What promised to be a test of styles, temperaments, and all-around mettle at Ariake Arena in Tokyo, Japan Tuesday morning US time turned out to be a brutal virtuoso performance by Naoya Inoue as he battered and stopped defending WBC/WBO super bantamweight champ Stephen Fulton in eight rounds.
The 29-year-old Fulton, who hails from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, just never got into the contest and seemed stymied by Inoue’s speed and timing from the opening seconds of the bout. Tentative throughout, the defending titlist seemed stuck in reaction mode and never really let his hands go at any point in the contest.
Although he did a good job of blocking shots and rolling with punches, he fell behind early in the contest and, as the time passed, it seemed more and more unlikely that he’d be able to pull himself out of the hole he dug for himself.
Then, predictably, Inoue, who was trying to become a four-division world champ, figured out the champion’s timing and started landing bigger and better shots. Fulton fired back a little and managed to score with some decent punches, but it was never enough to turn the tide of the bout or to move him any closer to pulling ahead on the scorecards.
By mid-fight (but, really, earlier), a big Inoue win seemed like a foregone conclusion. In the eighth round, Inoue shot a jab to Fulton’s midsection and followed it up with right to the chin that wobbled him. The Japanese fighter then followed that up with a wide left on the already downward-bound American.
Clearly hurt, Fulton would beat the count, only to be stopped in the corner seconds later by a barrage of punches. Fulton falls to 21-1 with 8 KOs.
With the victory, the 30-year-old Inoue takes the WBC and WBO 122 lb. belts and adds them to career achievements that include 4-belt unified champ status at 118, a WBO world title at 115, and a WBC title at 108.
“I returned all my [118-pound] belts to become a super bantamweight champion,” Inoue said through an interpreter during his post-fight interview. “Everything I was thinking about was to fight him this year. However, unfortunately, I got injured, and I had to postpone this fight. I am sorry to my team and Fulton’s team, but thank you so much for accepting this fight once again. I am so happy right now.”
“I believe I was able to show my increased speed and power in this bout,” added Inoue. “But I still have room to improve, so I’ll get stronger as a super bantam.”
“I want to be undisputed champion by the end of the year,” Inoue, now 25-0 with 22 KOs, later told Top Rank Boxing. “That is something I really want to do.”
And he seems likely to get that opportunity.
Next up appears to be a shot at becoming the 4-belt unified champ at 122 against current WBA/IBF super bantamweight champ from the Philippines Marlon Tapales, who was at ringside for this bout and would later be brought into the ring to stand alongside the victor.
Tapales, who won his two titles in an upset victory over defending 2-belt champ Murodjon Akhmadaliev this past April, appeared eager to meet the tremendous challenge
“I want to fight Naoya Inoue because I want to prove that I’m a champion,” Tapales said.
After seeing his one-sided destruction of a very good Stephen Fulton on Tuesday, it’s hard to give the tough, but modestly skilled Tapales too much of a chance against the fighter who bears the nickname of “The Monster” and is already a guaranteed first-ballot Hall of Famer.