Naoya Inoue will delay his pursuit of a fourth divisional crown long enough to chase history.
BoxingScene.com has confirmed that a deal has been in place for an undisputed bantamweight championship clash between Japan’s Inoue and England’s Paul Butler. The lineal/WBA/WBC/IBF/WBO title fight will take place December 13 at a location to be determined in Japan. ESPN+ will carry the event in the early Tuesday morning U.S. hours, while airing live on Amazon Prime Video in Japan.
ESPN.com boxing insider Mike Coppinger was the first to report the news.
Inoue (23-0, 20KOs)—a three-division champ and reigning bantamweight king—added a third belt to his collection following a second-round knockout of Nonito Donaire in their June 7 rematch in Saitama, Japan. Inoue defended his WBA/IBF titles while claiming Donaire’s WBC crown, becoming Japan’s first-ever three-belt titleholder in boxing history. He now aims to become the nation’s first-ever undisputed champion in the three- or four-belt era and Japan’s first undisputed champion in the splintered title era since 1975.
Making such history is the only reason he delayed a move to the 122-pound junior featherweight division.
“If the negotiations go smoothly, of course I would like to fight for the fourth belt and become the undisputed bantamweight champion,” Inoue previously told BoxingScene.com, though also already exploring a contingency plan. “I would love to stay in the division. If [a fight with Butler] can’t be done, then I am capable of moving up [to junior featherweight].”
Butler (34-2, 15KOs) entered the mix after claiming the interim WBO title following a 12-round, unanimous decision over Jonas Sultan on April 22 in Liverpool, England. The fight was made after the 33-year-old from Ellesmere Point, England was twice denied the opportunity to face John Riel Casimero, a former three-division titlist who held the WBO bantamweight belt since November 2019. Two failed attempts to honor his mandatory with Butler saw the Filipino stripped of the belt and Butler upgraded to full champ from interim status earlier this spring.
Butler was eager to land a major fight with Inoue, highly regarded among the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. BoxingScene.com learned that initial talks were rocky enough to where Inoue considered leaving the division altogether to begin his run at 122. Such a move would have left the WBA/WBC/IBF belts up for grabs, with Inoue’s intention to have younger brother Takuma—currently a 122-pound contender who is considering a move back down in weight—fight for one of available belts.
Progress was made before the two sides were able to come to terms, which BoxingScene.com learned was secured earlier this month.
Butler previously held the IBF bantamweight title, outpointing Stuart Hall in June 2014 before vacating in pursuit of winning a belt one division below at junior bantamweight. It proved futile, as Butler suffered his first career defeat in an eighth-round knockout at the hands of Zolani Tete in March 2015. Butler’s lone other loss came in a twelve-round decision to Emmanuel Rodriguez in their May 2018 vacant IBF bantamweight title fight.
Inoue has won his first major title at strawweight, doing so in just his sixth pro fight when he stopped Adrian Hernandez in the sixth round of their April 2014 WBC junior flyweight title fight. Two fights later, Inoue was a two-division champ after knocking out long-reigning WBO junior bantamweight champ Omar Narvaez in the second round of their December 2014 title fight. It capped a three-win campaign recognized by BoxingScene.com as the 2014 Fighter of the Year.
More than three years later came Inoue’s assault on the bantamweight division, beginning with a first-round knockout Jamie McDonnell in their May 2018 secondary WBA title fight.
Inoue officially became a three-division titlist following a second-round knockout of Rodriguez in their May 2019 IBF title fight during the semifinal round of the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament. He won the series outright after outpointing Donaire in their November 2019 classic, adding the WBA ‘Super’ title to his collection. Four knockout wins have followed, including his wipeout of Donaire in their three-belt unification bout in June.
Butler will enter his first multi-belt fight as a massive underdog, though riding an eight-fight win streak. The bout will mark his first outside of the U.K., while Inoue fights at home in Japan for the third straight time.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox