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Stepping into the Ariake Arena in Tokyo on Tuesday evening, Naoya Inoue was the heavy favourite with both the crowd, and the bookmakers.
In fact, it’s rare that odds are as imbalanced as they were ahead of this fight: 1/10 (1.02) for Inoue to win, against Paul Butler’s 14/1 (15.00). Turns out the odds were this way for a reason, as Japan’s Inoue put on a dominant display of bantamweight boxing to defeat England’s Butler and claim all four of the WBA, IBF, the Ring Magazine and WBO bantamweight belts in front of a home crowd.
Here’s how this fight unfolded, and the implications of this win on the bantamweight division.
Glamourised Sparring Session for Inoue
There’s no easy way to say this—Tuesday night’s fight was a glamourised sparring session for Inoue.
Remove the crowd, the lights, the cameras and the referee, and this could have been any day of the week in the gym for Inoue. He was getting about his work, throwing his combinations and landing shots on an opponent who barely fought back and never threatened the Japanese fighter. In many ways, this was a frustrating match to watch—initially, it seemed as though Butler was looking to allude Inoue for the initial rounds, in order to lull his opponent into a false sense of security and strike when his guard was down.
Eventually though, as this fight went on, it became apparent that Butler simply had nothing in the face of Inoue’s speed and skill, and was shelling up and avoiding his opponent in an attempt to go the distance. The Brit nearly pulled it off—which would have been significantly against the betting odds—but was finally caught by a series of Inoue combinations in the eleventh round.
While Butler wasn’t knocked out cold, it was clear to the referee that Butler was unable to fight on, and the match was called a TKO in favour of Inoue.
Inoue Looks to Higher Glory After Achieving History
Speaking in his post-fight interview, Naoya Inoue proudly declared to the media that, “This is the proudest moment of my career.”
In defeating Butler, Inoue became the first-ever Japanese boxer to unify four belts across any weight division. Inoue addressed the historic achievement, stating, “I am honoured to become undisputed champion at bantamweight.” The boxer went on to declare his intentions moving forward however, declaring that, “This is my last fight at this weight. I am excited to see what is in store [at 122 pounds].”
The reality is, Inoue has achieved all there is to achieve at the bantamweight level. He is 24-0-0 with 21 knockouts across his career, which has been a decade of dominance. Having made history in this division, Inoue will now set his eyes to higher glory: Becoming the first-ever fighter to hold all four belts in two separate weight classes.
Watch this space, as Inoue’s first super bantamweight fight is likely to come in the opening months of 2023.