Fight by fight, it has become increasingly difficult to sum up Naoya Inoue‘s greatness.
Largely, that’s because “The Monster” won’t stop adding dimensions to his game or chapters to his storied history in a boxing ring.
When fans in the U.S. wake up before the crack of dawn twice annually to watch Inoue fight in Japan, they do so knowing he will likely win. Inoue was a -2000 favorite to defeat Marlon Tapales on Tuesday, per ESPN BET, and become undisputed champion at 122 pounds.
But to discover an athlete at the pinnacle of his craft is a sight to behold, and we know that what we’re witnessing with Inoue is special. Special because he barely loses a round. Special because everything seems so effortless for Inoue inside those ropes. Most of all, special because Inoue never needs any excuses. He just wins.
His unique talent was on full display Tuesday in Tokyo as he broke down Tapales in just his second fight at junior featherweight. Inoue dropped the 31-year-old Filipino in Round 4 and then for the 10-count in Round 10 to cement himself as the best 122-pounder — if not overall boxer — in the world.
Inoue entered the ring rated No. 2 by ESPN pound-for-pound, and there’s a good argument he’s No. 1. The 30-year-old made his 122-pound debut against Stephen Fulton in July and met little resistance against the division’s best.
Tapales was no different even after winning a couple of rounds (the scorecards were 90-80, 89-81 and 88-82 at the time of the stoppage). The question isn’t: How great is Inoue? It’s: Can anyone even compete with this guy?
Since Nonito Donaire heard the final bell in ESPN’s 2019 fight of the year, no Inoue opponent has gone the distance. And even Donaire didn’t make it to Round 3 of the rematch.
Paul Butler, whom Inoue defeated in December 2022 for the undisputed bantamweight championship, made it to Round 11 but did so by boxing carefully out of a high guard, as if to not present any openings. He lost every round before he was stopped.
Tapales actually came to win and connected with his snappy southpaw jab and some solid uppercuts, but it wasn’t nearly enough to suggest an upset similar to Tapales’ previous fight, a win over Murodjon Akhmadaliev.
Inoue isn’t just beating solid opponents. He’s dismantling the best fighters in his division even as his weight grows each year. From 108 to 122 pounds, Inoue hasn’t met anyone who can hang with him. And after rapidly climbing in weight, he told ESPN last week he plans to campaign at 122 pounds for the foreseeable future.
Inoue indicated the first defense of his undisputed junior featherweight championship is planned for May, and it’s likely to come against Mexico’s Luis Nery. Perhaps Inoue will meet Australia’s Sam Goodman after that. There’s a rotation system for unified champion, and that’s how the schedule plays out at the moment.
Nery and Goodman are both talented fighters. Neither is likely to present much of a challenge.
Inoue is peerless, a once-in-a-generation fighter who must be cherished while he’s fighting at the height of his power.
At some point, he’s likely to test himself at 126 pounds, but for now, let’s enjoy watching Inoue dazzle at 122 while we can. There aren’t many like him.