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[ODDS and EVENS] Naoya Inoue Fired Up About Title Unification Fight with Marlon Tapales

In the run-up to the bout, promoter Bob Arum described Naoya Inoue this way: "We are witnessing an all-time great fighter in the prime of his career."

For nearly 60 years, Bob Arum has worked as a boxing promoter, so his insights on Naoya Inoue carry weight. 

And even if Arum aims to build a buzz before every blockbuster bout he's promoting, decades of ringside observations have made the native New Yorker a recognized authoritative voice within the sport.

Inoue is set to face Filipino opponent Marlon Tapales on December 26 in a super bantamweight title unification bout at Tokyo's Ariake Arena.

The 31-year-old Tapales (37-3, 19 knockouts) currently holds the IBF and WBA championship belts. He's coming off a split-decision win over Murodjon Akhmadaliev on April 8 in San Antonio, Texas. In doing so, Tapales, wrested both titles from his Uzbek opponent.

Inoue (25-0, 22 knockouts), competing as a super bantamweight for the first time on July 25, repeatedly battered American champion Stephen Fulton in a one-sided bout, winning by a technical knockout in the eighth round at Ariake Arena. As a result, Inoue walked out of the ring with Fulton's WBC and WBO title belts.

Boxing promoter Bob Arum is seen in a September 2023 file photo. (Andrew Boyers/ACTION IMAGES/via REUTERS)

Arum's Impressions of Inoue

Instantly producing anticipation for the next chapter of Inoue's boxing career, Top Rank, Inc head honcho Arum and Tapales were in the ring after the Inoue-Fulton fight ended. And Inoue and Tapales, who posed for photos with their belts, both spoke that night about wanting to fight each other before the end of the year.

Staged theatrics? You betcha. But don't think for a second that Arum wouldn't have suggested it if someone else didn't.

Indeed, Arum works to promote Inoue's fights on a global scale. A lawyer by trade, the 91-year-old's career as a promoter began in 1966, two years after Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, defeated Sonny Liston for the first time in Miami Beach, Florida.

So what are Arum's impressions of Inoue, who relinquished his four bantamweight title belts in early 2023 to move up to super bantamweight?

"The sensational Naoya Inoue astounds with every performance," Arum said, according to this Top Rank news release. "We are witnessing an all-time great fighter in the prime of his career.

"He has a very difficult task at hand on December 26 against a tough, powerful Filipino champion in Marlon Tapales, but I am confident 'The Monster' will pass this test with flying colors."

As an unbeaten fighter with devastating punching power, impressive speed (hands and feet) and the winner of world titles at four weight classes (including light flyweight and super flyweight), Inoue appears to be at the height of his powers.

Naoya Inoue
Naoya Inoue in action against Stephen Fulton on July 25 at Ariake Arena. (KYODO)

Naoya Inoue's Thoughts on the Upcoming Fight

Clearly, Inoue is as hungry as ever to keep chasing glory in the ring.

"It's a super huge bout," Inoue told reporters at a Wednesday news conference in Yokohama, according to Kyodo News. 

"It took me more than four years to collect the four bantamweight belts, [and] it feels as if I'm making up for the lost time of the pandemic at a tremendous pace. I'll increase my concentration level further and get myself into perfect condition."

Can Inoue be in perfect condition against Tapales, a fighter he described, according to published reports, as having the ability to "come at you with perfect timing?"

Quite possibly.

Inoue appears confident that he'll have an exceptional performance the day after Christmas.

"I want to win while displaying overwhelming strength," Inoue was quoted as saying by Kyodo News before adding, "I want people to see me decide it with a knockout."

Naoya Inoue displays his four title belts after defeating Paul Butler in their bantamweight title unification boxing match at Ariake Arena in Tokyo on December 13, 2022. (Sports Nippon/via SANKEI)

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Becoming an Undisputed Champ in 2022

On December 13, 2022, Inoue, who entered his final fight of the year with the WBC, WBA and IBF titles, became the undisputed bantamweight world champion at Ariake Arena. Facing British foe Paul Butler, the WBO champion, he unleashed an array of powerful punches to record an 11th-round knockout. In doing so, he became the first undisputed bantamweight champion in 50 years.

Now, nearly a year later, Inoue's place in boxing history, especially in his home nation, remains a powerful motivational force.

He's already the first Japanese fighter to become an undisputed world champion in the era of four major sanctioning bodies (since 2004).

Only one fighter has become an undisputed world champion in two different weight classes in the four-belt era, and it's a recent accomplishment. Terence Crawford (40-0) became the unified welterweight titlist in July.

Naoya Inoue
Naoya Inoue stands in front of a promotional poster for his title fight against Marlon Tapales during a news conference in Yokohama on October 25. (ⒸSECOND CAREER)

Lofty Aspirations for Inoue

Like he's said many times in recent years, Inoue spoke again on Wednesday about his goal of raising the bar for Japanese boxing. Here's his explanation: "I want to get to a place no future Japanese will think of reaching."

Now 30, Inoue is probably closer to the end of his career than the beginning. Which is why he has mapped out in his mind a rough timetable about the time that remains to earn a living as a fighter.

"I think I have about five years left in my career," Inoue said, according to Kyodo News. "Probably, I can fight three bouts next year. I have to calculate backward and decide on whether to move up a division or stay in the super bantamweight [division] the year after. I'll listen to my body and decide."

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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