Naoya Inoue is king of the bantamweights. Should he be P4P King? Photo by Naoki Fukuda
Naoya Inoue has vacated all four of his bantamweight title belts and will move up to 122 pounds.
“Today, I have returned these 4 belts that I have collected over 4 years and 7 months. In 2023, I will raise the class to super bantamweight and challenge,” wrote Inoue (24-0, 21 knockouts), The Ring’s no. 2 rated pound for pound fighter, Friday on Twitter. The 29-year-old lived up to his “Monster” nickname at 118 pounds, cleaning out the division upon making his debut in the World Boxing Super Series tournament.
He finished off Jamie McDonnell and Juan Carlos Payano in a round, earning The Ring’s “Knockout of the Year” award for 2018 for the latter, before knocking out Emmanuel Rodriguez to win the IBF title.
A shootout with Nonito Donaire to cap off 2019 would earn him the WBA title in a competitive unanimous decision win, after which he signed with Top Rank. After knockouts over Jason Moloney, Michael Dasmarinas and Aran Dipaen, Inoue annexed the WBC title last June with a knockout of Donaire followed by the WBO title with a knockout of Paul Butler to finish all business in the division.
Inoue’s exit from the division creates a lot of opportunity for other contenders at 118 pounds, as well as intrigue in his new division. Whereas Inoue was the undisputed and RING champion at 118 pounds, the four belts are split between two fighters. The WBC and WBO belts are currently held by Stephen Fulton, the Philadelphia based fighter who is stepping up to 126 pounds to face Brandon Figueroa for the interim WBC featherweight belt. The IBF and WBA titles are held by Murodjon Akhmadaliev, who is expected to face mandatory challenger Marlon Tapales in the spring.
Prior to dominating at 118 pounds, Inoue had also won titles at 108 and 115 pounds. Should he win a belt at 122 pounds, Inoue would join Kazuto Ioka as the second Japanese male fighter to win world titles in four weight classes.
Ryan Songalia has written for ESPN, the New York Daily News, Rappler and The Guardian, and is part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected].