Naoya Inoue delivered a stunning performance to drop and stop Stephen Fulton to win the WBO and WBC titles in his first bout at super-bantamweight on Tuesday at the Ariake Arena in Tokyo.
Inoue has looked a dominant force in his rise from light-flyweight. He became an undisputed champion at bantamweight in his last contest and is now a unified champion at 122lbs, the fourth division in which he’s held world titles.
Fulton was bringing his titles to Tokyo to take on the Japanese superstar, the newest and the biggest threat in the weight class, in his home country.
Neither man had met defeat before, Inoue now with a flawless 25-0 record, 22 of those wins by way of knockout and Fulton sporting a 21-0 (8) ledger going in.
Inoue, for all his acclaim, remains a hungry fighter and he began the contest eagerly. Unfazed by Fulton initially claiming the centre of the ring, Inoue padded down the champion’s jabs.
He quickly covered the distance between them, catching up to Fulton when the American tried to back away.
Inoue opened up with salvos of punches in the second round, disrupting Fulton and making his power felt at 122lbs.
To broadcast his self-belief, Inoue even tapped his chin, showboating for just a moment. He sunk power into his right cross, a thudding blow that Fulton blocked on his gloves when he could. But too often for the champion, Inoue was getting that shot through.
Fulton steadied himself in the fourth round, intercepting his challenger with jabs. But he was finding it difficult to fight the contest on his terms.
He landed ferocious combinations in the fifth round, catching the body spitefully even if Fulton did manage to land with a one-two of his own.
Inoue drove him back with three long punches and Fulton found himself trading with the ‘Monster’ at the end of the sixth round, pushing forward just to stall his challenger’s momentum.
But he could not ward off Inoue. Inoue just took his ferocity up to a new level, continuing to break through the American’s guard.
He hurt the champion in the eighth round, dropping Fulton to the canvas. He leapt onto the ring post to celebrate early, even though Fulton rose to continue. Perhaps he knew that he would not let Fulton off the hook.
He resumed his work, pounced on Fulton instantly and took him to a corner. He pummelled Fulton there, the referee stepping in to wave it off just as Fulton sank back to the canvas.
It was a spectacular finish for the new unified super-bantamweight champion.
Credit: Sky Sports