Naoya Inoue guns for history: Undisputed unification vs Filipino champ adds to big year ender for boxing

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Boxing continues to deliver with top notch super-fights in 2023, with Naoya Inoue looking for a piece of undisputed history to close the year.

Naoya Inoue vs. Marlon Tapales set for undisputed title unification fight

Naoya Inoue’s next fight at super bantamweight is set, and the WBC and WBO champion will take on WBA and IBF champion Marlon Tapales to unify all four titles. As promoters recently announced, the undisputed title unification will happen on December 26, at the Ariake Arena in Tokyo, Japan.

The Philippines’ Tapales is 37-3 with 19 KOs and is a two division champion.

Naoya Inoue is a four-division champion, who is currently undefeated at 25-0 with 22 KOs, which is unprecedented in the lighter weight classes.

The Japanese superstar was the undisputed bantamweight champion before deciding to move up. He immediately took on the top of the division, knocking out Stephen Fulton to take two of his belts last July. Should he win here, he’d be undisputed champion in two divisions after just his second fight at super-bantamweight.

Naoya Inoue has a chance to make undisputed history

To give more context on what these champions are trying to achieve, it’s worth pointing out how undisputed champions are historically very rare thing in boxing. If Tapales is able to pull off the upset to become undisputed champion, he’d be the first Filipino to get that accomplishment, despite its long history of decorated boxing champs.

In the three-belt era that started four decades ago, only 19 men were able to unify all the titles. In the four-belt era with the WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO, that number drops to just seven.

The number of men to become undisputed champion in two divisions? Just one, when Terence Crawford beat Errol Spence last July and become undisputed in light welterweight and welterweight in 2017 and 2023.

Should the Japanese KO artist win, he’d not only join an exclusive club of just Crawford (and Claressa Shields for women), Inoue would be the fastest to accomplish that incredibly rare feat.

“It took me over four years to win all the bantamweight belts but it looks like I can win all the super-bantamweight titles within 2023,” Naoya Inoue said in Japanese. “It feels as if I’m making up for the lost time of the pandemic at a tremendous pace.

“I want to get to a place no future Japanese will think of reaching,” Inoue said.

Bilder des Jahres 2023, Sport 01 Januar Sport Themen der Woche KW02 Sport Bilder des Tages Boxer Naoya Inoue of Japan poses for photographs during a press conference, PK, Pressekonferenz in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan on January 13, 2023. Naoya Inoue has vacated his four belts (WBA WBC IBF WBO world bantamweight title) today and officially announced he will moved to super bantamweight. Noxthirdxpartyxsales PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxJPN (208069944)
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Boxing has flipped the old narrative with massive 2023

Boxing has spoiled fans in 2023, with the sheer amount of big fights, title unifications, and undisputed title fights we’ve already received this year alone. Just about every super-fight fans have asked for came to fruition recently, but it looks like we’re still going to get even more fantastic fights to end what’s been a banner year for the fans.

Apart from Inoue gunning for a rare achievement, there are also several more big fights coming up, from both the sporting and spectacle side of things. Here’s a list of some of them:

  • Amanda Serrano vs. Danila Ramos (Undisputed title bout, Oct 27)
  • Tyson Fury vs. Francis Ngannou (Oct 28)
  • Jerwin Ancajas vs. Takuma Inoue (Nov 15)
  • Shakur Stevenson vs. Edwin De Los Santos (Nov 16)
  • Katie Taylor vs. Chantelle Cameron (Undisputed title bout, Nov 25)
  • Ryan Garcia vs. Oscar Duarte (Dec 2)
  • Devin Haney vs. Regis Prograis (Undisputed champ moving up, Dec 9)
  • Jake Paul vs. TBA (Dec 15)
  • Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk (Undisputed title bout, rumored for Dec 23?)
  • Naoya Inoue vs. Marlon Tapales (Undisputed title bout, Dec 26)
  • Kazuto Ioka vs. Juan Francisco Estrada (In the works for Dec 31)

While undisputed title fights have been historically rare, it’s been different in recent years, as have been promoters and boxers’ willingness to take more risks and work with each other to put on big fights.

Fair or not, boxing had an old reputation for not putting on the fights that fans want because of “greedy” people involved, while MMA, led by the UFC, is supposedly doing the opposite. Boxing still has issues and challenges — such as longtime pillars in Showtime Sports and HBO leaving the business — but the sport in general has done a great job in completely flipping those old and out-dated narratives, while still getting their stars paid handsomely.

April 22, 2023, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA: Action between Gervonta ‘Tankâ€⠢ Davis (29-0 27KOs green trunks) and Ryan Garcia (23-1 black trunks) in their 136 pound catchweight bout at T Mobile Arena on Showtime Pay Per View. Davis won the bout by knockout at 1:44 in the seventh round. Las Vegas USA - ZUMAd151 20230422_znp_d151_038
Adam DelGiudice / ZUMA Wire, IMAGO

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Anton Tabuena


Anton Tabuena is the Managing Editor for Bloody Elbow. He’s been covering MMA and combat sports since 2009, and has also fought in MMA, Muay Thai and kickboxing.

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