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Zolani Tete wants Naoya Inoue at bantamweight


By Tim Royner: WBO bantamweight champion Zolani Tete is interested in facing 2-division world champion Naoya Inoue once he moves up in weight to the 118-lb. division in 2018. Inoue, 24, announced the news that he plans on vacating his WBO super flyweight title after he defends it this Saturday night against #7 WBO Yoan Boyeaux (41-4, 26 KOs) on December 30 at the Bunka Gym in Yokohama, Japan.

The timing for Inoue to move up to bantamweight is strange, as the boxing public is urging for him to face 115 lb. champions Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Khalid Yafai and Jerwin Ancajas. Inoue moving up in weight to the bantamweight division without facing those fighters, it comes across like he’s swerving all of them. Inoue didn’t leave much of a mark during his 3 years in the super flyweight division.

Inoue took on lesser fighters after moving up to the 115 lb. division. Inoue’s only good opponent during the 3 years campaigning in the super flyweight division was Omar Andres Narvaez, who was in his 40s at the time Inoue fought him.

”My Champ those are kinda fights we’re looking for. I’m ready to fight anyone in the Bantamweight Division,” said Tete, when asked if he’d be interested in facing Inoue at bantamweight after he moves up in weight.

Speaking of Narvaez; Tete will be defending his WBO bantamweight title against the 42-year-old former 2-division world champion Narvaez on February 10 at the Copper Box Arena in London, UK. Narvaez moved up to bantamweight last year in February, and he’s already won 3 fights in beating Jesus Vargas, Breilor Teran and Nikolai Potapov. Those guys aren’t anywhere near the talent level of Tete though.

Inoue has done well since moving up to super flyweight in 2014. Inoue, who comes from Japan, has won all 7 of his contests since moving up to the 115 lb. division. 6 of those wins have come by knockout. Inoue’s power definitely carried well in moving up from light flyweight to the super flyweight division. However, Inoue didn’t fight any of the good super flyweights in his 3 years fighting in the division, so it’s hard to know how good he was.

We know that Inoue was good enough to stop the 40-year-old Narvaez, but that doesn’t mean he would be able to do the same thing against the likes of Carlos Cuadras, Rungvisai, Juan Francisco Estrada, Ancajas, Roman Gonzalez or Yafai. Inoue is choosing to move in the opposite direction of those fighters. It’s hard not to see this move by Inoue as being a calculated one to avoid getting beat.

If Inoue chooses not to face Tete at bamtaweight, it would be disappointing, because he’s viewed by a lot of boxing fans as the best fighter in the 118 lb. division. After Inoue failed to fight the best at 115, if he does the same thing at 118 by not fighting Tete or Luis Nery, then this could be a pattern we’ll be seeing by the Japanese fighter for the remainder of his career.

Inoue recently stopped Antonio Nieves in the 6th round at SuperFly 1 on September 9 at the StubHub Center in Carson, California.

Tete wants to fight IBF/WBA bantamweight champion Ryan Burnett after he gets past Narvaez. However, the Burnett fight doesn’t seem too realistic right now. Burnett’s promoter Eddie Hearn is not interested in matching the Irish fighter against Tete. Hearn says there’s not enough money in the Tete fight for it to be worthwhile. Burnett hasn’t fought anyone highly popular during his career. It’s a compliment to Tete that Hearn is having Burnett swerve him.

The unification fight that can be made for Tete is a match against WBC bantamweight champion Luis Nery. The Mexican warrior Nery isn’t afraid to fight the best, and he’ll not use his promoter to hide behind. Tete vs. Nery would be a better fight than Tete-Burnett. Nery is arguably a better fighter than Burnett, with more power, speed and a more crowd-pleasing fighting style. Hopefully, Inoue doesn’t avoid the fight with Tete too. The bantamweight division will die out if the top fighters are afraid to fight Tete.

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