Stephen Fulton should be very low on any list of fighters who have to prove their place among the sport’s elite.

Somehow, the unbeaten and unified WBC/WBO junior featherweight titlist felt compelled to pursue a pound-for-pound showdown with Naoya Inoue. Whatever criticism existed, Fulton was more than happy to answer the call as the two will collide May 7 at Yokohama Arena in Inoue’s hometown of Yokohama, Japan.

“I was eager because I heard a lot of fans saying I was ducking,” Fulton noted while joining via video feed for a press conference Monday in Yokohama to formally announce their May 7 showdown. “That I was running from this person, that person, and things like that. Besides that, I just like to challenge myself. I like the excitement. So why not take that type of opponent and fight a top pound-for-pound person.”

Any claim that Fulton (21-0, 8KOs) has avoided anyone during his already stellar career is absurd in every regard. The 28-year-old Philadelphia native is entering his ninth career fight versus an undefeated opponent and fifth within his last six starts. Fulton snatched the “0” from both Angelo Leo and Brandon Figueroa, as well as the belts they brought into the ring but didn’t leave with in separate title fights during his 2021 Fighter of Year-nominated campaign.

His lone fight of 2022 came in a twelve-round virtual shutout of former WBA/IBF titlist Daniel Roman last June 4. For this fight, the top-rated 122-pound fighter in the world will travel to the other side of the world for his third overall title defense. Fulton won’t just hit the road but fight in the hometown of Inoue (24-0, 21KOs), who aims to join Kazuto Ioka (29-2-1, 15KOs) as just the second Japanese male boxer to win major titles in four weight divisions.

Inoue also has a chance to become his nation’s first ever unified titlists at two separate weights. He already fully unified the bantamweight division, holding that honor for exactly one month before relinquishing all of the belts to campaign in the junior featherweight division.

The first target on Inoue’s list was Fulton, who told his team to abandon any talks of a rematch with Figueroa from the moment he heard that Inoue was serious about a head-on collision. The two reached terms at an exceptionally fast pace—especially for a matchup of this magnitude—though for Fulton, there was never any other thought once the thought first crossed his mind.

“Inoue is a great fighter. Former three-weight world champion, undisputed (at bantamweight). He’s a great fighter. I can’t take nothing away from him,” noted Fulton. “As far as fighting him, I feel like we just both have to get in there with our gameplans, do our job and I’ll come out victorious. I feel like I have the style to beat anyone. I can adjust, adapt, do whatever to beat anyone.

“The rounds don't matter to me. What matters to me is when we’re in there and fighting the adjustments we make. The rounds don’t matter. Just be prepared to witness a great show. He believes he can win, I know I can. We’ll just see May 7.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox