Terence ‘Bud’ Crawford and Claressa Shields are currently the only two fighters to fully unify two weight divisions in the four-belt era.
Naoya Inoue not only plans to join that short list but accomplish the feat in considerably less time.
Talks are ongoing for an undisputed junior featherweight championship between Inoue and Marlon Tapales. Both camps confirmed to BoxingScene.com that there remains work to be done but plenty of room for optimism for a four-belt showdown which is currently eyed for December in Tokyo.
Inoue (25-0, 22KOs) holds the WBC and WBO titles. Tapales is the unified WBA and IBF titlist and is the only current major titleholder from the Philippines, male or female.
Both boxers won their belts earlier this year. Tapales (37-3, 19KOs) claimed a twelve-round, split decision over previously unbeaten and unified titlist Murodjon Akhmadaliev on April 8 in San Antonio, Texas. More than three months later, Inoue dethroned previously unbeaten Stephen Fulton (21-1, 8KOs) in a stunningly one-sided, eighth-round stoppage of July 25 at Ariake Arena in Tokyo.
Inoue was just seven months removed from his eleventh-round knockout of England’s Paul Butler to fully unify the bantamweight division last December 13 also at Ariake Arena. The win saw Inoue become the division’s first undisputed champion in the three- or four-belt era and the first Asian boxer to accomplish the feat at any weight.
There is now a chance he could become a two-division undisputed king in the span of just one year.
Crawford (40-0, 31KOs) went nearly six years between full unification wins.
The three-division champ—and the only boxer besides Inoue with an argument as the sport’s mythical pound-for-pound king—knocked out Julius Indongo in the third round of their August 2017 four-belt clash in Lincoln, Nebraska. Eight fights and six years later, Crawford cemented his status as an all-time great with a one-sided, ninth-round stoppage of unbeaten Errol Spence to defend the WBO welterweight title and win the WBA, WBC and IBF belts.
Shields (14-0, 2KOs) stormed to undisputed middleweight championship status after her April 2019 virtual shutout of Christina Hammer.
The two-time Olympic Gold medalist needed just two fights to claim a second undisputed championship crown. However, the pound-for-pound queen had to wait nearly two years, as the pandemic slowed the sport to a crawl before she could get to unbeaten IBF junior middleweight titlist Marie-Eve Dicaire. Shields won the belt and the vacant WBA strap and defended her WBC and WBO belts in their March 2021 bout.
Shields has since returned to middleweight, where she retained her lineal/WBC/WBA/IBF titles. The self-proclaimed GWOAT regained her WBO belt in a ten-round win over Savannah Marshall in their thriller last October 15 in London.
Inoue and Tapales are both free of mandatory challenger obligations as none of the sanctioning bodies plan to order any such fights until after their targeted undisputed clash. Inoue had a two-fight plan to fully unify the division from the moment he moved up in weight earlier this year. Tapales made it easier after his win over Akhmadaliev, when he immediately called for the Fulton-Inoue winner and even entered the ring to join Inoue after his annihilation of Fulton.
Inoue-Tapales will crown the first-ever undisputed junior featherweight champion. The weight class was first introduced in the 1920s but never gained traction. It was reintroduced in the 1970s but has never had more than a unified titlist in the 47 years since its first title fight in 1976.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox