Naoya Inoue is set for his homecoming, which comes right on time given current global circumstances.
The unbeaten three-division titlist and pound-for-pound entrant will proceed with a voluntary defense of the unified WBA/IBF bantamweight crown versus Thailand’s Aran Dipaen. The matchup is among the two title fights taking place Tuesday at the famed Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo, with WBO strawweight titlist Wilfredo ‘Bimbito’ Mendez set to defend versus locally based Masataka Taniguchi.
All four fighters made weight for their respective bouts, which will air live on Pay-Per-View in Japan and as part of ESPN Knockout coverage in Latin America.
Inoue (21-0, 18KOs) came in right at the 118-pound limit for his third unified title defense and fourth of at least one major bantamweight title. Dipaen (12-2, 11KOs) weighed 117 ½ pounds for his first career title fight.
The event will mark the first fight back in Japan for Yokohama’s Inoue (21-0, 18KOs) since his thrilling twelve-round win over Nonito Donaire in the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight finals, which took place November 9, 2019 at Saitama (Japan) Super Arena.
Inoue has since registered one-sided knockout wins over Jason Moloney and Michael Dasmarinas, both taking place in Las Vegas on the other side of the pandemic. The determination following the win over Dasmarinas was to return home to defend the title, though opponent selection was limited due to the ongoing global health crisis.
It led to Dipaen landing the unexpected title shot, given his placement in the IBF rankings and ability to travel to Japan.
Dipaen is 1-2 outside of his native Thailand. The 30-year-old from Khon Kaen, Thailand claimed a June 2019 second-round knockout of Ryohei Arakawa in his fifth pro fight for his only career road win.
The evening’s co-feature sees Mendez (16-1, 6KOs) fight for the first time since the pandemic after seeing two title fights fall through at the last minute. He wisely made the decision to travel early to Japan, both for quarantine purposes and to ultimately avoid the nationwide decision to close its borders to foreign travelers which went into effect November 30.
Mendez weighed 104 ¾ pounds for what will mark the third defense of the WBO strawweight title he has held since August 2019. Taniguchi (14-3, 9KOs) weighed right at the 105-pound strawweight limit for his second bid at a major belt. The 27-year-old southpaw from Tokyo came up short in a February 2019 challenge of then-WBO titlist Vic Saludar, who lost his belt to Mendez in his very next fight.
The event was among the few on the remaining year-end schedule in Japan to survive the cut. Two year-end shows—both featuring majoring title fights—were canceled due to the border shutdown as a precautionary measure to help prevent the spread of Omicron, the latest coronavirus variant which was first discovered in South Africa in mid-November.
Tuesday's show has yet to be picked up by a broadcaster in the United States. Inoue is promoted stateside by Top Rank, though no current plans are in place for ESPN+ to air the event.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox