The final week of the year has been reserved to crown boxing’s next male undisputed champion.
BoxingScene.com has confirmed that event handlers have set aside December 26 to stage the Naoya Inoue-Marlon Tapales full unification bout. The pair of unified junior featherweight titlists will meet at a yet-to-be-revealed venue in Tokyo, as confirmed during the Ratings portion of the WBO’s 36th annual convention Thursday in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
The winner will become the division’s first-ever undisputed champion since the division’s reinstatement in 1977 after briefly existing in the early 1920s.
Yokohama’s Inoue (25-0, 22KOs) will put his WBC and WBO 122-pound belts at stake, while the Philippines’ Tapales (37-3, 19KOs) risks his WBA and IBF titles. Both boxers will attempt their first defense at the weight, as both claimed their divisional straps earlier this year in separate bouts.
Tapales became a two-division titlist following a twelve-round, split decision victory over unbeaten Murodjon Akhmadaliev on April 8 in San Antonio, Texas. The 31-year-old southpaw previously won the WBO bantamweight title in July 2016 but missed weight and was stripped of the belt ahead of an April 2017 eleventh-round knockout of Shohei Omori. The latter win is one of four in Japan for Tapales over the course of his 15-year pro career.
Inoue now has the opportunity to make history for Japan in three consecutive fights.
The 30-year-old high ranking pound-for-pound entrant became the nation’s first-ever undisputed champion in the three- or four-belt era—and the first Asian to do as well—after his eleventh-round knockout of England’s Paul Butler to fully unify the bantamweight division last December at Ariake Arena in Tokyo.
The same venue saw Inoue became Japan’s first boxer to earn unified title status at two or more weights just seven months later. He did so in destructive fashion after a one-sided, eighth-round knockout of unbeaten WBC/WBO 122-pound titlist Stephen Fulton on July 25, and became Japan’s second male boxer to win at least one title at four weights in the process.
It was already planned going into the fight that his next one would come versus the Philippines’ Tapales, whose immediate post-fight interview from his win over Akhmadaliev already targeted such a fight.
A win by Inoue will leave him as just the second male and third overall boxer in the world to fully unify all four major titles (WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO) at two more weights. Terence ‘Bud’ Crawford (39-0, 30KOs) became the first male to do so with his ninth-round stoppage of Errol Spence to become undisputed welterweight champion six years after having done the same at junior welterweight.
Claressa Shields fully unified the junior middleweight division by March 2021 and twice at middleweight, the latter full unification completed in her points win over Savannah Marshall last October 15 in London.
Tapales would become the first Filipino undisputed champion in the three- or four-belt era.
Inoue has a shot to become two-division undisputed in a span of just one year. His ‘Super Champion’ designation with the WBO will afford him the opportunity to immediately challenge for the sanctioning body’s featherweight title in 2024. However, Inoue’s current vision board calls for him to stick around at junior featherweight for the time being.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox