The best week of boxing in recent memory kicked off with one of the best big fight performances of the 21st century.

That’s a hell of a start.

In a performance that was reminiscent of Floyd Mayweather-Diego Corrales or Roy Jones-James Toney, Japan’s Naoya Inoue turned a highly anticipated showdown into a showcase. The thinking going in was Inoue’s power and explosiveness would be tested by the length, size, and range of Fulton.

Then the bell rang.

From the opening frame, some big things stood out. First, Inoue was bigger in the ring than Fulton, having rehydrated from the weigh-in to be the man with the thicker frame. Second, he was faster than Fulton. Fulton looked almost shell shocked through the first few rounds. It appeared he was faced with something completely different than expected and second by second it wasn’t the power of Inoue that was dictating the fight.

It was Inoue’s boxing skill.

Inoue outboxed, outthought, and outfought Fulton all night long. Inoue was better on offense, he was better on defense, he was better from the outside, mid-range, and handled the clinches fine too. His variance on the jab to the head and body, patience, and methodical application of power made the fight a schooling. 

Fulton posted a rally in rounds six and seven, making a case to at least having won a round or two, though it was possible to have had the fight a shutout before the end. Then came round eight and everyone was reminded why he’s called the “Monster.” The right hand and follow-on left hook ended the fight in practical terms. Fulton’s courage brought him off the floor but he found out what everyone has for going on a decade.

Naoya Inoue is special.

Futures: For Fulton, accolades for at least being willing to travel and take his crack at one of the sport’s elite will be a sour reward. No one wants to lose the biggest fight of their career. Less than that want to lose the way Fulton did. Fulton earned his place as the consensus top junior featherweight in the world and the gap between that and an all-time great at the peak of his powers was a canyon. Fulton will need to regroup but one should expect him to make noise at featherweight and remind people he’s a very good fighter. 

Inoue’s future course is clear. His next fight, barring a surprise, will be with unified titlist Marlon Tapales. The victor will be the first undisputed champion in the history of the 122-pound class (excluding its brief existence in the 1920s). That is a history that includes Wilfredo Gomez, Marco Antonio Barrera, and Erik Morales among other greats. Inoue is now only the second fighter in history, after Jorge Arce, to win belts at 108 pounds (credit to Lord of the Fly’s on Twitter for the reminder) and junior featherweight but Arce never walked through weight classes like this. 

Over the last nine years, Inoue has fought 4 guys ranked #1 or next highest after Inoue by TBRB, Ring or both when Inoue beat them:

    Adrian Hernandez TKO6 (108)

    Omar Narvaez KO2 (115)

    Nonito Donaire rematch TKO2 (118)

    Stephen Fulton TKO8 (122)    

This is uncommon dominance, only one piece of his dominance, and it’s not done yet. While Inoue missing the hardcore foursome at 115 (Gonzalez, Estrada, Sor Rungvisai, Cuadras) will always be a shame, if he can clean out multiple weight classes higher on the scale it’s more than an answer.

Already fans are wondering how high Inoue can get on the scale. There are only a handful of fighters in history that combine skill, speed, chin, and two-handed power the way Inoue does. This is a talent on the level of Jones and Leonard and Tuesday was the latest evidence. He will find his ceiling on the scale but before he gets there, sky’s the limit on what he can do to make his case with some of the great fighters that ever lived. Enjoy the ride. This is a genuine, generational talent.  

Cliff’s Notes… 

If featherweight titlist Robeisy Ramirez is Top Rank’s idea for a future Inoue opponent, and his placement on the undercard suggests he is, it’s certainly going to be something to get interested in. The Olympic gold medalist has bounced back from a career opening loss and is showing off a lot of talent. The level of opposition though isn’t impressive yet. While Inoue finishes unifying another weight class, Ramirez would be well served to seek a second title to start making a case as a real threat in public conscious…George Kambosos-Maxi Hughes wasn’t as controversial as some make out though Hughes did look the winner…Nonito Donaire has a chance to win another bantamweight belt this weekend. There is a very real chance that three titlists at bantamweight by August will be Inoue knockout victims. The other one is Inoue’s brother. That’s quite a lot of dominance in one area of the scale. 

Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.  He can be reached at