Already the true lineal champion at bantamweight, Naoya Inoue wouldn’t mind sticking around to collect the division’s final chip.
The unbeaten three-division champ added to his pound-for-pound accolades with a second-round knockout of Nonito Donaire in their rematch Tuesday evening local time at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. Inoue now holds the WBA, WBC and IBF titles, the first-ever boxer from Japan to serve as a three-belt titlist and having won the WBA and WBC belts from Donaire (42-7, 28KOs) in separate bouts.
The lone remaining titlist at the weight is Liverpool’s Paul Butler, who holds the WBO belt. It’s not exactly a dream fight for Inoue in terms of name value but relevant enough to where he can make 118 at least one more time.
“If the negotiations go smoothly, of course I would like to fight for the fourth belt and become the undisputed bantamweight champion,” Inoue told BoxingScene.com prior to his win over Donaire.
Negotiating such a fight would seem easy in principle but could prove to be another matter behind the scenes. The same parties involved in Tuesday’s rematch with Donaire would be involved in a fight between Inoue (23-0, 20KOs) and Butler (34-2, 15KOs), the latter who for the moment fights under the Probellum banner.
Probellum co-founder and promoter Richard Schaefer took the lead in securing the Inoue rematch for Donaire, negotiating with Inoue’s promoters in Japan. A deal was reached, though requiring Top Rank—who holds U.S. rights to Donaire—to be involved for the fight to air on ESPN+ in the United States (Amazon Prime Video presented the event in Japan).
U.K. streaming rights were limited to the fight being presented on Top Rank’s YouTube channel. Top Rank has a rights deal with Sky Sports, who did not air Tuesday’s event. Sky has not aired any show involving a fighter from Probellum or the now-defunct MTK Global since U.S. sanctions were imposed on accused crime lord Daniel Kinahan in April. As previously reported by BoxingScene.com, boxers under the UK-based Boxxer Limited promotional banner are now required to sign a document confirming they don’t have any ties to Kinahan.
Probellum and MTK were not named as companies linked to Kinahan by the U.S. Treasury Department, though both companies were identified as off limits for any Boxxer-promoted event that airs on Sky Sports.
Top Rank founder and Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum alleged in prior interviews that Kinahan was directly involved with Probellum. Naturally, the claim was refuted by Probellum staff while providing the latest entry in the longtime on-again-off-again feud between Arum and Schaefer dating back to when Schaefer headed Golden Boy Promotions.
The workaround for Butler would be for trainer Joe Gallagher—also works as a manager and promoter with other fights—to take the lead in negotiations. Should an obstacle still exist, it will simply be on to a run at a fourth divisional title for arguably the sport’s top pound-for-pound talent.
“I would love to stay in the division,” Inoue stated after registering his fourth consecutive knockout. “If [a fight with Butler] can’t be done, then I am capable of moving up [to junior featherweight].”
Inoue previously outpointed Donaire in their hellacious November 2019 bout which also took place at Saitama Super Arena. Inoue entered the fight as the IBF titlist, winning the WBA belt from Donaire and now snatching the WBC belt from the Fil-Am superstar and future Hall of Famer.
Butler outpointed Jonas Sultan over twelve rounds earlier to win an interim WBO title earlier this spring. His reign was upgraded in the wake of John Riel Casimero—who was twice unable to defend versus Butler—deemed unfit by the WBO to continue his reign after twice failing to honor his mandatory title obligations.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox