Naoya Inoue established himself as the top pound-for-pound boxer in the world with a destructive performance, defeating Stephen Fulton by an eighth-round TKO in Tokyo on Tuesday to capture the WBO and WBC junior featherweight titles.
Inoue, fighting for the first time at 122 pounds, dominated the first seven rounds before wobbling Fulton with a monstrous right hand followed by a brutal left hook that sent him crashing to the canvas. The Philly beat the Count on unsteady legs and Inoue capitalized on it.
The Japanese star caught Fulton in the corner and fired off a barrage of shots that brought the champion down when the referee stopped the fight.
In one of the most impressive wins of his career, Inoue (25-0, 22 KOs) became a four-division champion (he won his first title at 108 pounds) and dominantly edged out ESPN’s No. 1 boxer at 122 pounds.
“The Monster” then greeted Marlon Tapales in the ring. The Filipino holds the WBA and IBF titles at 122 pounds and the two are expected to clash for the undisputed junior featherweight championship this fall.
“All I thought about was fighting him this year,” Inoue said in translated comments. “…I’m so happy right now.”
Inoue, 30, won the undisputed bantamweight championship in December with an 11th round KO over Paul Butler. He was then scheduled to face Fulton on May 7 before suffering an ankle injury that delayed the fight.
When they finally stepped through the ropes more than two months later, Inoue dominated from the opening bell. He established his pinpoint jab in Round 1, firing it to the body and head.
Fulton (21-1, 8 KOs) was reluctant to open, likely because of the speed differential. He covered up when Inoue blitzed him but also outsmarted him from mid-range. Inoue bled Fulton’s nose in round 3 and kept pushing him into the ropes.
Inoue won every round clearly and Fulton didn’t land many consequential shots. His best sequence came in Round 7 when he expected two hacking right hands, but the combination didn’t affect Inoue, who continued to corner Fulton.
Round after round, Inoue edged out Fulton, who came into the ring as an underdog at +290, according to Caesars Sportsbook. The American has impressed in three previous title fights – including a win over Brandon Figueroa in one of the best action fights of 2021 – but was up against a all-time great.
The 29-year-old Fulton clinched a decision win over Daniel Roman in June and now goes home without his two titles but with multi-million dollar prize money, the highest of his career.
Controversy erupted on Saturday when Fulton coach Wahid Rahim raised concerns about the way Inoue wrapped his hands. He threatened to withdraw his protégé from the fight if the issue was not resolved.
“In previous fights, Inoue and his team wrapped his hands in excessive amounts of tape and then put even more tape on the gauze, creating a cast,” Rahim said at the press conference. “It’s not an assumption. I have proof. We can wrap our hands in the same way, but then where is the level of security for our fighters?”
On Sunday, Inoue responded on social media: “Japan has its own local rules. Even in the United States, there are local rules by state and state.” [wrapping] method is different. Our fight will be in Japan… so of course I’m going to follow the Japanese rules.”
Rahim watched Inoue’s hands being wrapped on Tuesday and appeared to approve of the method used.
With another big win, Inoue will continue to strive for greatness, beginning with the pursuit of a second undisputed championship.
He defeated future Hall of Famer Nonito Donaire in ESPN’s 2019 Fight of the Year – a fight in which Inoue fought his way through a fractured orbital bone and nose – before scoring a second-round TKO in the rematch.
So far, no one has succeeded in unseating The Monster.
Before the fight, Inoue said he was “crossing the limits of my physique, my limits.”
That wasn’t the case yet, as Inoue, who entered the ring as ESPN’s No. 2 pound-for-pound boxer, improved to 20-0 with 18 KOs in title bouts.
Ramirez successful in first defense
Robeisy Ramirez retained his WBO featherweight title with a fifth-round KO against Japan’s Satoshi Shimizu in a fight for chief support.
Ramirez, ESPN’s No. 7 boxer at 126 pounds, knocked Shimizu down with a left uppercut and then forced the stoppage at 1:08 with a barrage of punches to the blood-covered challenger.
The Olympic gold medalist from Cuba said on social media on Monday that the Cuban embassy in Japan had told the local broadcaster broadcasting the fight to ban the playing of the Cuban national anthem. Ramirez, who defected from Cuba in 2018, said they also demanded that he not wave the Cuban flag or display it on his ring jewelry.
“Needless to say, I strongly condemn this heinous attempt at intimidation,” Ramirez, 29, said. “I am a free man. The anthem, like the flag, does not belong to the regime. I carry both the flag and the anthem in my heart.”
“What they don’t know is that far from silencing me, they have only motivated me even more to succeed and continue to raise my voice and call for the freedom of my homeland.”
Ramirez (13-1, 8 KOs) won the vacant title in April with a decision victory over Isaac Dogboe.