and maul in spots.
Inoue doesn’t always throw a ton of uppercuts but against Moloney it was effective when Moloney attempted to crowd him. Inoue’s feet are as important as his hands in this fight as he will need a first step that allows him to cross the space Fulton’s longer arms will create. Inoue has seen a similar reach disadvantage (it’s reportedly three inches here) against Jamie McDonnell but McDonnell didn’t have the style or skill of Fulton.
Part of this content was pulled from boxingscene.com
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