Three-belt bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue and WBO titlist Paul Butler are nearing a deal to meet for the undisputed 118-pound title.
The fight would take place on Dec. 13 in Inoue’s home country of Japan and stream live in the United States in the early morning on ESPN+, a source with knowledge of the plans told Fight Freaks Unite and Big Fight Weekend.
While the WBC, whose title Inoue holds, announced the fight on Friday, the source said while Inoue has agreed to terms, Butler’s deal had not yet been closed as they haggle over money.
There has never been an undisputed champion in the division in either the three- or four-belt era. The last undisputed champion was Panama’s Enrique Pinder, in the two-belt era, when he won a 15-round decision over Rafael Herrera on July 29, 1972 to take his WBC and WBA titles. He was undisputed until January 1973, when the WBC stripped him for failing to defend against Rodolfo Martinez.
On June 7, three-division champion “Monster” Inoue (23-0, 20 KOs), 29, knocked out Nonito Donaire in the second round of their rematch to retain his IBF/WBA belts and take the WBC title. He said after the fight he wanted to fight for the undisputed title next and Butler (34-2, 15 KOs), 33, of England, also said he was interested and willing to travel to Japan for what would be a career-high payday.
Butler has won eight straight fights, most recently a unanimous decision over late replacement Jonas Sultan for the vacant WBO interim belt on April 22 in England, after which he was elevated to the full titleholder. That was because John Riel Casimero was stripped after twice pulling out of defenses against Butler, the mandatory challenger.
Inoue is regarded as one of the top “pound for pound” fighters in the sport, is a Japanese sports icon and has also enjoyed success for Bob Arum’s Top Rank Boxing in the U.S., including two title defense knockout wins over Jason Moloney in October 2020 and Michael Dasmarinas in June 2021 in Las Vegas.