World champion 'monster' eyes bigger challenge in 2023

Japanese boxer Inoue 'The Monster' Naoya is one of the most exciting fighters in the world. His combination of speed and power has made him unstoppable in the ring, and in December he became the undisputed bantamweight world champion. This year, he plans to move up to super bantamweight. NHK World's resident boxing expert Imasaki Tsunehide breaks down what makes Inoue so special.

Easy title fight

In his most recent fight, Inoue took on Britain's Paul Butler, the reigning WBO bantamweight champion. Inoue was dominant, pummeling his opponent and moving him around the ring with ease. He repeatedly lowered his guard, as if encouraging Butler to take shots at him. Inoue eventually finished Butler off in the eleventh round with a flurry of body blows. He improved to 24-0 in his professional career and became the first fighter from Japan to unify all four major belts in a single division.

After the fight, Inoue appeared at a press conference with his four championship belts. He looked like he was coming out of a light practice. His face was unbruised.

"I fought aggressively so I'm a bit more tired than usual," he said. "But I feel good now with these four belts in front of me."

Inoue displays his four title belts after defeating Butler.

Unified champ

Boxing matches are sanctioned by four major groups, the World Boxing Association (WBA), the World Boxing Council (WBC), the International Boxing Federation (IBF), and the World Boxing Organization (WBO), with each awarding its own championship belt. This system is a source of frustration for some fans, as it creates multiple world champions and makes it difficult to determine who is the best. But if a fighter can unify all four, it leaves little room for argument. They become the "undisputed" world champion. Inoue is the ninth fighter to achieve this feat.

Special talent

I have been training boxers for over a decade, including several who have gone on to become champions, and have watched Inoue spar in person a couple of times. What is immediately noticeable is his speed. He is one of the quickest fighters in the ring, which makes him difficult to attack. One fighter I work with told me it is almost impossible to land any effective punches on him. Inoue also possesses devastating power and is capable of knocking out his opponent at any point in the fight.

But what really sets him apart is his adaptability. His fundamentals are impeccable, allowing him to match the strengths of any opponent. He is equally adept at fighting power punchers as he is boxers on the defensive, like Butler. He has a rare combination of natural physical talent and a fundamental understanding of boxing technique. This makes him a model for any aspiring boxer.

After the fight, Butler was full of praise for his opponent.

"[He] was accurate more than anything," Butler said. "The accuracy made the power."

Butler was impressed by the variety of Inoue's skills.

Some fans said Butler's approach against Inoue was too defensive and that he had to take more risks if he was going to stand a chance. But I think Inoue's stamina caught him off guard. Typically, a boxer loses speed and power as the bout wears on. Butler was probably planning to capitalize on this and start attacking in the later rounds. But Inoue did not slow down, forcing Butler to stay on the defensive throughout the bout.

Inoue plans to move up a weight class in 2023.

Next steps

Inoue says his goal is to become the unified champion in the super bantamweight class as well. That would make him the first boxer to become undisputed champion in two different weight classes. But Inoue seems motivated less by solidifying his place in history as he is by simply challenging himself as a boxer. He says he is most looking forward to the thrill of facing bigger opponents.

"I think it's important to stay motivated," he told NHK in an interview. "If you don't motivate yourself, you won't be able to improve. That's why it's important to fight against strong opponents and take on new challenges."

Inoue says his motivation to improve gives him an edge in the ring.

With his success in the fight against Butler I think he has achieved everything he could in his present division. He is eager to take on bulkier and more dangerous fighters that will keep him really motivated. I expect him to dominate his new weight class and continue to set new standards for boxing.