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Naoya Inoue vs Stephen Fulton: Where ‘The Monster’ Ranks Among Japan’s Greatest All-Time Boxers

As fight fans brace themselves for pound-for-pound star Naoya Inoue to make his super bantamweight debut against WBC and WBO champ Stephen Fulton at the Ariake Arena in Tokyo, the debates about his fistic greatness continue on social media and beyond.

Known as “The Monster”, Inoue developed into one of boxing’s premier knockout artists after turning professional in 2012. The marauding three-weight world champion has knocked out 21 of 24 opponents and has never tasted defeat. Only legendary ex-champ Nonito Donaire has provided him with a stern test, in 2019, but “The Filipino Flash” paid for his temerity in the rematch, which Inoue won via crushing second-round stoppage.

Inoue has blinding speed, crushing power, and perfect technique. With those three attributes at his disposal, he frequently leaves fans with their mouths agape and has been referred to more than once as a mini-Mike Tyson. Are we drenching Inoue in hyperbole? Maybe, but you can’t blame fans and experts for being excited.

“Who was the best ever?” is probably the most frequently asked question in all of sports, not just boxing. From football to basketball, from soccer to rugby, from tennis to golf, myriad fans will throw out “best ever” opinions like confetti. It’s always a fun debate and it’s as old as sport itself.

So, is Inoue the greatest Japanese fighter of all time?

Inoue’s list of accomplishments, combined with a glistening unbeaten record, has probably trumped the likes of Kuniaki Shibata, Guts Ishimatsu, and Shinsuke Yamanaka. These fighters aren’t household names, but they were terrific world champions who posted career-defining triumphs at the top level.

Inoue is considered the cream of the crop in today’s stacked era, which includes brilliant world champs such as Kazuto Ioka, Kenshiro Teraji, and Junto Nakatani among others.

It’s when Inoue is compared to Fighting Harada where one has to be careful with “best ever” comments. Harada, like Inoue, was an undisputed bantamweight champion during a golden era. How golden? Well, in his first world title fight, the Japanese hero was matched against Eder Jofre, who remains the consensus choice for greatest bantamweight of all time. The Brazilian was 47-0-3 (37 KOs) when Harada outpointed him in May 1965. The Tokyo-based champ would make four successful defences of the title, which included a rematch win over Jofre in May 1966.

With that kind of history, it would be disrespectful to put Inoue on a pedestal right now. In terms of his career, we’re two acts into a three-act play, so we don’t know the ending. That’s why “best ever” comments should be embargoed until such time as the fighters you’re comparing have both retired.

Even then, it’ll be a matter of opinion, rather than a statement of fact.

One thing is for sure, however, Inoue has a perfect trajectory right now, and if he beats Fulton, then his legacy will be bolstered even further. Somewhere within the next five years or so, we can revisit The Monster’s standing as Japan’s greatest-ever fighter.

For now, let’s just enjoy the journey and see how his career unfolds.

Source : Sporting News