By Steve Kim Updated on December 26, 2023

2X Undisputed

Picture for 2X Undisputed

Naoya Inoue,staked his claim as the 2023 fighter of the year by halting the rugged Marlon Tapales in 10 rounds. In the process he added the IBF and WBA junior featherweight belts to his collection to become the undisputed champion at 122.

Which means that he is now a two-time undisputed champion. Last year he became the bantamweight king after chasing down Paul Butler. 

“It was one of the most intense fights I’ve had before, probably, but my corner cheered me up and kept me focused throughout the bout," said Inoue, who improved to 26-0 (23 KOs) with his latest conquest. He has now won titles in four weight classes. 

Picture for 2X UndisputedNaoki Fukuda/Top Rank

The Japanese superstar made the decision to move up at the beginning of this year, and instead of just dipping his toe into shallow waters, he ventured into the deep end by going right after unified champion, Stephen Fulton, blowing him out in eight back in July. He wasn't quite as dominant on Tuesday morning but once again he was able to show his wide array of skills by scoring two knockdowns of the Filipino, on his way to the late stoppage.

In the immediate aftermath of this result, debate raged as to who is the best boxer in the sport. You see many of these mythical lists have 10 boxers on them. But really the current list should consist of two guys: Inoue and Terence Crawford. This duo has clearly separated themselves from the rest of the pack (and Oleksandr Usyk will join this discussion should he topple Tyson Fury in the first quarter of 2024). 

Picture for 2X UndisputedNaoki Fukuda/Top Rank

'the Monster' and 'Bud' -- in any order -- that should be the list. That's it. Everyone else is just filling up space at this juncture. As for 'fighter of the year', given that Inoue performed more than once (and versus two unified champions) that he should be given the edge for this award. Hey, to me, activity matters. 

I wont argue with anyone's preference, there is no wrong answer. And quite frankly, it's not really all that important in the grand scheme of things. Both are multi-divisional champions who have climbed up in weight, have dominated their opposition, and are both the only current boxers to become undisputed in two separate weight classes. Every generation has a slew of very good-to-great boxers, then there are those in the upper, upper echelon.

You hear the term 'generational talent' thrown around a lot nowadays. At times it's used too liberally, because this term should only be given to the rarest of talents that truly stand out from the rest. For instance, while there NBA All-Stars, it's really only guys like Lebron James, who are truly 'generational'. 

Picture for 2X UndisputedNaoki Fukuda/Top Rank

When you look back at this era (from say 2010 on), both Inoue and Crawford will be among the very first names you think of in terms of talent and achievement. If they both retired today, they would be unanimous first-ballot locks for Canastota.

Going back to Inoue's effort with Tapales, this was a solid fight despite the end result. After a quick start that saw Inoue unleash blistering combinations in the early rounds, and a fourth round knockdown, Tapales, was game throughout. He actually found some success in the middle rounds as he adjusted from his high-guard stance, and began to bang Inoue downstairs. This was the most difficult bout he's had since his initial meeting with Nonito Donaire in 2019. 

Inoue had some issues with the slanted stance of the southpaw, but in round nine he started to loop his lead right hands, and then doubled up on them to pierce Tapales' defensive shield. Finally, two overhand rights early in the 10th frame caved in Tapales, who fell to the canvas. He was counted out by referee Celestino Ruiz. In defeat, while he lost his belts, a large measure of respect was earned by 'the Nightmare'.

Picture for 2X UndisputedNaoki Fukuda/Top Rank

He certainly got that from Inoue, who stated after their contest, “First and foremost, I would like to give a big shout out to Marlon Tapales, who took that fight with me.” The gracious Inoue later added, “He never showed me fatigue or damage from his face, so I was quite surprised when he went down in the 10th round.”

The rugged nature of this fight has Inoue thinking that 122 should be where he settles in for a bit. While some have already earmarked a move to featherweight, Inoue is having second thoughts about that. 

"I think {junior featherweight} is my weight class for now, so in 2024, I would like to show myself at {junior featherweight} in even stronger form," Inoue stated. While there are no more belts to go after, there are still solid guys like the notorious Luis Nery, 'MJ' Akhmadaliev and Sam Goodman.

Picture for 2X UndisputedNaoki Fukuda/Top Rank

So once again, just to remind you before we get out of here, it's Inoue and Crawford (or Crawford and Inoue) -- and then everyone else.

That much is undisputed. 




About Author
2X Undisputed
  • Hosted 'the Main Event' on KIEV 870, and then later XTRA AM1150 ( a three hour show devoted to boxing) from 1996 to 1999.
  • Joined one of the first boxing websites, 'House of Boxing' in 1999, and then later became one of the founders of Maxboxing, that started in 2001, till his departure in 2014.
  • From 2014 to 2018, he was the lead columnist for
  • Was a boxing reporter for from 2018 to 2020.
  • He has written for Ring Magazine, International Boxing Digest and Boxing News.
  • Is the co-host of 'the 3 Knockdown Rule' with Mario Lopez, which has become of the most popular boxing podcasts the past several years.
  • Steve has also served as an announcer and analyst for RingTV, Thompson Boxing, 360 Promotions and CBS Sports Network.