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Getting to Know Marlon Tapales: Naoya Inoue's Next Opponent

The fight for the undisputed super bantamweight title is almost upon us, with Marlon Tapales the man looking to ruin Inoue's perfect record on December 26.

GLASGOW ― Marlon Tapales is a boxer facing the toughest current assignment in the sport. Passing the Tuesday, December 26 test will result in the Filipino southpaw being crowned the undisputed super bantamweight champion.

A shock win for Tapales would also end Naoya Inoue's hopes of becoming undisputed champion in two weight classes in consecutive years ― a record that would be incredibly difficult to surpass unless the boxing landscape changes significantly in the future.

In the complicated modern era of boxing, politics often prevents fighters from fighting for undisputed champion status within their weight class.

With four championship belts recognized, having the opportunity to win them all is something that eludes most elite boxers throughout their careers.

Kanagawa Prefecture native "Monster" Inoue (25-0, 22 knockouts) is bucking that trend. In December 2022, the 30-year-old became the undisputed champion at bantamweight. Now, 12 months later, Inoue, who won the WBC and WBO 122-pound titles when he defeated Stephen Fulton in July, has the chance to become undisputed champ in the super bantamweight division.

Marlon Tapales
Super bantamweight boxing champions Marlon Tapales (left) and Naoya Inoue pose with their title belts after Inoue's victory over Stephen Fulton on July 25 at Ariake Arena. (ⒸSANKEI)

'Nightmare' in the Ring

As briefly noted, standing in Inoue's way is Tapales (37-3, 19 KOs). The 31-year-old Filipino, whose nickname is "Nightmare," is a former bantamweight world champion and is the current holder of the IBF and WBA titles at super bantamweight.

With a wealth of experience, Tapales, a southpaw, brings an aggressive mindset to the ring. He is known for his pressure style and high-punch volume.

Will Tapales employ a bold strategy at Ariake Arena as he looks to shock the world and become the undisputed champion in the 122-pound division?

We will find out in due course. For now, read on for a look back at some of Tapales' career highlights and observations on the man who will carry the hopes of the Philippines with him on Tuesday.

Marlon Tapales
Marlon Tapales punches Shohei Omori in the fifth round of their WBO bantamweight title bout on April 23, 2017, in Osaka. (ⒸSANKEI)

Tapales' Early Professional Experiences

Like most new professionals, Tapales fought often after joining boxing's paid ranks at just 16 years old in July 2008. He boxed eight times in 10 months, building an 8-0 record to usher in his pro career. All of these bouts took place in the Philippines, with five of them in Tapales' home province of Lanao Del Norte.

The young fighter's fast start to professional boxing presented him with the chance to box for the Philippine Boxing Federation flyweight title in his ninth contest. It was a May 2009 bout against Brix Ray that saw Tapales defeated for the first time.

In rebounding, Tapales won 13 fights in a row. Except for a May 2011 trip to Las Vegas, where he defeated Alejandro Solorio by majority decision, Tapales again fought exclusively in his homeland during this stage of his career.

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Fighting Overseas and Winning Titles

As Tapales entered his fifth year as a professional he began developing into the globe-trotting boxer he is today.

The year 2013 began with another defeat as his challenge for the vacant WBC flyweight (interim) title came up just short. Tapales dropped a majority decision to home fighter David Sanchez in Mexico.

Following that disappointment Tapales stepped up to the bantamweight division and won the WBO Asia/Pacific regional title in August 2013.

Japan became something of a second home to Tapales at this time. Between 2013 and 2017 he boxed in Japan four times. He is undefeated in Japan, scoring wins over Ruben Manakane, Hayato Kimura and Shohei Omori twice.

After his first win over Shohei Omori, Tapales journeyed to Thailand for a July 2016 title flight with reigning WBO bantamweight champion Panya Uthok, whose name is also listed as Pungluang Sor Singyu in many fight reports.

The bout was a bit of a classic as Tapales overcame being knocked down twice early in the encounter to take control of the proceedings. He floored Uthok twice, the second knockdown ending the contest in the penultimate round.

According to Ringtv.com, "Tapales, 24, maintained his pressure, landing hard right hooks to the body while Sor Singyu backed away from confrontation."

The report, which doesn't feature a writer's byline, continues, "Sor Singyu appeared to be a beaten man by the end of the 10th and was easy pickings in the 11th as Tapales dropped him for a second time with a left cross to the chin, this time for the ten count."

Almost eight years after turning professional, Tapales was a world title holder.

Marlon Tapales
Marlon Tapales, now 31 years old, made his pro boxing debut in July 2008. (ⒸSANKEI)

Moving To 122 Pounds, Turning Into a KO Specialist and Becoming a Two-Weight Champion

Following his title win in Thailand, Tapales returned to Japan for a rematch with Omori. Nine months had passed since his title triumph and during this time Tapales outgrew the bantamweight division.

The Filipino failed to make weight (118 pounds or 53.5 kg) therefore he relinquished his title on the scale ahead of the bout in Osaka. On fight night, Tapales defeated Omori via 11th-round stoppage, but it was clear his future would be at super bantamweight.

Tapales has competed eight times at 122 pounds. He holds a 7-1 record in the weight class. All but one of the opponents he has beaten has been stopped. It seems like the step up in weight has suited him. He can now give opponents nightmares with the additional power he carries from not having to drain himself to make the weight.

The one blemish on Tapales' 122-pound record came in December 2019 when Chiba Prefecture native Ryosuke Iwasa stopped him at Brooklyn's Barclays Center. This encounter was a bit of a firefight with both men hurting one another with a variety of head and body shots. Tapales also suffered swelling on his face as a result of a head clash during the fight.

Following the defeat to Iwasa, Tapales is currently on a four-match winning streak. Eden Sonsona, Hiroaki Teshigawara and Jose Estrella were all stopped before, in his last outing, he scored something of a surprise win over unified super bantamweight champion Murodjon Akhmadaliev in San Antonio, Texas.

That split-decision victory occurred in April 2023. It netted Tapales the WBA and IBF 122-pound titles and put him in place to face Inoue in this undisputed showdown.

A Closer Look At Tapales' Win Over Akhmadaliev

In tangling with the Uzbek, Tapales found himself facing a fellow southpaw who was unbeaten in 11 professional bouts following a highly decorated amateur campaign.

Akhmadaliev, who had already captured two world title belts, was making the fourth defense of his crowns against Tapales.

Due to his ability to box and also bring threatening power and finishing ability, Akhmadaliev was expected to see off the challenge of Tapales fairly comfortably. Indeed, as an indicator, Iwasa, who had beaten Tapales in 2019 was convincingly beaten by Akhmadaliev in 2021.

On fight night, Tapales brought a more cautious approach than usual. He spent most of the fight on the back foot, pot-shotting with his jab, only occasionally stepping up his work rate to bring the fight to Akhmadaliev.

Despite the unconventional approach for him, Tapales was rewarded by having his hand raised after two of the three ringside judges scored the bout narrowly in his favor.

The result was seen as controversial. In his report for Boxing Scene, senior writer Jake Donovan observed: "The split decision was met with harsh jeers from the crowd who felt Akhmadaliev did enough to defend his crown. Instead, it ended the three-year reign for the Uzbek southpaw who fell to 11-1."

Marlon Tapales
Marlon Tapales jumps rope during his workout on December 20 in Yokohama. (ⒸSANKEI)

Preparing to Face the Monster

With one shock win under his belt already this year, Tapales will be primed to cause an even bigger upset on December 26.

Facing Inoue is unlike any other challenge in boxing though and it would surprise this observer if Tapales takes the back-foot approach he used against Akhmadaliev in April.

The Filipino was ringside to witness Inoue's destruction of the skillful Fulton in July, so he will know that waiting and baiting the Monster doesn't really work.

I expect Tapales to fight aggressively on December 26. His high KO percentage since making the leap to super bantamweight in 2018 suggests he could hurt Inoue if he connects correctly.

Entering into a brawl with Inoue could be viewed as a risky strategy. But Inoue has so many ways to beat opponents, I wouldn't blame Tapales for doing what he does best and being very aggressive in this fight. It might pay off, or it might lead to him being knocked out early.

In preparing to face Inoue, Tapales has been sparring with his compatriot Jon Jon Estrada, a featherweight with a 17-11-1 record as a pro.

Marlon Tapales
Marlon Tapales is 37-3 with 19 knockouts as a pro. (ⒸSANKEI)

Estrada spoke to Filipino outlet GMA News Online recently, discussing what he has seen and felt from Tapales in the gym: "He (Tapales) is in very good condition. His punches surprised me because speed and power is there."

The 126-pound Estrada added, "Nothing is impossible if Inoue brawls with Tapales. But even if they go the distance I would still go with Tapales because he never lets up, punches a lot, closes the distance and is aggressive. 

"I do not believe the people who say Tapales has no chance because he is a two-division champion and is training hard. From what I experienced in sparring, he is very strong."

Taking that at face value, Tapales is training to take the fight to Inoue on Tuesday night.

Marlon Tapales
Marlon Tapales (ⒸSANKEI)

The Filipino brings experience, familiarity with boxing in Japan, southpaw awkwardness and an ability to mix up his boxing style. He has shown in the past he has the mentality to win against a heavily favored titleholder boxing at home.  

While Inoue is rightly the heavy favorite, Tapales will pose danger in every moment he remains upright.

It should be entertaining. At its conclusion we will have an undisputed super bantamweight champion ― it should be Inoue, but in boxing, anything can happen.

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Author: Colin Morrison

Morrison is a freelance sportswriter. Find his stories on SportsLook. Writing since 2016, his byline appears on boxing website NYFights.com and multi-sports platform Spitballingpod.com. His main areas of interest are boxing, soccer, golf and rugby union. Morrison is from Scotland and can be found on X (formerly Twitter) @Morrie1981.

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