In the early hours of Friday the 13th, Naoya ‘The Monster' Inoue announced that he has vacated his bantamweight titles in order to move up to super bantamweight.
It’s Friday the 13th, and although nothing spooky has occurred as of yet, we did have some news come from the Pacific as the undisputed bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue (24-0) has decided to vacate all of his titles and move up to super bantamweight. It was a move that everyone was expecting Inoue to make as it looked like he had outgrown the weight class he completely dominated.
The announcement to vacate the titles comes exactly one month after he defeated Paul Butler (34-3) to capture the “final infinity stone,” so to speak. It was a dominant performance by Inoue, and he further solidified his nickname, ‘The Monster.’ No one was surprised that he would perform like that as he is a next-level fighter, but we can all agree that Butler didn’t belong in that ring, and deep down inside, he probably felt the same way.
Early morning here in the states, which was late evening in Japan, Inoue took to his verified Instagram account to make this announcement. The undisputed bantamweight champion said (Translated by Instagram), “Today I returned these 4 belts that I collected after 4 years and 7 months. 2023, I’m going to take on the super bantamweights. HOLD ON SUPER BANTAMWEIGHT BULLIES!!!”.
We have all seen Inoue as this reserved person who keeps a composed look on his face but deep down inside, he is as fierce of a competitor as they come. He isn’t afraid to test his abilities against anyone and wants the toughest challenges.
WHO DOES NAOYA ‘THE MONSTER' INOUE FIGHT NEXT?
Normally with a move up in weight class, a soft touch or “feel out” fight would follow, but something tells me that the 29-year-old Inoue is not looking to waste any time and will seek out a title immediately. That’s where things are a little over the place. The biggest fights in the division would be against unified champion Stephen Fulton Jr. (21-0) and Murodjon (MJ) Akhmadaliev (11-0). Both champions would be incredible fights, but we have to look at the reality of the situation.
Fulton Jr. is with Premier Boxing Champions, while MJ seems tied to DAZN. I’m pretty sure DAZN would do anything to work out a deal and have MJ go to Japan for the fight. Fulton Jr. isn’t scared of ‘The Monster’ and told me at the Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis fight that after he fights Brandon Figueroa at featherweight, he isn’t opposed to coming back down. I asked him if it would be to fight a certain ‘Monster.’ He just smiled as his diamond-filled grill lit up the whole lobby.
Inoue is a star in Japan, but there is a huge opportunity to further elevate his star power by having him fight more often here in the states and on marquee events. Regardless of who he fights, it’ll be interesting to see if his destructive power comes up with him to super-bantamweight. In a time when our star fighters are only performing one to two times a year, Inoue needs to get out there two to three times this year and regain the steam here in the states he had pre-pandemic.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE VACATED BANTAMWEIGHT TITLES?
I have one name to look out for, and he is Juan Francisco ‘Gallo’ Estrada (44-3). ‘Gallo’ Estrada is coming off a narrow decision victory over Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez (51-4). Although he suggested a fourth Chocolatito fight, Inoue moving up and vacating the titles may be the opportunity Estrada was waiting for.
Let’s be honest, Estrada is 32 years old and isn’t going to get in there with a young gunn at this point of his career. The next move has to be a legacy one, and that would mean him moving up and fighting for the bantamweight title. Although many would say, Estrada is a Hall of Famer with his current resume, winning a title in another division would probably seal the deal for his induction into Canastota. Give me Estrada vs. Nonito Donaire (42-7) at bantamweight. That type of fight would merit the kind of purses that both men would be seeking.
We are barely into the new year, and all types of shoes are dropping to set us up for the year's first half. This feels like the beginning of an avalanche of news coming, so hang on to your seatbelts and be prepared for just about anything within the next couple of weeks.