While there have been plenty of big fights on the boxing calendar in 2023, including Saturday’s clash between Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford for the undisputed welterweight championship, Tuesday morning sees a true fight fan’s “big fight” when top pound-for-pound fighter Naoya Inoue moves up to super bantamweight to take on WBC and WBO champion Stephen Fulton in Tokyo.
Inoue has been one of the sport’s best and most dominant fighters for years. After winning the WBC title at 108 pounds in just his sixth fight, Inoue went up to 115 pounds two fights later and won the WBO title. After seven successful title defenses, it was clear Inoue was a special fighter with elite stopping ability, scoring TKOs in 14 of his first 16 career fights.
After moving to bantamweight, Inoue took less than two minutes to stop Jamie McDonnell in his debut in the division to secure the WBA’s secondary title and lock in a place in the World Boxing Super Series tournament.
Inoue scored quick knockouts of Juan Carlos Payano and Emmanuel Rodríguez before winning a unanimous decision over Nonito Donaire in 2019’s Fight of the Year to take the tournament title as well as the IBF and WBA titles, continuing his rise as one of the sport’s elite talents.
The big stoppages continued as Inoue defended his titles three times before a second-round stoppage of Donaire in their rematch to capture the WBC championship. He followed that win up with a blitzing of Paul Butler to grab the WBO title and claim undisputed status.
In Fulton, Inoue faces a dangerous test. Fulton is “Philly fighter” to the core, a well-schooled technician who has also shown a willingness to bite down on his mouthpiece and go toe-to-toe with foes wanting to slug it out.
Unlike Inoue, Fulton was not fast-tracked to a title shot. Fulton did not actually fight for a world title until the 19th fight of his career when he defeated Angelo Leo in January 2021 to win the WBO super bantamweight title.
The defining fight of Fulton’s career to date would come later that year when he faced off with Brandon Figueroa. For 12 rounds, Fulton and Figueroa traded punches in wild exchanges in a fight that won CBS Sports’ Fight of the Year vote. Fulton ultimately won a majority decision and added the WBC title to his collection.
After beating Daniel Roman by one-sided unanimous decision, Fulton was ready for a legacy-defining fight against Inoue. While Inoue takes the risk of moving up in weight for Tuesday’s clash, Fulton will travel across the Pacific ocean to face Inoue in his native Japan.
This is the kind of fight boxing needs more of, two young fighters at the peak of their powers, both taking real risk in search of greatness.
Fulton vs. Inoue fight card, odds
Odds via Caesars Sportsbook
Naoya Inoue -410
Stephen Fulton (c) +320
WBO and WBC super bantamweight titles
Robeisy Ramirez (c) -3000
Satoshi Shimizu +1300
WBO featherweight title
Fulton vs. Inoue viewing information
Date: July 25 | Start time: 4:30 a.m. ET (main event ringwalks around 8 a.m.)
Location: Ariake Arena — Tokyo, Japan
TV channel: ESPN+
To begin with, the odds here are out of line with reality. Yes, Inoue is a great fighter, arguably the best pound-for-pound talent in the sport. But Fulton is too good to be a +320 underdog. Inoue has shown an impressive ability to have his power follow him up through three weight classes in his career and Tuesday will show whether he can take it to a fourth. It is generally true that fighters do hit a weight where their power is no longer as impactful, but we simply don’t know if 122 pounds is that spot for Inoue.
Fulton is crafty, tough and technically gifted. Inoue is an offensive whirlwind with underrated defensive skills. Both men possess high fight IQ and intangible qualities like grit and heart. This is a truly fantastic fight on paper.
Inoue has faced better opposition in his career, a result of fighting in world title bouts soon after turning professional. Fulton’s stiffest tests have come only in the most recent years. Assuming Inoue’s power does travel up at all, he deserves an edge in the fight. Fulton is not a fighter with much stopping power, having only scored eight knockouts in his 21-fight unbeaten career. He has the skills to succeed in exchanges but will have to land crisp shots while avoiding getting hit clean by Inoue’s bombs.
It’s unlikely Fulton can keep Inoue from landing cleanly fairly frequently and the impact of Inoue’s shots will be the deciding factor in a competitive contest. Pick: Inoue via UD
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