Naoya Inoue may still have unfinished business at 118 pounds, but the Japanese dynamo apparently is already thinking about some of the more consequential matchups at 122.
In a recent interview, Inoue, the WBC/WBA/IBF bantamweight champion was asked to consider the possibility of moving up to the junior featherweight class in the near future and taking fights against the division’s champions in Philadelphia’s Stephen Fulton (WBO, WBC) and Uzbekistan’s Murodjon Akhmadaliev (IBF, WBA).
Inoue said he watched Fulton’s unification fight with Brandon Figueroa last September at Park Theater in Las Vegas, which Fulton won by competitive 12-round majority decision. Inoue pointed out that he did not believe Fulton (21-0, 8 KOs) showed the best of his ability in that performance, while praising his ability to maintain distance. The three-division champion predicted that a fight between himself and the Philadelphian would be akin to a chess match.
“I watched the Fulton-Brandon Figueroa fight,” Inoue told Daisuke Sugiura of RingTV. “Fulton is a technical fighter. He can keep his distance very well. I only watched one of his fights and I don’t think the Figueroa fight was his best, so I’d rather not say much more. If we fight each other, I think it will be a great technical battle. It won’t be an easy fight. Fulton has a long reach, and I think it’s about how (well I close) the distance.”
Added Inoue, “I haven’t sparred with any black fighters yet either. That’s also an unknown area for me. The black athletes tend to be physically strong. I’d love to fight them and feel their athleticism.”
Inoue (23-0, 20 KOs) admitted he was not as familiar with Akhmadaliev (11-0, 8 KOs). The Uzbek southpaw is coming off a 12-round stoppage of Ronny Rios in June at Tech Port Arena in San Antonio to retain his IBF and WBA titles.
“I haven’t watched much of Akhmadaliev yet, only a few highlights here and there,” Inoue said. “He has solid technique and is a strong fighter. I can see that he had a formidable amateur career supported by the Uzbekistan system.”
A future fight with either Fulton or Akhmadaliev is no guarantee, however, given the fragmented nature of the boxing business. Inoue, who is promoted by Top Rank in the United States, is currently the flagship boxer for Amazon Prime in Japan, while Fulton is backed by Premier Boxing Champions and Akhmadaliev is promoted by Matchroom.
Inoue said he would defer to his team as it relates to the matchmaking for his career.
“I will say who I’d like to fight, what I’d like to do but I’ll leave it up to my manager and promoter in the end,” Inoue said. “I’m not going to intervene, the rest is up to them.”
Inoue will attempt to collect the last belt in the 118-pound division by facing WBO titleholder Paul Butler of England in a full unification bout scheduled for Dec. 13 in Japan, according to a recent report by ESPN.