Naoya Inoue probably won’t be back in the ring until May. By then, he will have passed the ten-year anniversary of his first major title win, a knockout of Adrian Hernandez for the WBC light flyweight belt. 

Not many fighters can dominate their field for a decade. Inoue shows no signs that a decade is any sort of ceiling. 

The now-undisputed world junior featherweight champion might have lost a round or two to a game, and crafty, Marlon Tapales on Tuesday. He was never in any jeopardy of losing the fight. Despite a broken nose and orbital bone versus Nonito Donaire in their first fight, he was never more than briefly stunned there either and still won eight or nine rounds.

He is uncommon. 

One of these days, someone is going to push Inoue to the brink. It hasn’t happened yet and the Japanese marvel expanded his resume with his tenth round knockout of Tapales. It’s the fourth division he’s won titles in, skipping flyweight altogether. Tapales was his fourth consecutive opponent ranked in the top ten of their division by TBRB and The Ring and ninth in his last eleven fights. For his career, Inoue is now 13-0 against similarly ranked foes, a 50% mark for his 26-fight career. 

Of those thirteen, nine were listed as champion or top five in the class by one ranking set or the other (or both).

Relative to his divisions, he couldn’t be doing much more right now. He was the first undisputed bantamweight champion in some fifty years. He’s the first at 122 pounds ever. The hole in his resume at junior bantamweight, where he defended a title seven times but missed all of the “Hardcore Four,” gets smaller as he continues to dominate higher weight classes none of those mini-icons dared. 

Against Tapales, Inoue wasn’t as sharp or dialed in as he was for the Stephen Fulton fight over the summer. That was a superfight and he treated the spotlight accordingly. This was just another big fight for him and Tapales came with a very good game plan. Tapales was defensively responsible and, starting in round four, was letting his hands go to try to win. 

In round four, Tapales was dropped for his trouble. He bounced back, making a case in round five and arguably winning the seventh. Inoue was having difficulty breaking his guard and timing Tapales in the eighth but adjusted in the ninth and hit the accelerator for the last time.

The final thudding right for Inoue in the tenth scrambled the senses of Tapales, slipping just inside the left glove Tapales had so carefully placed all night to deflect the shot. It was a familiar sight, ending as almost all Inoue fights do.

Now, the rest of the cast at 122 pounds gets in line.

Futures: Inoue has made clear he’s not exiting the division immediately so the question will be how many fights he logs before what feels like an inevitable rise to featherweight. There are three opponents who stand out from the crowd: Luis Nery, Sam Goodman, and Murodjon Akhmadaliev. Nery is expected to be next and earned his shot with four straight wins since a loss to Brandon Figueroa, including wins over Carlos Castro and Azat Hovhannisyan. Goodman earned his shot by upsetting highly regarded contender Ra’eese Aleem. Akhmadaliev is a former unified titlist with wins over Daniel Roman and Ryosuke Iwasa.

In a perfect world, Inoue would fight all three next year if he stays at junior featherweight for all of 2024. He’s already beaten the consensus top two in the class. Those three would make it basically a clean-out, something he also accomplished at bantamweight before he left. We have all grown accustomed to seeing fighters jump around weight classes for belts. Cleaning out multiple weight classes is something more rare. 

In the meantime, three of the four major belts in the featherweight class will soon be under the Top Rank umbrella. The onus should be on those men to start to find a way to create a rival, and reason, for Inoue to rise. If we can get at least one unification bout (preferably a guaranteed war between Luis Alberto Lopez and Rafael Espinoza) at featherweight in 2024, there can be a new destination foe by late next year. 

The Raymond Ford-Oltabek Kholmatov clash, with both fighters in their mid-20s, will inject additional youth at featherweight. A fight with the PBC-affiliated winner of a Rey Vargas-Brandon Figueroa fight would probably have to happen in Japan but with a career high payday waiting, that’s possible too.  

There is a path out there for Inoue to stamp his place historically in his latest weight class before the possibility opens to pursue being the first undisputed featherweight champion since Vicente Saldivar retired for the first time in 1967. From this corner, the hope is this is the path followed. Inoue doesn’t have a singular elite opponent on the horizon right now so doing things that haven’t been done in decades, or things that have never been done before as he did Tuesday, is his best way to finish what is already an easy Hall of Fame legacy.  

Moving on from one successful knockout artist, we look back now on another who couldn’t find the bomb he needed.

Parker Derails Joshua-Wilder

Win and get in.

That was the task for both Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder last Saturday. They needed to win to lock in a long awaited showdown. Joshua, looking sharper than he had in his first two 2023 outings, thrashed Otto Wallin in the main event. By then, the pressure was off him. Wilder had already lost by veritable  shutout to Joseph Parker.

Because it was Wilder, an otherwise measured fight retained tension throughout all twelve rounds. Wilder losing round after round (after round) is nothing new. The number of rounds Wilder has won in the last six or seven years without scoring a knockdown can be counted on one hand. He lost a bunch to guys like Artur Spzilka and Gerald Washington and Luis Ortiz before lowering the boom. He lost most of the rounds in three fights with Tyson Fury. 

He scored four knockdowns in those Fury fights too despite never finding a way to win. 

The day was going to come where there wouldn’t be a lightning bolt. That day was Saturday. Parker fought the best fight of his career, working off the jab, keeping perfect distance, staying low, and being first. There was none of the tentativeness that has sometimes plagued Parker. He came prepared, focused, and showed off why he was once as highly regarded as any prospect in the game. The former titlist came up big and, at 31, extended his career as a top level heavyweight. 

Futures: Where that career extends is cloudy. Parker has already faced Joshua. They could do it again but nothing about the first fight would make anyone want to see it twice. It doesn’t mean a rematch would go the same way. Parker could certainly do better and Joshua, like Parker, has experienced turbulence in the years since. A shot at Fury, a friend and training partner of Parker, is now earned but may not be likely. If Oleksandr Usyk defeats Fury, Parker could certainly get lined up for a crack at Usyk.

For Wilder, there was talk after that fight that sounded like retirement is possible but don’t bet on it. It says here the richest immediate fight for both Wilder and Joshua remains each other. It’s the only fight Joshua can make outside a showdown with Fury that would dent the US pay-per-view market. While boxing is an international sport, that market is still the biggest pot of money in boxing when engaged. It’s also still an interesting fight. Parker didn’t get caught. It doesn’t mean Joshua wouldn’t. 

And with Wilder, that’s sort of the whole point. It’s not a matter of winning rounds. It’s a matter of what happens if he gets that right hand home. He might need a rehab assignment but don’t assume a Joshua fight is off the table forever.

That said, Joshua will surely have eyes on the Fury-Usyk fight. If Fury wins, there is reportedly a two-way rematch clause but that doesn’t mean Usyk would enforce it. We’ve seen rematch clauses vanish before. If Fury wins and a path opens, Fury-Joshua is a superfight that could fill Wembley Stadium or get the Saudi money flowing. Joshua’s win means options. 

Wilder will have to wait to find out if he’s still one.     

Cliff’s Notes…

Dmitry Bivol might never be a finisher but good luck beating him. The showdown remains the same now as it has been for a half decade. We need to see Bivol against the winner of Callum Smith-Artur Beterbiev…Jai Opetaia would be interesting at heavyweight…Daniel Dubois gritted his teeth, eventually relaxed, and saved his career with his win over Jarell Miller. Miller, notorious for gross violations of the PED policy, made a good scrap of it but him being eliminated from being a contender isn’t a bad thing for the sport.  

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