By Robert Segal: Unbeaten Naoya “Monster” Inoue will be trying to win his fourth division world title against WBC & WBO super bantamweight champion Stephen Fulton on Tuesday, July 25th, at the Ariake Arena in Tokyo, Japan.
(Courtesy: Naoki Fukuda)
This is an interesting contrast of styles, as Fulton (21-0, 8 KOs) is a pure boxer going up against the knockout artist Inoue (24-0, 21 KOs) in their headliner.
The Inoue-Fulton card will be shown live beginning at 0430 a.m. ET/1:30 a.m. PT on ESPN+.
The early morning air time means many U.S. boxing fans won’t see the event, as it’s taking place during the week rather than on the weekend.
That’s not convenient for most boxing fans in the States, which could be why Top Rank hasn’t put much effort into promoting it.
In the chief support bout, WBO featherweight champion Robeisy Ramirez (12-1, 7 KOs) defends against Satoshi Shimizu (11-1, 10 KOs).
Robeisy is a two-time Olympic gold medalist from Cuba, and he’s been moved quickly by Top Rank, and it’s paid off with him winning a world title in his fourth year as a pro.
Inoue = predatory machine
“He’s a generational talent. We’re talking about a guy that when it’s all said and done, we may be talking about he’s an all-time great,” said Joe Tessitore to Top Rank Boxing about Naoya Inoue. “He reminds me of a fighter jet. A fighter jet that is filled with heat-seeking missiles.”
What if Inoue can’t knock out Fulton?
Inoue’s focus on trying to knock out his opponents all the time at the expense of developing his boxing skills and working on his stamina could come back to haunt him, possibly in this fight against Fulton.
We know that eventually, Inoue is going to find someone that he’s not able to destroy so easily, and he could find himself getting a lesson from the technical master Fulton on July 25th.
“He has accuracy; he has speed; he has power. He is a military-grade weapon. He is offensively flawless. He is tough, tough as nails,” said Tessitore. “He is relentless. July 25th is undeniably one of the biggest fights, if not the biggest fight, in 2023 in boxing with Monster against ‘Cool Boy’ Steph.
“122 lbs unified champion championship of the world and two guys in their absolute prime.”
“Inoue is the closest thing to a pure predatory machine that you have in boxing,” said Mark Kriegel.
We saw Inoue struggle in his first fight with Nonito Donaire when he couldn’t knock him out, and we saw him looking visibly frustrated against David Carmona.
It’s good that Inoue is a knockout machine, but what happens if he can’t KO a talented guy like Fulton? Can Naoya hold it together to win still?
“Inoue can put your lights out in a half a second,” said Andre Ward. “What makes this fight compelling for both guys is they’re both undefeated.
“You’ve got one former undisputed champion in Inoue, who is coming up in weight again, challenging himself again, explosive, and doesn’t know how to lose.”
Not knowing how to lose means that Inoue has never been tested, and he could find out the hard way what it means to be in a battle against someone that has a superior ring IQ and knows how to avoid his single shots.
Can Inoue box if he’s not able to score a knockout? We could find out next Tuesday. If Inoue stubbornly continues looking to stop Fulton, he could regret it.
“Then you’ve got a fighter like Stephen Fulton from West Philly, who not only brings that Philly toughness, but he’s a great boxer,” said Ward. “These guys have no problem matching him against each other, and that’s rare air in this day and age.
“Fulton and Inoue exemplify the way of the warrior. Not the keyboard warrior that is so popular these days,” said Bernardo Osuna. “These guys are calling each other out and making the fights happen.
Naoya: “I don’t need a tune-up”
“When you talk about elite fighters, Naoya Inoue is looking to become a four-division champion. He doesn’t go up to test the waters at 122. He says, ‘Who is the big dog there? Let me go get them,'” said Osuna.
Is Inoue’s decision not to test the waters first at 122 before challenging Fulton for his titles a prime example of a fighter that has become arrogant?
In war, you want to survey the territory first before you attack. Inoue is skipping that part and plowing straight ahead with a risks-be-damned attitude. That’s reckless.
“At this point, getting to super bantamweight, I honestly thought that I don’t need a tune-up,” said Inoue. “I feel like after unifying the four titles, holding them, and then defending them, I felt like an undisputed champion.”
This is what this writer is talking about. Inoue is so accustomed to success that he’s careless, believing he can win like he always has, seeing his opponents as the same. Is this not a classic example of someone drunk on their own success?
“But there was already talk of fighting Fulton right away,” said Inoue. “So, I was already looking ahead. From here, it will be a real challenge. This is my fifth weight class, so I’m pushing the boundaries of my limits and my build. Even I don’t know how it’s going to go.
“It’s not as easy as people say, ‘Super bantam,’ ‘Featherweight,’ I am not underestimating it. But I do want to measure up to people’s expectations. I’m being careful, and it is what I’m facing,” said Inoue.
Inoue underestimates Fulton but is blind to what he’s doing. He clearly lacks self-awareness and is stumbling straight ahead, thinking this fight will be a piece of cake for him.
“Going out to Japan and living up to the moment and defeating him in his country. That’s major,” said Fulton.