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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Naoya Inoue is The Ring's 2023 Fighter of the Year

Unbeaten Naoya Inoue unified the super bantamweight division with an impressive performance against Marlon Tapales in only his second fight in the weight class.



Naoya Inoue
In December 2023, Naoya Inoue became the second boxer to unify two weight classes in the four-belt era. (KYODO)

Read the full story on SportsLook - [JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Naoya Inoue is The Ring's 2023 Fighter of the Year

In 2023, Naoya Inoue became an undisputed world champion in a second weight class, an accomplishment only one other man has achieved in boxing's four-belt era (since 2004). His name is Terence Crawford, the current world welterweight king.

Inoue whipped Stephen Fulton on July 25 (an eighth-round technical knockout) and stopped Marlon Tapales on December 26 (a 10th-round knockout). Both fights were staged at Ariake Arena in Tokyo.

With a perfect 26-0 record (23 KOs) in his illustrious career, Inoue's feats in the ring are legendary. And he's being recognized by some of the biggest names in sports media for his accomplishments in 2023.

On Friday, January 5, The Ring magazine named Inoue its 2023 Fighter of the Year. He is the first Japanese boxer to be chosen for the prestigious award. Global sports media giant ESPN also named Inoue its Fighter of the Year.

Since 1928, The Ring, the venerable American boxing publication, has presented its Fighter of the Year award, an honor first bestowed on heavyweight champion Gene Tunney.

Naoya Inoue
Naoya Inoue sits in front of a display of sports newspapers at Ohashi Boxing Gym in Yokohama on December 27, 2023. (ⒸSANKEI)

Among Asian boxers, Filipino Manny Pacquiao was the last to claim the award (in 2006, 2008 and '09).


Reaching the Top as an Elite Fighter

In 2022, Inoue, known to his fans as "Monster," confirmed what many boxing insiders have been saying for years ― that he's one of the world's elite fighters.

Inoue, who was born in Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture, and heavyweight Tyson Fury were named the WBC's 2022 Fighters of the Year. Just like in 2023, Inoue had two triumphant title bouts the previous year, dismantling Nonito Donaire via a second-round TKO in June and scoring an 11th-round KO of Paul Butler in December. Those victories gave Inoue sole reign in the bantamweight division (53.5 kg, or 118 pounds, weight class) as he held all four titles after the latter fight.

Naoya Inoue
Boxer Naoya Inoue is 26-0 with 23 knockouts in his pro career. (KYODO)

For Naoya Inoue, 2023 Marked a Fresh Start

But after conquering the bantamweight division, Inoue yearned for new challenges. So he relinquished the four bantamweight titles and moved up in weight in 2023 to super bantamweight (55.3 kg, or 122 pounds).

The timing was right.

Inoue's combination of punching power and speed is suited for the super bantamweight division.

Looking ahead, there's speculation that Inoue will fight as early as May against Mexico's Luis Nery. Inoue's handlers, including Ohashi Boxing Gym president Hideyuki Ohashi, have not announced official plans yet for 2024.

But Inoue said he'll put his faith in his management team to line up his next opponent.


"I'll just give my all to the bouts that get decided, [and] I entrust Ohashi-san with matchmaking and I'll look forward to whatever bouts I get," Inoue told reporters after his victory over Tapales.

Continue reading the full story, which includes news items on tennis, soccer, the Hakone Ekiden and more, on SportsLook.


Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven

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