Naoya Inoue cemented himself as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world with a destructive performance: an eighth-round TKO of Stephen Fulton on Tuesday in Tokyo to claim the WBO and WBC junior featherweight titles.
Inoue, who was fighting at 122 pounds for the first time, dominated the first seven rounds before he wobbled Fulton with a monstrous right hand followed by a brutal left hook that sent him crashing to the canvas. The Philadelphian beat the count on unsteady legs, and Inoue capitalized.
The Japanese star trapped Fulton in the corner and unloaded with a barrage of shots that dropped the champion, as the referee halted the bout.
With one of the most impressive victories of his career, Inoue (25-0, 22 KOs) became a four-division champion (he won his first title at 108 pounds) and unseated ESPN's No. 1 boxer at 122 pounds in dominant fashion.
"The Monster" then welcomed Marlon Tapales into the ring. The Filipino holds the WBA and IBF titles at 122 pounds, and the pair are expected to meet this fall for the undisputed junior featherweight championship.
"Everything I was thinking about was to fight him this year," Inoue said in translated remarks. "... I am so happy right now."
Inoue, 30, won the undisputed bantamweight championship in December with an 11th-round KO of Paul Butler. He was then set to meet Fulton on May 7 before he suffered a knuckle injury that postponed the fight.
When they finally stepped through the ropes more than two months later, Inoue dominated from the opening bell. He established his pinpoint jab in Round 1, firing it to the body and head.
Fulton (21-1, 8 KOs) was hesitant to open up, likely because of the speed disparity. He covered up as Inoue blitzed him but also outboxed him from midrange. Inoue bloodied Fulton's nose in Round 3 and consistently pinned him on the ropes.
Inoue clearly won each round and Fulton didn't land many punches of consequence. His best sequence came in Round 7, when he counted on a pair of chopping right hands, but the combination had no impact on Inoue, who continued to push Fulton to the ropes.
Round after round, Inoue had his way with Fulton, who entered the ring a +290 underdog, per Caesars Sportsbook. The American impressed in three previous title fights -- including a victory over Brandon Figueroa in one of the best action fights of 2021 -- but was up against an all-time great.
Fulton, 29, was coming off a June decision win over Daniel Roman and now heads home without his two titles but with a career-high multimillion-dollar purse.
Controversy arose Saturday when Fulton's trainer, Wahid Rahim, raised concerns with the way Inoue wraps his hands. He threatened to pull his charge out of the bout if the issue wasn't resolved.
"In previous fights, Inoue and his team have wrapped his hands with an excessive amount of tape, and then applied more tape to the gauze which creates a cast," Rahim said at the news conference. "This is not an assumption. I have proof. We can wrap our hands in the same fashion, but then where is the level of safety for our fighters?"
Sunday, Inoue replied on social media, "Japan has its own local rules. Even in the United States, there are local rules depending on the state, and the [wrapping] method is different. Our fight will be held in Japan ... so of course I will follow the Japanese rules."
Rahim observed as Inoue's hands were wrapped on Tuesday and appeared to approve the method used.
With another big victory notched, Inoue will continue to chase greatness, beginning with a pursuit of a second undisputed championship.
He defeated future Hall of Famer Nonito Donaire in ESPN's 2019 Fight of the Year -- a bout in which Inoue fought through a fractured orbital bone and broken nose -- before he scored a second-round TKO in the rematch.
So far, no one has come close to unseating "The Monster."
Ahead of the fight, Inoue commented that he was "pushing the boundaries of my build, my limits."
That hasn't been the case yet, as Inoue, who entered the ring as ESPN's No. 2 pound-for-pound boxer, improved to 20-0 with 18 KOs in title fights.
Ramirez successful in first defense
Robeisy Ramirez retained his WBO featherweight title with a fifth-round KO of Japan's Satoshi Shimizu in the chief-support bout.
Ramirez, ESPN's No. 7 boxer at 126 pounds, floored Shimizu with a left uppercut and then forced the stoppage at 1:08 with a barrage of punches on the bloodied challenger.
The Olympic gold medalist from Cuba said on social media on Monday that the Cuban Embassy in Japan told the local network broadcasting the fight to prohibit the playing of the Cuban national anthem. Ramirez, who defected from Cuba in 2018, said the Cuban Embassy also demanded that he not wave the Cuban flag or have it displayed on his ring gear.
"Needless to say, I strongly denounce this vile attempt at intimidation," said Ramirez, 29. "I am a free man. The anthem, like the flag, does not belong to the regime. Both the flag and the anthem I carry in my heart.
"What they don't know is that far from silencing me, they have further motivated me to achieve success and continue to raise my voice and clamor for the freedom of my homeland."
Ramirez (13-1, 8 KOs) won the vacant title in April with a decision victory over Isaac Dogboe.