When word of the Naoya Inoue-Stephen Fulton junior featherweight title fight hit the online Universo Puglistico on Wednesday, hardcore boxing fans became instantly energized.
The 29-year-old “Monster” Inoue (24-0, 21 KOs), a 3-division world titlist and unified 4-belt bantamweight champ who recently relinquished his 118 lb. titles for a move up in weight, is universally regarded as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world (if not THE best). Fulton (21-0, 8 KOs), meanwhile, is currently the WBO and WBC junior featherweight champ and also acknowledged as one of the very best in the sport. The 28-year-old “Cool Boy Steph” is coming off stellar performances against Daniel Roman and Brandon Figueroa.
According to media reports, the beyond-intriguing matchup of undefeated fighters is slated for late spring (May/June) in Inoue’s native Japan with ESPN+ targeted as the US broadcast outlet.
Inoue-Fulton is not only an outstanding pairing between fighters in the prime of their careers, it’s also an achievement in circumventing boxing politics for, what will turn out to be, the greater good of the sport. The revitalizing shot in the arm it gives to the sport’s most loyal fans falls in line with an outstanding first four months of 2023 that already had hardcore boxing fandom excited.
From the end of January to late spring, boxing’s schedule is now packed with the following:
January 28: Artur Beterbiev vs. Anthony Yarde (for Beterbiev’s IBF/WBC/WBO light heavyweight titles)
February 11: Rey Vargas vs. O’Shaquie Foster (for the vacant WBC junior lightweight title)
March 4: Josh Taylor vs. Jack Catterall 2 (for Taylor’s WBO junior welterweight title)
March 4: Brandon Figueroa vs. Mark Magsayo (possibly for the interim WBC featherweight title
March 25: Caleb Plant vs. David Benavidez
April (TBD): Errol Spence vs. Keith Thurman
April 8: Shakur Stevenson vs. Shuichiro Yoshino (in a WBC lightweight title eliminator)
April 15: Gervonta Davis vs. Ryan Garcia
May/June: Naoya Inoue vs. Stephen Fulton (for Fulton’s WBO and WBC junior featherweight titles)
Also reported to take place somewhere in this time period is the heavyweight unification bout between WBC champ Tyson Fury and IBF/WBA/WBO titlist Oleksandr Usyk.
Bouts featuring Amanda Serrano, Emanuel Navarrete, and Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez, as well as Subriel Matias vs. Jeremias Ponce and Jose Ramirez vs. Richard Commey, are also slated to take place during this stretch of time.
And, for what it’s worth, Jake Paul vs. Tommy Fury and Adrien Broner vs. Hank Lundy will be happening February 25 on separate cards.
So, while it would be pushing things to say that the schedule was an embarrassment of riches, the slate does represent a significant boost from what was a lackluster 2022 fight schedule. Inoue-Fulton and Davis-Garcia, especially, represent great stylistic pairings that will have overcome traditional boxing business obstacles if/when they hit the ring.
This is all a positive for boxing. It’s also a positive for a fan base that has needed some energizing and, frankly, a real reward for its long-term loyalty through some significant rough patches in recent years.
The only negative in all of this is the fact that much of the best in this year’s schedule thus far will be behind paywalls, either on pay-per-view or via subscription service/premium cable channel. Watching all of the action will be a pricey endeavor for fight fans.
But let’s fight one battle at a time.
For now, let’s just enjoy our immediate boxing future.