Naoya Inoue, the best boxer in the world, fights on Tuesdays

Comment: The Japanese superstar took Stephen Fulton to pieces in Tokyo, becoming a four-division world champion in the process

Alex Pattle
Combat Sports Correspondent
Tuesday 25 July 2023 15:20 BST
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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

If you asked the average person to name their favourite day of the week, they would not name Tuesday. Monday, while generally considered to be loathed, is actually enjoyed by many for the buzz it brings; Wednesday is ‘hump day’; Thursday is the new Friday; and Friday ushers in the weekend. But Tuesday? What does it actually offer? Fifty times out of 52, not very much – I’ll grant you that. But twice a year, Tuesdays are transformed. And they are transformed by Naoya Inoue.

Sometimes, the best boxer in the world fights in Tokyo, as he did this week and in December. Sometimes, he fights in Saitama, as he did last June. He has also fought in Yokohama, and even Las Vegas and Glasgow. But nowadays, the constant is that Naoya Inoue fights on Tuesdays. It is not a day on which we are accustomed to seeing the pageantry and ceremony of world title fights, but if you haven’t joined the club already, you will need to start navigating that foreign feeling and turning on your TV, opening that fresh tab on your laptop, or turning your phone horizontally. You need to tune in.

You need to tune in because, twice a year on Tuesdays, Inoue produces the closest thing to boxing mastery that you will see. You might have had that same thought while watching Tyson Fury in recent years (on a Saturday), Oleksandr Usyk (also on a Saturday), or Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (always on Saturdays), but the reality is that those modern greats are being eclipsed in the ring.

Across the Pacific Ocean, for our US friends, and around the Arctic for those in the UK, Inoue is consistently delivering masterclasses. Inoue is a former light-flyweight, unified super-flyweight, and undisputed bantamweight champion. The Japanese is a magpie, however, and the glint of each piece of gold has quickly given away to an obsession with a new trophy. On this particular Tuesday, the 30-year-old – aptly nicknamed the “Monster” – fixed his gaze on the WBC and WBO super-bantamweight titles. It was a flight into new territory, to a higher branch on the tree than Inoue had yet landed.

Inoue (left) was quicker than Fulton and every bit as powerful
Inoue (left) was quicker than Fulton and every bit as powerful (AP)

Yet, despite fighting at such a high weight class for the first time in his career, Inoue took Stephen Fulton to pieces. In the process, he took everything from the American – his world titles and his unbeaten record. Against a man accustomed to this weight, Inoue bullied Fulton, beating him to nearly every punch, matching the 29-year-old’s power while exceeding his speed and becoming a four-weight world champion.

Fulton, a talented, accomplished, unbeaten boxer fighting a smaller man, frankly looked scared. The risk of entering Inoue’s range, of inviting the challenger to unload his offence, seemed too great, even to a man who has beaten every boxer to have stood across from him. The thing is, Fulton was right to be scared. Despite Inoue’s natural weight disadvantage, the home fighter absorbed Fulton’s best shots – on the rare occasions that they landed – and fired back with faster, more spiteful strikes.

In Tokyo on Tuesday, there was a strong argument that Fulton did not win a single round. And after seven of them, it became a moot point anyway. Inoue jabbed the champion in the gut, then speared him with a right cross to the face – seemingly before his left fist had even been retracted. Fulton, fighting outside his native US for the first time, might as well have been back home; it did not matter, because he did not know where he was. As he stumbled back in a disorientating daze, Inoue showed no mercy. The very moment that Inoue realised he had Fulton hurt, he pulverised the champion with a left hook. To call it clinical would be fair, if such a word did not ignore the ugliness of the blow.

Inoue lands the left hook that dropped Fulton
Inoue lands the left hook that dropped Fulton (AFP via Getty Images)

Fulton, to his credit, went some way to regaining his senses, climbing from the canvas, beating the referee’s count, and answering his call. Perhaps he should not have. Within seconds, he was cornered, overwhelmed by a swarm of hooks, his legs giving out beneath him. As Fulton slumped towards the canvas, the referee saved him. Inoue had already climbed the corner after the first knockdown, celebrating the inevitable.

The referee waves off the fight after Inoue pummels Fulton with hooks in the corner
The referee waves off the fight after Inoue pummels Fulton with hooks in the corner (AP)

And Inoue is inevitable. Even as he made his walk in the Ariake Arena, he exuded the air of a boxer who may just retire unbeaten – just moments before facing what should have been his toughest test yet. The Japanese has been No 1 on Indy Sport’s pound-for-pound list for some time now, with the best knockout percentage (22 from 25 unanswered wins) of any fighter in those rankings, and he does not look like he will be displaced. If he is not at the top of your list, or near that summit, or even in your rankings at all, then chances are you haven’t tuned in to Tuesdays With Naoya Inoue.

This is as good as boxing gets, and that is written with the knowledge that one of the fights of this generation – Errol Spence Jr vs Terence Crawford – awaits this weekend. In future, don’t wait for Saturdays. The best boxer in the world fights on Tuesdays.

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