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Naoya Inoue becomes first undisputed Bantamweight champion in current four-belt era

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TOKYO, JAPAN - DECEMBER 13: Naoya Inoue of Japan poses after the technical knock out victory over Paul Butler of Great Britain in the IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO Bantamweight Title Bout at Ariake Arena on December 13, 2022 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)

Japanese Bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue made history on Tuesday, December 13th after his victory over former WBO world Bantamweight champion Paul Butler. Not only did the pound-for-pound fighter become the first undisputed champion in the current four-belt era (WBA, WBC, WBO & IBF), but he did so in style, knocking out British champion Paul Butler (34-3, 15 KO’s) by knockout in the eleventh round. The scorecards of the judges revealed that Naoya Inoue (24-0, 21 KO’s) was already wide-ahead according to all the three judges’ scores of 100-90. The undisputed bout was held in Inoue’s home country of Japan at the Ariake Arena in Tokyo.

Inoue’s performance during the match helped solidify him on the pound-for-pound list, and might see him even take the number one spot after he thoroughly defeated opponent Paul Butler. Before his eleventh round knockout, Inoue seemed overmatched for Butler who struggled to deal with the Japanese fighter’s intensity, speed, power and skills. While not content to sit back, Butler found his attempts either not hit their target or get defended thoroughly, preventing the Brit from getting into a proper rhythm on when the offensive.

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Japan’s Naoya Inoue (L) and Britain’s Paul Butler fight during their bantamweight title unification match in Tokyo on December 13, 2022. (Photo by Yuichi YAMAZAKI / AFP) (Photo by YUICHI YAMAZAKI/AFP via Getty Images)

When it came to defending against Inoue’s offensive arsenal, Butler likewise struggled. Not only was Butler outclassed in virtually every exchange between him and Inoue, the Japanese Bantamweight even showboated several times (as depicted in the picture above) to add to the eventuality of Butler’s defeat. To Butler’s credit, he never seemed to be bothered by what his opponent did in the ring and continued on with his gameplan, though that proved to be effective.

By the eleventh round, Naoya Inoue was undoubtedly ahead on the cards and seemed to be cruising to a comfortable unanimous decision win. Partially that was due to Inoue pressuring Butler early and decisively, but Butler also seemed to have no answers for the intensity Inoue fought with and he failed in countering Inoue effectively who gradually seemed to break Butler down over the course of the fight. After trapping Butler into the ropes, Inoue scored a knockdown after a vicious set of combinations, and the referee decided to stop the fight after determining Butler was unable to beat the count towards ten that followed.

Paul Butler’s latest loss is his third overall, while Naoya Inoue can celebrate another pivotal win, an unprecedented achievement in not just becoming undisputed at Bantamweight, but also being the first bantamweight champion to exist in fifty years. The Japanese fighter also retained his unbeaten status as a result of his win. Inoue has previously been a world champion in two different divisions; the Junior Flyweight and Super Flyweight division.

It is yet unknown which path Naoya Inoue will take but there are plenty of challenges ahead of him. Not only can he move up to prove himself even further, Bantamweight still has plenty of contenders that may prove to be difficult for him. In particular, Stephen Fulton (21-0, 8 KO’s), Super Bantamweight‘s current unified champion, is one prospective opponent for Inoue, but there are plenty other avenues Inoue can take.

In any case, Inoue has put on a performance worthy of the best, and has rightfully bred speculation as to who really is the pound-for-pound king.

What did you think of Inoue’s performance against Paul Butler? Can he be considered to be the #1 pound-for-pounder? Is Inoue the best boxer on the planet right now? Share your thoughts below in the comment section.