Stephen Fulton Jr. (21-1, 8 KOs) and Naoya Inoue (25-0, 22 KOs) finally clashed at the Ariake Arena in Tokyo, Japan. The bout was for Fulton’s WBC and WBO super bantamweight titles. Inoue outboxed and dropped Fulton twice before the fight was called off with a 1:14 left in the contest.
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) July 25, 2023
With the win, Inoue is champion in a fourth weight class. Previously, he was a champion at light flyweight, super flyweight, and undisputed at bantamweight.
Originally, this bout was meant for May 7 at the Yokohama Arena. However, a training injury to Inoue meant that the fight had to be postponed. As a result, the entire card was moved to July 25. Other than the date and venue, nothing else about the event was changed.
Fulton vs. Inoue fight recap
The fight began tentatively with neither overexerting themselves. Both maintained their distance in the opening round. Inoue used his jab to keep a safe distance from Fulton. Fulton was generally on the back foot in the first two rounds, parrying or clinching whenever Inoue landed power shots. In round three, Fulton started to come forward to Inoue. He began to show better work but also had blood dripping from his nose. This became more prominent in round four.
Fulton started to land cleaner in round five, but also had to deal with Inoue’s jabs to the body and combinations to the head. Inoue started to land cleaner and harder as the rounds went on. Despite Fulton’s best work, he just was not able to dent “The Monster.” Throughout the fight, it seemed like Inoue’s punches impacted Fulton more than vice versa.
The beginning of the end began in round eight. Inoue landed a left jab to the body, followed by a straight right to the head. He then landed a left hook that dropped Fulton for the first time in the fight. Fulton got up, but was clearly hurt. With roughly 90 seconds remaining in the round, Inoue backed Fulton into a corner and threw a barrage of punches. The referee waved off the fight just as Fulton went down to the canvas again.
“Last year I became undisputed champion (bantamweight). I returned all the belts to become a super Bantamweight. Everything I was thinking about, all in mind, was against him (Fulton),” Inoue said in the ring. “Thank you so much for accepting this fight, once again. I am so happy right now.”
The win was an amazing 21st straight for Inoue in world title fights. He had become undisputed bantamweight champ in December with a TKO of England’s Paul Butler. Tuesday’s stoppage of Fulton means he’s stopped 14 of his last 15 opponents.
Ramirez vs. Shimizu fight recap
The ESPN+ broadcast included three additional fights. Just before the main event, Robeisy Ramirez (12-1, 7 KOs) made the first defense of his WBO featherweight title against Satoshi Shimizu (11-1, 10 KOs). Both men had success in the amateurs, with Shimizu being a 2012 Olympic bronze medalist and Ramirez winning gold at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.
Ramirez began strongly, landing almost at will but not overexerting himself. Shimizu struggled with the movement and jab of Ramirez throughout the bout. In round four, Ramirez attempted to overwhelm Shimizu towards the end. However, Shimizu was able to remain standing. In round five, Ramirez once again picked up the pace and was rewarded with a knockdown. A left uppercut followed by a left hook (that landed as Shimizu was nearly on the canvas) sent Shimizu down. Shimizu got up but was bleeding from the nose. Ramirez continued to pummel Shimizu, resulting in the referee stopping the bout with 1:52 remaining in the fifth round.
There was some controversy going into this fight. In a tweet posted to Twitter, Ramirez claimed that the Cuban embassy in Japan contacted broadcasters and asked them to not play the Cuban national anthem at the event. Ramirez also claims that the embassy also demanded that he not display the Cuban flag on his uniform or anywhere else. In the tweet, Ramirez denounced the embassy’s demands. Just before their bout, the Cuban and Japanese national anthems were not played. Ramirez also did not have the Cuban flag on his uniform or elsewhere. However, he did post a picture of himself standing next to the flag on Twitter.
Other undercard fights
The second fight of the night featured a light flyweight bout between Kanamu Sakama (8-0, 7 KOs) and Ryu Horikawa (3-2-2, 1 KO). Throughout the fight, Horikawa was game but just did not have enough power to bother his opponent. Sakama landed the cleaner punches got the stoppage with 20 seconds remaining in the final round. Horikawa was clearly shaken by a series of punches and was trying to keep away from Sakama during the final minute of round eight. With Horikawa still standing, the referee waved the fight off.
Opening the broadcast was a bantamweight clash between Yoshiki Takei (7-0, 7 KOs) and Ronnie Baldonado (16-5-1, 9 KOs). The bout started off cagey but did not last long, ending in the third round. Takei landed a body shot that sent Baldonado to the canvas. Baldonado did not beat the count and Takei won via third round knockout. Kickboxing fans may remember Takei from his time in K-1. For nearly three years, he held the K-1 super bantamweight championship. He embarked on a boxing career in early 2021.