Naoya Inoue understands the criticism surrounding his latest opponent selection.

A desire to fight at home came with the decision by the pound-for-pound entrant and three-division titlist to accept the equivalent of a stay-busy affair in lieu of a blockbuster showdown. Just don’t expect Inoue to approach his voluntary WBA/IBF bantamweight defense versus Thailand’s Aran Dipaen (12-2, 11KOs) as anything other than the most dangerous challenge of his career.

“Japanese fans don’t want this fight for me,” Inoue acknowledged in a pre-fight promotion preceding Tuesday’s Abema Pay-Per-View main event at the famed Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo. “I don’t think fans want to see a fight against an opponent like this.

“This fight is to set up a title unification next spring. For that reason, I think this is an important fight.

“I am happy to fight again in Japan. One of my goals (for 2021) was to be able to fight in front of Japanese fans. I can only fight in front of a limited number of fans who come to the venue.”

Inoue (21-0, 18KOs) fights for the first time in his Japan homeland since a November 2019 win over Nonito Donaire at Saitama Super Arena. Inoue claimed a thrilling twelve-round win to unify the WBA and IBF titles while also winning the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament.  

Hopes of further unifying versus WBO titlist John Riel Casimero (31-4, 21KOs) were thwarted by the pandemic and have yet to be revisited. Inoue has instead defended his unified crown with knockout wins over Jason Moloney last October and IBF mandatory challenger Michael Dasmarinas this past June, with both taking place in Las Vegas.

Philippines’ Casimero hasn’t fared much better, having faced unbeaten but overmatched Duke Micah whom he knocked out inside of three rounds last September. The bout was his lone appearance since the pandemic until this past August, when he claimed a twelve-round win over lineal junior featherweight champ and former secondary bantamweight title holder Guillermo Rigondeaux in an unwatchable title defense this past August.

Donaire (42-6, 28KOs) has made his way back into the title picture following a fourth-round knockout of unbeaten WBC bantamweight titlist Nordine Oubaali this past May 29 at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. The legendary Fil-Am superstar returned to the same venue for his latest win, a fourth-round body-shot knockout of unbeaten WBC interim titlist Reymart Gaballo (24-1, 20KOs) in their title consolidation clash Saturday evening.

Casimero was also due to fight this past Saturday in a WBO mandatory title defense versus Paul Butler. The bout fell apart less than 36 hours from the opening bell, when the brash Fiipino reportedly suffered from gastritis in withdrawing from the weigh-in and the fight itself. Assuming he can provide medical proof of the ailment, Casimero will enter 2022 having to revisit his mandatory.

That would leave Inoue and Donaire to look to each other once again, as both are eager to further unify the bantamweight division. Both are not due to make a mandatory title defense, which leaves the door open for such a showdown assuming Inoue takes care of business on Tuesday.

“I’ve heard about a possible unification fight next spring,” notes Inoue, who makes the fourth defense of his IBF bantamweight title and third as a unified champ. “So this is a (tune-up) for a unification fight."

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox