Bob Arum: “I Don’t Think Anybody Beats Naoya Inoue"

The sport's arguably greatest promoter has praise for a future all-time great.

Naoya Inoue has established himself as one of the best fighters in the world. Following an 11th-round knockout victory over Paul Butler to become the undisputed first-ever Japanese boxer to claim undisputed championship status in the three- or four-belt era, Inoue has a legitimate case that he is the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter, to boot.

A miniscule amount of fighters have anxiously raised their hand to fight Inoue. One was Nonito Donaire. In the second round of their first fight, four-division world champion fractured Inoue's right eye socket, an injury that led the latter to complain of double vision throughout their encounter. Then came the 11th round that saw Inoue drop Donaire with a left hook to the body and nearly finished him off. They slugged it out to the 12th to conclude an unforgettable fight. The bout ended with Inoue winning a close, but clear unanimous decision on December 26, 2019, at the Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.

The second fight, however, was the opposite of epic. Instead, it was a one-sided destruction as Inoue knocked out Donaire in the second round, which also took place at the Super Arena, last June 7.

The next man to raise their hand is unified WBC/WBO junior featherweight world titleholder Stephen Fulton (21-0, 8 KOs).

Inoue, who has won world titles in three weight classes, will move up to 122 pounds to challenge Fulton on May 7 in Japan.

“I don’t think anybody beats Inoue,” said Arum to iD Boxing. “The monster is the monster and he's the monster for a reason.”

Despite his low KO percentage, the 28-year-old Fulton is a formidable counter puncher that has quickly moved to the top of the throne at junior featherweight. In January of 2021, following a brief hiatus due to COVID, Fulton outboxed Angelo Leo to snag his first world title. A few months later, Fulton outworked Brandon Figueroa to unify the division. In his most recent bout, Fulton sent Daniel Roman into retirement with a dominating performance this past June. Like many under the PBC umbrella, it was unfortunately Fulton's only fight of the year. However, that hasn't stopped the West Philly native from taking on what will undoubtedly be the toughest test of his near-decade-long career.

But, if it were anyone other than Inoue, Fulton would likely be the favorite. But as Arum stated, Inoue is "the monster for a reason." Prior to becoming a star, the 29-year-old Inoue won a world title at 108-pounds before foregoing flyweight altogether to score a second-round knockout of Omar Narvaez in December 2014 to claim the WBO junior bantamweight title. He has fought 16 times since and only two of them can say they've went the distance. From May 2018 to May 2019, Inoue fought a total of four rounds in three fights, scoring back-to-back first-round knockouts of Jamie McDonnell and Juan Carlos Payano, before knocking out Emmanuel Rodriguez inside two rounds. The last victory has certainly aged well as Rodriguez is coming off a 10-round technical decision win over previously unbeaten and rising contender Gary Antonio Russell in a WBA/IBF 118-pound title eliminator.

The combination of Inoue's skill and power with Fulton's ring IQ and boxing abilities could culminate in the 2023 Fight of the Year.

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