Sunday, December 11, 2022

Inoue-Butler: Who Will Be Undisputed?

Longtime readers know that a consistent feature every year on this observer’s annual “Boxing Wishlist” that usually begins the schedule at the start of a new year here on The Boxing Truth® that usually ranks near the top of the list, perhaps only outranked by a sincere desire to see the outdated and often inflated pay-per-view model done away with in favor of more economically reasonable subscription-based alternatives, is a wish to eventually see one undisputed world champion crowned in each of Boxing’s seventeen weight divisions. While much like my stance on the pay-per-view model doing more harm to the sport of Boxing than it does to benefit it or the fighters that compete in it, the wish to see one undisputed world champion determined per weight class is something that most fans would probably view as wishful thinking and not realistic. Although it is indeed true that due to the various political aspects that are involved in the sport, including, but not limited to multiple sanctioning organizations, rival promoters, and yes competing television networks that all too often get in the way of fights of significant interest amongst the public being made, much less the task of unifying divisions on both the male and female sides of the sport, there has been gradual progress made in recent years for both men and women in determining one world champion in various divisions.

Despite the fact that the subject of determining one world champion per weight class is a broad one that will continue to be touched upon by yours truly at various times when circumstances warrant it and will unfortunately remain a fixture on this observer’s “Boxing Wishlist” for likely many years to come due to the aforementioned factors, gradual progress is indeed better than no progress at all and for a sport that is all too often surrounded by negatives and at times out right ridiculed for such, anyone that truly has the sport’s best interest at heart should look at any progress in this area as a win for Boxing.

As the remainder of the 2022 Boxing schedule continues to wind down, such progress will continue, this time in the 118lb. Bantamweight division as world champions Nayoya Inoue and Paul Butler will meet to determine the Undisputed Bantamweight championship of the world on Tuesday, December 13th at the Ariake Arena in Tokyo, Japan. The fight, which can be seen here in the United States during the early morning hours on digital subscription sports streaming network ESPN+ also continues to show progress in the fact that a fight like this in one of the sport’s lighter divisions is being made available to American audiences. Something that prior to the advent of streaming technology and subscription-based sports networks like ESPN+ and DAZN was not always the case.

One could perhaps make a viable argument that a reason for that as it relates to this particular fight beyond that it will be for an undisputed world championship is the undefeated WBA/IBF/WBC world champion Nayoya Inoue. Although Inoue is actually a three-division world champion , his run in the 118lb. Bantamweight division has exposed him to American Boxing fans due in part to his being co-promoted by Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum’s Top Rank, Inc., who has an exclusive broadcast deal with ESPN. Some may also recall that Inoue emerged as a unified world champion in winning the Bantamweight tournament in the first season of the highly-acclaimed World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) tournaments.

In was in the finals of that tournament where Inoue faced the toughest test of his career in multi-division world champion Nonito Donaire in November 2019. Despite his nickname as “The Monster” and his having carved a reputation as a feared “Knockout Artist,” the veteran Donaire was able to provide Inoue with a battle in what turned out to be one of the best fighter of 2019 that saw Inoue earn a hard fought twelve round unanimous decision.

Since that grueling war, Inoue has continued to score highlight reel knockouts of whomever is put before him. Perhaps both because of Inoue’s ability to score what are often brutal knockouts and the fact that Donaire was really the first fighter to provide significant resistance against him, that a rematch between the two would take place at some point. The second encounter between Inoue and Donaire took place in June of this year, but unlike the toe to toe battle we saw in 2019, Inoue would add Donaire to his list of knockout victims in scoring a brutal second round knockout to add the WBC world championship to his unified crown.

Although Inoue made a statement by knocking out the future Hall of Famer Donaire in devastating fashion and in the process, should have removed any questions that might have been following their first bout three years earlier, I found myself asking one question in the aftermath of that rematch, is there anyone at 118lbs. that can stop this destructive force?

Perhaps the last man standing that can try to answer that question before Inoue likely sets his sights on moving up to the 122lb. Jr. Featherweight division, is the man who will be standing across the ring from him on December 13th in the form of WBO Bantamweight world champion Paul Butler. Butler, a veteran of thirty-six professional fights will have an experience edge over the twenty-three fight veteran Inoue. Butler’s reign as WBO champion only began in April of this year and one might question the wisdom in taking a fight for an undisputed championship so quickly after winning a world championship, despite it being likely the most lucrative bout of his career.

The United Kingdom-based Butler will nevertheless be the visiting fighter as this bout will take place on Inoue’s home turf in Japan. How can Butler pull off what some would call a major upset in this fight? In thinking of how this fight could be fought, I consistently thought of one scenario Butler could attempt to implement. He must try to establish himself as an elusive target from the outset. Nayoya Inoue is a fighter with a seek and destroy mentality that comes forward and looks to cut the ring off from his opponent and set up opportunities to end a fight as quickly as possible. Of  twenty-three career wins, only three fighters managed to go the distance with Inoue. This statistic along with his near 87% career knockout percentage suggests that the fight plan for Inoue will be the same as virtually all his previous fights, press forward, attempt to walk Butler down and land power shots with the intent to end the fight early. Although easier said than done, Butler must be elusive, try to pick his spots, use lateral movement to try and evade Inoue as he comes forward, and resist going toe to toe with him at all times if he wants to be successful.

Ultimately, there are likely some that view this fight as a mere footnote in the career of Nayoya Inoue as he likely looks ahead to the Jr. Featherweight division in the not too distant future. This fight nevertheless does represent the first time that there will be an undisputed world champion in the modern era in the 118lb. Bantamweight division and regardless of what may happen down the line, there is history that will be made. No matter what happens, the sport of Boxing will be elevated, if it turns out to be a great fight that some may not expect as well, even better.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

Inoue vs. Butler takes place on Tuesday, December 13th at the Ariake Arena in Tokyo, Japan. The fight can be seen in the United States on digital subscription sports streaming network ESPN+ beginning at 2:30AM ET/11:30PM PT and will be available for on demand viewing shortly after the conclusion of the event. ESPN+ is available on the ESPN app on mobile, tablet, and connected streaming devices/Smart TVs. For more information about ESPN+ including schedules, list of compatible streaming devices, platforms, Smart TVs, and to subscribe please visit: *Check your local listings internationally.

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