IN boxing, you can typically count on the little guys to make up for the errors and sins of the big guys and this has again proved the case with the announcement of a superb super-bantamweight fight on May 7 between Naoya Inoue and Stephen Fulton.
This fight, discussed for not long at all, will take place in Yokohama, Japan and will see Inoue move up from bantamweight, where he won everything, to super-bantamweight for the very first time. There he will meet Fulton, the current WBC and WBO champion, who apparently has no issue travelling to Inoue’s home country to defend his belts.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the way things should be in boxing. It is a fight between two unbeaten champions, both of whom appear to be levels above their competition and are by now accustomed to winning and defending titles with very little difficulty. Better than that, though, the pair are agreeing to fight at a time when they are in their physical prime and at the very peak of their powers in terms of their respective careers. Rather than delay the fight, and simply talk about it for months or even years, Inoue and Fulton have decided to cut to the chase and in many ways go against the grain in a sport that seems to increasingly embrace the idea of never-ending foreplay.
Cynics might say Inoue and Fulton are meeting at this stage because, as little men, their options are few and far between. Yet, no matter the reason, what’s important is that neither boxer is looking to protect what they have, be it a title belt or a reputation, and are instead wanting to find out which of them is the superior fighter. That, regardless of whether the talent pool is shallow or that most within it have already been beaten, is ultimately what counts and ultimately what separates Inoue and Fulton from other fighters who have found themselves in a similar position only to choose a different path and come unstuck in a lesser fight.
To fight Inoue, especially, is hardly an enviable proposition these days. The Japanese star, known as “Monster”, has won all 24 of his professional fights to date, ending 21 of them inside the distance. He has, since turning pro in 2012, managed to win world titles at light-flyweight, super-flyweight and bantamweight, where he was last seen stopping England’s Paul Butler inside 11 rounds in defence of his WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO belts. Only Nonito Donaire, in fact, has managed to extend Inoue the full 12 rounds since he moved to bantamweight (which Donaire did in 2019), with David Carmona the single fighter before Donaire to achieve the same feat at super-flyweight in 2016.
Fulton, meanwhile, is a fighter whose threat lies more in his boxing ability than his ability to scramble an opponent’s senses. In contrast to Inoue, the technician from Philadelphia has ended just eight of his 21 pro fights before the final bell and has gone the full 12-round distance five times in his last six fights. Nevertheless, what is important is that Fulton has developed a knack for winning and, not only that, tends to beat top contenders with relative ease, using his brain to outthink them and his fast hands and feet to outmanoeuvre them. Indeed, since conquering the undefeated Angelo Leo in 2021 to win the WBO super-bantamweight title, Fulton has gone up numerous levels, adding both Brandon Figueroa, from whom he won the WBC belt, and Daniel Roman to his growing list of victims.
Now 28, Fulton appears to be mature and seasoned enough to tackle a challenge like the one Inoue will present on May 7, though will of course only know the extent of this challenge when the first bell rings and the first punch lands. It is usually then, if history is anything to go by, Inoue’s opponents discover either that he is everything they feared or, and perhaps worse, even scarier than the “Monster” they imagined during training camp.
At least in the case of Fulton, though, a fighter who carries both the confidence of a champion and the skillset of an unbeaten fighter, the fans in Japan will finally witness a fresh and bigger man, with physical tools in his favour, confront Inoue, a 29-year-old who has so far reduced to rubble everything he has touched and proceeds to tear through weight classes as easily as he does a high-held guard.