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Naoya Inoue Stops Stephen Fulton and Wins World Titles in His 4th Weight Class

AP Photo/Hiro Komae
Naoya Inoue, left, of Japan throws a punch against Stephen Fulton of the U.S., during the round seven of a boxing match for the unified WBC and WBO super-bantamweight world titles in Tokyo, Tuesday, July 25, 2023.

TOKYO (AP) — Naoya Inoue became a world champion in his fourth weight class Tuesday night when he stopped Stephen Fulton in the eighth round to claim the WBC and WBO super bantamweight titles.

Inoue (25-0, 22 KOs) made an impressive debut at 122 pounds with a dominant performance against the previously unbeaten Fulton (21-1) at Ariake Arena. Fulton had held both of his belts since 2021 and was considered the top fighter in the division.

The Japanese star knocked down Fulton in the opening minute of the eighth round with a big left hand after stunning him with a body jab and a punishing right. Inoue finished moments later, pummeling Fulton with punches in the corner to force the referee to halt the bout.

The 30-year-old Inoue improved to 20-0 in world title fights with a whopping 18 stoppages, improving his standing as one of the world’s top pound-for-pound boxers.

Inoue held all four major belts at 118 pounds after beating Paul Butler last December, prompting him to move up to challenge Fulton. Their bout initially was scheduled for May 7, but Inoue injured his hand in training camp, forcing a 2 1/2-month delay.

“Everything I was thinking about was to fight him this year,” Inoue said through an interpreter. “However, unfortunately, I got injured, and I had to postpone this fight. I am sorry to my team and Fulton’s team, but thank you so much for accepting this fight once again. I am so happy right now.”

Inoue took charge against Fulton with his superior speed and relentless jab from the first round onward, dominating the early rounds. The American fought back more effectively in the middle rounds, but Inoue’s advantages became insurmountable before he put together yet another highlight-reel finish.

Inoue has been unstoppable in his pro career, which began with a 108-pound world title victory in only his sixth professional fight. He became a 115-pound champion in 2014, and he reigned in that division until 2018, when he became a bantamweight champion.

Marlon Tapales of the Philippines holds the WBA and IBF super bantamweight belts after beating Murodjon Akhmadaliev by split decision last April in San Antonio.

On the undercard, Robeisy Ramirez retained his WBO featherweight title with a fifth-round stoppage victory over Satoshi Shimizu.

AP Photo/Hiro Komae
Naoya Inoue of Japan, left, celebrates after beating Stephen Fulton of the U.S. in the eighth round of a boxing match for the unified WBC and WBO super-bantamweight world titles in Tokyo, Tuesday, July 25, 2023.