Naoya Inoue will return to the arena where he claimed undisputed championship status with the hope of repeating history.
The four-division champ is set for his full junior featherweight unification bout versus Philippines’ Marlon Tapales. Their lineal, WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO championship is set for December 26 at Ariake Arena in Tokyo. ESPN+ will air the bout live in the early post-Christmas hours, as Inoue aims to become the sport’s second male boxer to claim undisputed status in two weight divisions.
“The sensational Naoya Inoue astounds with every performance,” Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum said of the pound-for-pound entrant, who is co-promoted by Top Rank. “We are witnessing an all-time great fighter in the prime of his career. He has a very difficult task at hand on December 26 against a tough, powerful Filipino champion in Marlon Tapales, but I am confident ‘The Monster’ will pass this test with flying colors.”
Inoue (25-0, 22KOs) fully unified the bantamweight division with an eleventh round knockout of England’s Paul Butler last December 13 at Ariake Arena. The same location hosted his last fight, a brutally one-sided eighth-round stoppage of unbeaten Stephen Fulton to win the WBC and WBO 122-pound on July 25.
Tapales (37-3, 19KOs) risks his WBA and IBF titles as both boxers will attempt their first defense at the weight.
Inoue and Tapales both won their title in their most recent outings.
Tapales became a two-division titlist following a twelve-round, split decision victory over unbeaten Murodjon Akhmadaliev on April 8 in San Antonio, Texas. The 31-year-old southpaw previously won the WBO bantamweight title in July 2016 but missed weight and was stripped of the belt ahead of an April 2017 eleventh-round knockout of Shohei Omori. The latter win is one of four in Japan for Tapales over the course of his 15-year pro career.
Inoue now has the opportunity to make history for Japan in three consecutive fights.
The 30-year-old high ranking pound-for-pound entrant became the nation’s first-ever undisputed champion in the three- or four-belt era—and the first Asian to do as well—with his win over Butler. His conquest of Fulton saw Inoue become Japan’s first unified champion in two or more weight divisions.
It was already planned going into the fight that his next one would come versus the Philippines’ Tapales, whose immediate post-fight interview from his win over Akhmadaliev already targeted such a fight.
A win by Inoue will leave him as just the second male and third overall boxer in the world to fully unify all four major titles (WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO) at two more weights. Terence ‘Bud’ Crawford (39-0, 30KOs) became the first male to do so with his ninth-round stoppage of Errol Spence to become undisputed welterweight champion six years after having done the same at junior welterweight.
Claressa Shields fully unified the junior middleweight division by March 2021 and twice at middleweight, the latter full unification completed in her points win over Savannah Marshall last October 15 in London.
Tapales would become the first Filipino undisputed champion in the three- or four-belt era.
Inoue has a shot to become two-division undisputed in a span of just one year. His ‘Super Champion’ designation with the WBO will afford him the opportunity to immediately challenge for the sanctioning body’s featherweight title in 2024. However, Inoue’s current vision board calls for him to stick around at junior featherweight for the time being.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox