We’d known for a while that WBC/ WBO junior featherweight titlist Stephen Fulton would be facing pound-for-pound star Naoya Inoue.
However, what we didn’t know was when and where. Top Rank officially announced on earlier today that the matchup would take place on ESPN+ live from in Yokohama, Japan on May 7.
It presents Inoue with the opportunity to become a four-weight world champion, joining Kazuto Ioka as the only Japanese male to have won world titles in as many weight classes. While Fulton has the chance to not only take Inoue’s prized scalp in his homeland but also gate-crash the mythical pound-for-pound rankings.
Fulton (21-0, 8 KOs), The Ring-rated No. 1 junior featherweight, worked his way into title contention by besting former titleholder Paulus Ambunda (UD 12), stopped previously unbeaten Mexican Isaac Avelar (KO 6) and used his skills to tame another unbeaten opponent in Arnold Khegai (UD 12).
The 28-year-old showcased his smooth boxing skills to beat Angelo Leo (UD 12) to claim the WBO title, and he showed grit by digging in deep when he added the WBC title by edging Brandon Figueroa (MD 12) in a hard-fought unification bout. Most recently, he sparkled against Daniel Roman (UD 12).
Inoue (24-0, 21 KOs), The Ring-rated No. 2 pound-for-pound, devoured all before him en route to claiming world titles at 108, 115 and 118 pounds. The big punching Japanese “Monster” has lived up to his moniker, demolishing the likes of Omar Narvaez (KO 2), Jamie McDonnell (TKO 1), Juan Carlos Payano (KO 1) and Emmanuel Rodriguez (KO 2).
However, it’s his triumphs over four-weight world champion Nonito Donaire that provided Inoue with considerable acclaim. He edged Donaire (UD 12) in an instant classic that was later named Fight of the Year and stopped him in the second round of their rematch. The 29-year-old became the undisputed bantamweight champion when he dominated Paul Butler, stopping the Brit in 11 one-sided rounds. With nothing left to conquer at 118, Inoue decided to move up in weight in a bid to collect more hardware and accolades.
Both fighters should be lauded for taking such a risky fight. Inoue could easily have taken a lesser opponent and settled into the new division, while Fulton went out of his way to secure this fight. The Philadelphia native had been linked with a return fight with Brandon Figueroa up at featherweight but ultimately decided he wanted to face Inoue and was happy to take his two titles to Japan to do so, which will be a big challenge.
The fight is very intriguing, it will see both men face their biggest challenge to date. Fulton’s biggest test came against Figueroa an all-action punching machine and the American was able to pass the exam. Inoue’s toughest night came when he got wobbled and battled through a fractured right eye-socket to beat Donaire. Both those wins were each fighters proving ground but they’ll be required to step up again to win this fight.
It will mark the first time Inoue has fought an elite African-American opponent, who will present him with problems with his quick hands and feet, certainly more than he will have faced so far in his career. However, it will also be a giant leap into the unknown for Fulton, while he was able to hold off Figueroa, Inoue is a much more polished fighter who has elite skills of his own and will sorely test Fulton.
Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected].