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With a 10th-Round KO, Naoya Inoue Becomes the Undisputed Super Bantamweight World Champ

Unbeaten Naoya Inoue demonstrated his superior boxing skills in his title fight against Marlon Tapales, utilizing a potent combination of speed and power.

Tuesday night's fight was dubbed "The Monster" vs "The Nightmare," paying homage to the Japanese and Filipino fighters' nicknames. Meeting expectations with laser-focused precision, Naoya Inoue pounded Marlon Tapales with power and purpose.

And eventually, the moment of truth arrived in their undisputed super bantamweight world title fight. To be precise, at 8:45 PM JST on December 26. 

In the 10th round, Inoue recorded a knockout, improving to 26-0 (with 23 KOs) in his remarkable boxing career.

What was the decisive factor in the fight at Ariake Arena in Tokyo?

Inoue's hammer blow, a dynamic straight right, floored his Filipino opponent with 1:02 remaining in the 10th. Tapales fell backward into the ropes and staggered trying to get up. He didn't beat the 10 count. Thus, American referee Celestino Ruiz declared the bout was over.

Naoya Inoue
Naoya Inoue reacts after knocking out Marlon Tapales in the 10th round. Referee Celestino Ruiz signals the fight is over. (ⒸSANKEI)

The 30-year-old Inoue retained his WBC and WBO title belts, and the Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture, native snatched Tapales' IBF and WBA titles.

As a result, Inoue became an undisputed world champion in two weight classes in back-to-back years, with both triumphs occurring at the same venue. 

Naoya Inoue's Journey to Becoming a Two-Time Undisputed World Champion

Inoue is only the second boxer of the four-belt era (since 2004) to accomplish the feat. American Terence Crawford was the first, unifying the welterweight division in July. Before that, he became the undisputed super lightweight champ in 2017.

One of the world's greatest superstar athletes of the 21st century, Inoue's lethal combination of speed, power and hand-eye coordination along with exceptional physical fitness and outstanding ring generalship have carried him to great heights since he made his pro debut on October 2, 2012. 

In that fight, he defeated Filipino Crison Omayao by TKO in the fourth round at Tokyo's Korakuen Hall.

On December 13, 2022, Inoue became the undisputed bantamweight world champion, beating Britain's Paul Butler via an 11th-round TKO.

Naoya Inoue
Naoya Inoue, the undisputed super bantamweight world champion, poses for photographs. (KYODO)

Inoue Speaks About His Win over Tapales

Inoue is now a four-division world champion, after previously collecting title belts in the aforementioned bantamweight weight class plus super flyweight and light flyweight. 

Reacting to his victory in his 21st consecutive world title fight, in his post-fight interview in the ring, Inoue admitted "I am so relieved (to win)."

He added that he was "very happy."

Tapales, who fell to 37-4, was knocked down at the end of the fourth round as a potent mix of punches impacted his balance. After that, he seemed to be energized after dropping to the canvas and fighting with more effective straightforward tactics. 

Naoya Inoue
In the fourth round, Naoya Inoue's aggressive punching produced the first knockdown of the fight. (ⒸSANKEI)

Inoue later noted he was a bit more cautious after the knockdown, recognizing Tapales' sense of urgency.

Asked if he fought overly aggressive in the seventh and eighth rounds, eyeing a knockout, Inoue explained his approach.

"I have to be smart, I have to make him accumulate damage," stated Inoue, who won his first super bantamweight fight on July 25, also at Ariake Arena, conquering Stephen Fulton, the WBC and WBO titleholder, via an eighth-round TKO.

Entering this title fight, Inoue's impression of Tapales was of a boxer with potent offensive skills, he said later.

About 90 minutes after the fight, the winning fighter revealed that Tapales' defensive skills proved to be "quite tough" to deal with.

"I didn't hit (land) many punches," Inoue added.

The official fight statistics, however, showed that Inoue was more than effective. He landed 146 punches to Tapales' 52. Of those 146, he hit his target on 114 that were labeled as "power punches," while Tapales had 43 in the latter category.

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Appreciation for Fans and Boxing Team

Inoue spoke with gratitude about his fans and his team for their support and encouragement over the years and in the run-up to this fight.

"It's thanks to the support from all of you I could collect these four belts, a year on from the last one in a different division," Inoue told reporters. "I think super bantamweight is the right division for me at the moment and I'll strive to show a stronger version of myself next year and the one after."

He added, "In 2024, I will show you even stronger form in this division."

Although he acknowledged there are rumors of his next opponent for a possible fight in May 2024, Inoue didn't mention Mexican Luis Nery (35-1, 27 KOs) by name.

Naoya Inoue
Naoya Inoue shakes hands with Marlon Tapales after the fight. (KYODO)

Inoue's Speed Left an Impression

In a fight that showcased the veteran poise of two experienced fighters, both of whom appeared to be in excellent physical shape throughout the bout, Inoue's quickness ― both his hands and his feet ― was impressive.

Just ask Tapales, who struggled to match his opponent's quickness from the opening bell at 8:08 PM until the fight was stopped.

"He was extremely fast, and not managing to catch up was the deciding factor in my defeat," Tapales said, according to Kyodo News.

Although he acknowledged that he was disappointed with the result, Tapales said he was proud of his effort.

"I think I've performed at my best," Tapales told reporters, "[and] I think today was his night."

Sean Gibbons, president of Manny Pacquiao's MP Promotions, also spoke to reporters after the fight. He shared a text message he received from Pacquiao about Tapales' effort.

"He gave it all he had," Gibbons said, sharing the text, [and] he left it all in the ring."

Gibbons added this from Pacquiao: "He lost to the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world."

Naoya Inoue
With the win, Naoya Inoue improves to 26-0 with 23 knockouts. (KYODO)

Post-Fight Notes

One factor that posed a challenge for Inoue in what he described as "an intense fight" was Tapales' energy level.

"He never showed me fatigue or damage" from getting punched, the new undisputed super bantamweight champion confessed.

Shingo Inoue, Naoya's father and trainer, said after the fight that media reports suggesting they were overlooking Tapales and not taking his boxing abilities seriously were false.

"We never underestimated Tapales," the elder Inoue told a news conference. "He was as strong as expected."

Naoya Inoue
Naoya Inoue (center) shares a moment with younger brother Takuma and their father/trainer Shingo after the fight. (ⒸSANKEI)

A Nice Birthday Gift

Takuma Inoue, Naoya's younger brother, celebrated his 28th birthday on Tuesday. He became the WBA bantamweight champion in April, three months after Naoya vacated the division and moved up to super bantamweight.

Hideyuki Ohashi, president of Ohashi Boxing Gym, where the brothers train in Yokohama, called Naoya's TKO victory "a very big birthday present" for Takuma.

Entering round 10, on this reporter's fight scorecard Inoue was ahead on points, 89-81.

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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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