Add undisputed champion to Naoya Inoue’s long list of accomplishments.
The Japanese knockout artist stopped reluctant fellow 118-pound titleholder Paul Butler to win all four major belts Tuesday at Ariake Arena in Tokyo, becoming the first bantamweight and first Japanese fighter of any weight to do so.
“It’s been a long journey but … I finally made it. I’ve been able to reach the pinnacle by becoming undisputed champion,” Inoue said through a translator.
Butler (34-3, 15 KOs) didn’t allow Inoue (24-0, 21 KOs) to look spectacular until the final moments, more because he didn’t want to get knocked out than his ability.
POUND FOR POUND NO. 1️⃣
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) December 13, 2022
The Englishman used his legs to stay away from his dangerous foe at all costs and covered up like a frightened armadillo whenever he got near, which made Inoue’s mission difficult.
Inoue tried everything to get Butler to open up so he could land his lethal punches, going so far as to put his hands behind his back at one point.
Butler didn’t really bite. He was more concerned about surviving than giving himself a realistic chance to win the fight. So Inoue did what he could, which was to pound Butler wherever he could — his arms, his gloves and occasionally his body round after round as the underdog did next to nothing.
Finally, at the start of Round 10, Inoue seemed to get fed up. He seemed to have decided he could still stop his prey and fought with the urgency to do so.
He began to land punishing blows at a higher rate in that round and the next, as Butler, perhaps worn down, began to show signs of wilting.
The brutal end came when Inoue landed a vicious right to the body, a left to head and followed with a flurry that made a suddenly overwhelmed Butler buckle to the canvas.
The referee hadn’t even finished his count when he waved off the fight. Butler was clearly finished.
The official time of the stoppage was 1:09 of Round 11.
What’s next for Inoue?
His reign as the undisputed champion won’t last long: The three-division champion has said he will now move up to 122 pounds to seek out more challenges and titles in a fourth division.
That might not be easy. Two-belt titleholder Stephen Fulton, an excellent, experienced boxer with more confidence than Butler, is seen by some as a legitimate threat to Inoue.
Inoue punches much harder than Fulton, at least pound-for-pound. We’ll have to see whether his power is compromised by the move up in weight. At the same time, Fulton presumably would have the advantage of being the naturally bigger man.
You can bet Inoue would be favored to win that or any other fight, though. Many believe he’s the best in the business regardless of weight. He showed us why one more time on Tuesday.