Stephen Fulton and Naoya Inoue will fight May 7 in Yokohama, Japan, for Fulton’s unified 122-pound championship, Inoue’s American promoter, Top Rank, announced Monday.
ESPN reported in January the sides struck a deal for a May bout that will be streamed that Sunday morning stateside on ESPN+.
Fulton, 28, is ESPN’s No. 1 boxer at 122 pounds. Inoue, who is a major star in Japan, is ESPN’s No. 2 pound-for-pound boxer.
Nicknamed “The Monster,” Inoue unified all four 118-pound titles in December in Tokyo with an 11th-round KO of Paul Butler to capture the undisputed bantamweight championship.
Inoue, 29, announced in January that he would relinquish all four belts as he prepares to campaign at 122 pounds. A fight with Fulton will present an opportunity for Inoue to establish dominance in his new weight class right out of the gate.
Fulton (21-0, 8 KOs) isn’t simply the best fighter at 122 pounds; he’s also one of the best regardless of weight.
Fulton, who is from Philadelphia and has never fought outside of the U.S., is promoted by PBC, while Inoue is co-promoted by Top Rank, two promotional companies that rarely do business with one another. However, Inoue’s Japanese promoter, Akihiko Honda, drives the direction of the three-division champion’s career, especially when those fights are in Inoue’s homeland.
Fulton told ESPN in June that he believed a fight with Inoue was “realistic” if Inoue moved up to 122 pounds in time.
“I don’t shy away from big fights,” Fulton said then. “A lot of people want to see [me vs. Inoue]; a lot of people want to talk about that as well.”
Fulton and Brandon Figueroa were on a collision course for a rematch at 126 pounds after the WBC ordered the matchup in November for its interim featherweight title. Fulton scored a majority-decision victory over Figueroa when they met in one of the best action fights of 2021.
Inoue (24-0, 21 KOs) is one of the most dynamic fighters in all of boxing, a fighter with blinding speed who uses angles, punch variety and ring IQ to make quick work out of top contenders. He was involved in ESPN’s 2019 Fight of the Year when he pushed through a broken nose and orbital fracture to outpoint Nonito Donaire.
Inoue left no doubt in the rematch last June when he scored a second-round TKO of the future Hall of Famer.
Against Fulton, Inoue will certainly meet his biggest — and toughest — challenge to date. Fulton is a career-long 122-pounder who can box from both the inside and outside and often throws more than 1,000 punches in his fights.
Inoue, meanwhile, began his career at 108 pounds. Generational talents such as Inoue often aren’t pushed to the brink until they continue to move up in weight.
“The real battle starts from here,” Inoue said in January.