Naoya Inoue had his mind made up well before entering the ring for his previous fight.
The three-division titlist and pound-for-pound entrant already knew that a trip to the junior featherweight division was in his immediate future. Inoue was open about campaigning at the weight in the buildup to his eventual eleventh-round knockout of England’s Paul Butler to fully unify the bantamweight division. The historic December 13 clash in Tokyo saw Inoue win the WBO title and defend the lineal, WBC, WBA and IBF straps, all of which he held for exactly one more month before abdicating the throne.
By then, his sights were already set on unified WBC/WBO junior featherweight titlist Stephen Fulton and winning a title—two, in this case—in his fourth weight division.
“My next goal is to move up in weight and once again become world champion,” Inoue noted of his upcoming pound-for-pound showdown with the unbeaten Philadelphia native. “I’m sure it will be the biggest challenge for me so far, since I will have to deal with issues related to my own physical frame.”
The bout will stream live on soon-to-launch Lemino app in Japan and on ESPN+ in the U.S. on Sunday, May 7 from Yokohama Arena in Inoue’s hometown of Yokohama, Japan.
Fulton (21-0, 8KOs) will attempt his third overall title defense while fighting outside the U.S for the first time in his eight-plus year pro career. Inoue (24-0, 21KOs) has won belts at junior flyweight, junior bantamweight and bantamweight, and now looks to join Kazuto Ioka (29-2-1, 15KOs) as just the second Japanese male boxer to win titles in four weight divisions.
To date, Inoue’s power has followed him up the scale. Just two of his seventeen major title fights (plus two more secondary title fights) have gone to the scorecards. Inoue scored knockout wins to begin every divisional title reign and has dropped every opponent he’s faced in a major title fight.
That natural level of aggression saw Inoue effortlessly run the tables at bantamweight, completing the job ten years after having turned pro at junior flyweight where he would win his first title.
Of course, it will take a career-best effort to take out the likes of Fulton, who is deceptively strong despite his modest knockout-to-win ratio and is also 8-0 versus previously unbeaten opponents. Angelo Leo and Brandon Figueroa were both undefeated when they turned over the WBO and WBC junior featherweight belts, respectively in back-to-back title fights during Fulton’s 2021 Fighter of the Year-nominated campaign.
Inoue promises to be up for the challenge—and to not shy away from doing what he does best.
“I’m an attacker,” noted Inoue. “I’m the type who has a style with serious offense and defense and who just keeps coming. I’m now coming to the [122-pound] division.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox