Just before he left for Japan, unified super bantamweight champion Stephen Fulton (21-0, 8 KOs) spoke with Big Fight Weekend’s Dan Rafael about his upcoming clash with Naoya Inoue (24-0, 21 KOs). The bout will take place at the Ariake Arena in Tokyo, Japan on July 25. Originally, the date for this fight was May 7 in Yokohama, Japan. It had to be postponed due to an injury to Inoue whilst he was training.
At the moment, Fulton is in Japan preparing for his clash with Inoue. You can listen to the entire interview and more on the “Big Fight Weekend” podcast below.
Excerpts from the Fulton interview
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Rafael: What was it that made you so interested in this particular matchup? You could have had other fights at your weight class or out of your weight class for that matter.
Fulton: It was an intriguing fight. It was something that made sense, as well as: why not finish the division off with a bang? I [have] also seen this fight, me being out in Japan, years ago. I’ve seen this. I feel like everything is meant to happen this way.
Rafael: You said, by the way, ‘finish off the division with a bang.’ Does that mean that after this is done, your intentions are to go to featherweight?
Fulton: I believe [Marlon] Tapales is mandatory to face the winner [of Fulton-Inoue], so I might as well go on and get that and then move up.
Writer’s note: The WBA has given Tapales, who holds the WBA and IBF super bantamweight titles, permission to face the winner of Fulton-Inoue. However, the IBF has not yet done the same.
Rafael: Can you explain to me why it was so easy, at least from the outside looking in, for this kind of matchup to get made so quickly with no drama, no nonsense, no A-side, no sides of the street, no nothing, it just got done?
Fulton: It was something I just wanted to happen, so, I was given the blessing. I feel like when you really want things to happen, two men just sit down and make it happen. And that’s what we did. Over the phone I spoke with Al [Haymon] and my matchmaker and all of them. And Al said ‘if that’s what you want to do, let him do it.’ Now we’re here.
Rafael: I have to assume, at least from your point of view in terms of the landscape of other fights that you could have pursued, I think this has to be the biggest fight from a profile standpoint as well as the money [for you], correct?
Fulton: Yes, correct.
Rafael: What is your opinion of Inoue? Those of us who have watched him for a long time, we view him as one of the best fighters pound-for-pound. He’s been a world champion in three different weight classes. The first undisputed bantamweight champion in literally, like, 50 years. What do you think about his talents?
Fulton: He’s very talented, skillful. He’s more known for his power than anything, but, he’s very skillful. From what I see he’s a smart fighter, but I also feel that no one was in the ring with him to challenge those mental skills with him yet.
Rafael: So you don’t think that a fighter that’s a Hall of Fame fighter like Nonito Donaire, in their first fight anyway, challenged him in that sense?
Fulton: I feel like in that first fight, I wouldn’t say Nonito challenged him mentally. I feel like Nonito was a dog. That’s what he wanted to do and that’s what got him hurt in the second fight, by him just trying to take the fight. He wasn’t being the smart fighter in the second fight. The first fight it was like ‘ah, it was a nice fight.’ But the second fight, Inoue was already used to his style, already used to him. He came in the second fight with more confidence. It was a good fight. I don’t feel like no one has challenged him mentally yet.
Rafael: I think most people recognize that his greatest attribute as a puncher is a body puncher. He’s just ruined guys to the body many, many times. I’m wondering when you’re getting ready for this fight and training for this fight, is that something you’re very cognizant of and how do you go about making sure that you protect your body against a guy like Inoue?
Fulton: I’m very aware of my situation and survival in any fight. I don’t just train, to train, I train for each fighter that I’m going up against. I feel like I’ll be ready and prepared to take on whatever he dishes out that night.
Rafael: What was the reason for such a long layoff and are you at all concerned about the time off?
Fulton: The reason is I was waiting to see what MJ [Murodjon Akhmadaliev] was going to do and they were prolonging it and now look what happened to him. Do I think it’ll be a factor? No, I feel like I actually gave my body enough rest. My body rest, my mind rest, not enough punishment for over a year. I feel like I’m going to come out fresh. When you fight, you win, get a couple weeks or months off, the first day back at the gym you spar, you look amazing. That’s how it’ll be.
Rafael: His [Tapales’] people say they’re going to be there ringside to watch your fight.
Fulton: That’s because they want a payday from Inoue. People just want to push me out the way, it ain’t going to go like that, though.
Rafael: If you beat Inoue, I think there’s going to be a pretty good payday for Tapales there also.
Fulton: For sure, but, you know how some people think. It is what it is. We’re going to get the job done, though. That’s what matters.
For more content from the interview and on Fulton-Inoue, be sure to keep up with the podcast. Big Fight Weekend will also be covering the fight in the days leading up to the clash. You can also read more of Dan Rafael’s work on his Substack Fight Freaks Unite.