Inoue captures undisputed bantamweight title

Naoya Inoue, ESPN’s No. 2 pound-for-pound boxer, won the undisputed bantamweight championship with an 11th-round KO of Paul Butler on Tuesday in Tokyo.

Butler was unwilling to engage throughout the ESPN+ bout, but Inoue still found a way to finish his foe. The Japanese star connected with a right hand to the body followed by a flush left hook that stunned Butler in Round 11. Butler covered up, but Inoue capitalized with more than 10 punches that crumpled Butler to all fours.

He made no attempt to jump to his feet as the referee waved off his count at 1:09 of the penultimate round.

Inoue (24-0, 21 KOs) entered the ring with the WBA, WBC and IBF titles at 118 pounds, and he added Butler’s WBO belt to become the first undisputed champion from Asia in the four-belt era that began in 2004.

“I finally became the undisputed bantamweight world champion … this is my greatest moment,” Inoue, who speaks Japanese, said in translated remarks.

“The Monster” said he’ll campaign at 122 pounds going forward, where he’ll seek to become a four-division champion.

Inoue, a 60-1 favorite, dominated from the opening bell. The 29-year-old won every round on all three scorecards, 100-90, before the 11th-round stoppage.

Butler, who was competing outside the U.K. for the first time, was determined to survive. The 34-year-old Englishman employed a high guard and rarely threw a punch.

Inoue, meanwhile, showed why he’s considered a generational fighter. His impressive punch variety was on display, as were his shot placement and active jab.

Butler (34-3, 15 KOs) caught many of Inoue’s punches on his gloves, but Inoue sneaked in shots to the midsection. He often punched right through the guard, too. Inoue connected on 151 of 665 punches, while Butler landed just 38 of 301.

Even in the face of an avalanche of punches, Butler was content to cover up. Inoue pleaded with his overmatched opponent to return fire. In Round 6, Inoue turned southpaw and postured in front of Butler to persuade him to exchange. Two rounds later, Inoue resorted to pressuring with both hands behind his back. Nothing worked. Instead, Inoue continued to fire punches from all angles in dizzying combinations. Slowly but surely, the work rate broke Butler down, leading to the big finish in Round 11.

It was the first time Inoue reached the championship rounds since his unanimous-decision victory over Nonito Donaire in ESPN’s 2019 Fight of the Year. Inoue suffered a broken nose and fractured orbital in that brutal bout. He hasn’t been tested since.

Inoue stopped Donaire, a future Hall of Famer, in the second round of a June rematch to set up his shot at all four belts. Butler, meanwhile, won the WBO interim title in April with a decision victory over Jonas Sultan. He was later elevated to recognized titleholder after John Riel Casimero was stripped of his belt.

Butler also held a 118-pound title in 2014, but he had never faced an opponent quite like Inoue.

Inoue is now 19-0 with 17 KOs in title fights that span three weight classes (108, 115 and 118 pounds). His 118-pound title reign began in 2018 with a pair of first-round finishes vs. Jamie McDonnell and Juan Carlos Payano and continued with a second-round TKO of Emmanuel Rodriguez in 2019.

Now that Inoue has effectively cleaned out the bantamweight division, he’ll move up four pounds to junior featherweight, where he could finally meet a challenge worthy of his sublime talent.

The 122-pound division features two unified champions: Stephen Fulton and Murodjon Akhmadaliev. Both are considered elite fighters and, of course, are naturally bigger men than Inoue.

So far, it hasn’t mattered whom Inoue has met in the ring, and now, he’s Japan’s first undisputed champion.

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