A date and location have been secured for the best matchup to grace the 2023 boxing schedule.
BoxingScene.com has confirmed that the highly anticipated Stephen Fulton-Naoya Inoue championship fight will take place May 7 at Yokohama Arena in Inoue’s hometown of Yokohama, Japan. Fulton will defend his unified WBC/WBO junior featherweight crown versus Inoue, who recently vacated his undisputed bantamweight championship in pursuit of winning a title in a fourth weight division.
Monday's announcement came with the news that local streaming rights will be carried by Lemino. ESPN+ is expected to carry the pound-for-pound showdown in the U.S.
The stellar matchup will mark the fourth straight in his home country for Inoue and second in his hometown venue which holds a capacity of 17,000 and is expected to be filled to the rafters. Fulton will fight outside the U.S. for the first time in his eight-plus year pro career.
Philadelphia’s Fulton (21-0, 8KOs) has long called for blockbuster fights since his arrival on the title stage, specifically calling for showdowns with Inoue and fellow unified 122-pound titlist Murodjon ‘MJ’ Akhmadaliev (11-0, 8KOs) who holds the WBA/IBF belts. Both fighters have remained on his radar well after his most recent performance, when he dominated former WBA/IBF titlist Danny Roman over twelve one-sided rounds last June 4 in Minneapolis.
The win was the lone fight of 2022 for Fulton following a Fighter of the Year-level 2021 campaign that saw him dethrone a pair of unbeaten titlists. Fulton handily outpointed Angelo Leo to win the WBO junior featherweight title in January 2021, followed by a majority-decision win over then-unbeaten WBC titlist Brandon Figueroa in their November 2021 Fight of Year-worthy affair.
Fulton’s name resurfaced last November during the annual WBC convention, when it was revealed that a discussed rematch with Figueroa (24-1-1, 18KOs) would come with the interim WBC featherweight title at stake. The ruling allowed for a four-man tournament to be ordered at junior featherweight, with Azat Hovhannisyan-Luis Nery and Ra’eese Aleem-Alan David Picasso as the suggested semifinal eliminators.
Just one of three fights has transpired - Nery-Hovhannisyan, which remains the leading 2023 Fight of the Year candidate. Nery won via eleventh round knockout in their terrific February 18 DAZN-aired slugfest from Fox Theater in Pomona, California.
The possibility existed of a Fulton-Figueroa rematch but the bout was never finalized despite reports to the contrary erroneously stating it was set to headline a February 25 Showtime telecast. Instead, Fulton will remain put at junior featherweight where he will attempt his third overall title defense and second as the unified champion.
It comes immediately after Inoue (24-0, 21KOs) abdicated the bantamweight throne after making history for his native Japan. The longtime pound-for-pound entrant from Yokohama became the first Asian boxer to claim undisputed champion status in the multi-belt era following his eleventh-round knockout of England’s Paul Butler. Inoue entered their December 13 unification clash as the lineal/WBC/WBA bantamweight champion and left the ring with Butler’s WBO strap in tow.
Inoue’s previous appearance at Yokohama Arena produced perhaps the most iconic knockout of his storied career.
A 70-second blitzing of former bantamweight titlist Juan Carlos Payano was held in front of his adoring hometown faithful, which launched the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament. He won the bracket outright, dethroning unbeaten IBF tltlist Emmanuel Rodriguez in the May 2019 semifinal before claiming the WBA belt from Nonito Donaire in the first of their two fights at the famed Saitama (Japan) Super Arena in November 2019.
Inoue since fought twice in the U.S. before returning to Japan for each of his last three starts. Included in the bunch was his second-round knockout of Donaire in their rematch last June 7 at Saitama Super Arena, adding the WBC belt to his collection before ending Butler’s brief WBO reign in their historic December 13 clash in Tokyo.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox
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