Japanese kingpin Naoya Inoue maintained his perfect pro record as he stopped the Philippines’ Marlon Tapales to become the undisputed 122-pound champion at Ariake Arena on Tuesday.
History-making Inoue, 30, unified the bantamweight division in the same venue 12 months ago.
He closed out his faultless 2023 by becoming only the second boxer to achieve undisputed status in two different weights in the four-belt era.
The legend of the Monster grew as he added The Nightmare Tapales’ WBA and IBF crowns to his own WBC and WBO titles which he captured from the previously undefeated Stephen Fulton in July.
Inoue floored the game Tapales in round 10 with a straight right hand and the Filipino southpaw failed to meet the count.
The KO artist derailed Tapales’ bid to become the first Filipino undisputed world champion as he triumphed in his 22nd consecutive world title fight assignment.
Tapales suffered the fourth defeat of his career but gave a stellar account of himself on enemy soil as he faced Japan’s box-office superstar in Koto, Tokyo.
The Filipino was tasked with trying to cause a colossal upset as a heavy underdog.
Ferocious Inoue was active and probing early on with Tapales keen to gradually work his way into the unification contest.
Tapales had a balancing act to play in opening up to land something of note on Inoue without leaving himself exposed to the power and speed of the Japanese ace.
Inoue pressed forward with greater ugency in the fourth round and got his reward as he landed two right hands to the body and a left hand to the Filipino’s temple.
Tapales was backed up against the ropes under a barrage of punches and buckled as he fell to the canvas for the first knockdown.
As the half-way point of the fight approached the visiting fighter had no choice but to be more willing to let his hands go.
Tapales obliged, playing his part as a game opponent, and found a way through with some potent shots to the body but his defensive vigilance was lacking at times which literally played into Inoue’s hands.
Inoue registered a pinpoint uppercut in the sixth while Tapales’ hands were down before the latter stepped things up in the seventh with some body shots but was unable to push back the unrelenting crowd favourite.
With undisputed honours on the line, Tapales needed to change something but Inoue was at his most diligent and refrained from offering any combinations as he became more selective with his shots in the latter stages of the bout.
Inoue landed a vicious right straight in the ninth round which drove Tapales back into the corner and history was made in the tenth when the masterful Japanese caught his Filipino foe with a straight right hand 70 seconds into the tenth round.
Tapales, who fought admirably and will leave Japan without his two titles but with his reputation enhanced, failed to meet the count and the superfight was waved off as Inoue climbed the corner ropes to celebrate.
Worldwide interest in the bout was illustrated by the fact that the Ohashi Promotions card aired live on ESPN+ in America, Sky Sports in the UK and on NTT Docomo, Japan's largest telecommunications carrier’s Lemino video distribution service in the host country.
Tapales fans were able to watch in the Philippines after Manny Pacquiao stepped in to link his MP Promotions with domestic broadcasters Cignal TV and Arena Plus to ensure the main event aired on free-to-air TV.
Post-fight Inoue said: “I’d like to give a big shout out to Marlon Tapales for taking that fight with me.
“I would like to thank everyone who supported me to make this fight happen. I think super bantamweight division is my division for now and I’d like to show you even stronger performances in 2024.
“I am so relived to be victorious against such a spirited opponent, I’m happy I could win in such a decisive manner by TKO. He never showed me any fatigue or showed any damage so I was surprised when I put him down in the 10th round.
“It was a very intense fight, which I’m not used to, but I kept focused,” added the 11-year pro.
All-action Inoue expects to be back in action in May.
“I think lots of people know about the rumour of a fight in May but I can’t say much about this yet. We’re in negotiations. I want to show you a great fight again.”
The co-main event was a spectacular 10-round domestic dust up between Kazuki Anaguchi and Seiya Tsutsumi for the Japanese bantamweight title and was also the final of the ‘Naoya Inoue Monster tournament’ organised by Ohashi Promotions.
Tsutsumi scored four knockdowns on his way to retaining his title and secured the 10,000,000 Yen bonus for winning the tournament in addition to his fight purse.
Tsutsumi and Anaguchi produced an explosive affair which was another great advertisement for Japanese boxing.
Champion Tsutsumi (10-0-2, 7 KOs) was second-best early on as challenger Anaguchi (6-1-0, 2 KOs) threatened to outbox his fellow unbeaten adversary.
Tstusumi sustained a cut above his left eye in the third round which sparked him into life.
A big left hand floored Anaguchi in round four and Tsutsumi grew in confidence as he started to mix up his levels and work the body.
Tstusumi increased the pressure on his opponent who started to wilt in the seventh round as the former aimed to turn the contest into a brawl.
A stiff right hand put Anaguchi down for a second time as he tried to go toe-to-toe with Tstusumi.
Anaguchi appeared to be fading under the pressure and was fighting on instinct in the closing rounds.
Anaguchi was down again in the ninth round from a right hand and suffered a fourth knockdown in the last five seconds of the tenth and final round as the challenger.
Post-fight Tsutsumi said: “I lost confidence after the cut in the third round, Anaguchi was so strong. I’m so thankful to my trainer and for his advice, I’m ranking third in the world now, my trainer said we’ll go out to the world after this.”
Elsewhere on the undercard, unbeaten Ghanaian-Japanese prospect Andy Hiraoka (23-0-0, 18 KOs) chalked up another win with a fifth TKO triumph over Mexican southpaw Sebastian Diaz Maldonado (18-7-1, 13 KOs).
Hiraoka said: “I’m so happy to get the win back here at Ariake,” before putting his division on notice.
“Any champion at 140 pounds, I’m coming for you.”
“I know this is going to be a very difficult path to get to titles because super lightweight is difficult for a Japanese boxer to get to the world class level but I’ll be the one.
“This fight was a good learning experience for me. I got caught a couple of times in the second round.”
Former kickboxing champion Yoshiki Takei, a stable mate of fellow Ohashi Gym fighter Inoue, improved his record (8-0-0, 8 KOs) by stopping overmatched Mexican Mario Diaz Maldonado (21-7-0, 9 KOs) who suffered his fourth defeat in five fights.
Takei made the increasingly common transition in Japan from kickboxing to boxing’s paid ranks in 2021 after relinquishing his K-1 Super Bantamweight title.
A regular feature on Inoue’s undercard’s, Takei made short work of his Mexican adversary with a body shot flooring Maldonado who failed to return to his feet and the contest was waved off in the second round.
Post-fight Takei said he was relieved to get the victory and that he hopes to enter the world rankings in 2024.