Naoya Inoue wants Paul Butler fight in bid to unify world bantamweight titles


Naoya Inoue has said he is ready to fight the British boxer Paul Butler “any time and anywhere” in his quest to claim a fourth bantamweight title and become the undisputed world champion.

Inoue made history this month when he beat the Philippines’ Nonito Donaire in a second-round technical knockout to became the first Japanese boxer to hold a world title from three different sanctioning bodies in a single weight division. The unbeaten Japanese fighter said his sights were now on winning 33-year-old Butler’s WBO belt to complete the collection.

“My aim this year it to win that fourth belt,” Inoue said in Tokyo on Monday, three weeks after he stopped Donaire in a hopelessly one-sided world title unification bout at Saitama Super Arena.

Speaking moments after he had seized Donaire’s WBC belt with a flurry of punches midway through the second round, Inoue said he had never seen Butler fight. On Monday, though, he said he had since watched a video of highlights from the British boxer’s career.

“My gym is still in negotiations over the Butler fight, and things are moving in the right direction, although I don’t think the details have been worked out,” Inoue said. “I haven’t watched his bouts in their entirety, but I can see he is a talented and aggressive boxer.”

Although all but four of Inoue’s 23 victories have come in Japan, the 29-year-old said the venue for his possible meeting with Butler was unimportant. “I don’t have a preference,” he said. “I don’t care if we fight in Japan, the US or the UK … I just want to fight him, no matter where it is.”

Inoue, nicknamed the Monster, then held out the tantalising prospect of a dramatic debut in a higher weight division. “If I can unify the four bantamweight titles this year, I would like to move up to the super bantamweight division, but it depends on my physical condition,” he said.

A shift up a division could begin with a showdown with whoever prevails in a possible matchup between the Uzbek fighter Murodjon Akhmadaliev – who holds two belts in the division – and the American Stephen Fulton, owner of the other two belts.

“Right now, looking at my condition, I think super bantamweight is the best division for me, so if I have the opportunity I’ll go straight to that division and fight one or the other if they have a unification bout,” Inoue told a packed press conference, which one TV network broadcast live.

Days after he ended Donaire’s WBC reign, The Ring magazine confirmed what many pundits and fans already believed – that Inoue is currently the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world.

“I knew getting the pound-for-pound recognition would depend on the manner of my victory over Donaire, so in that sense it was the best result possible and I’m very satisfied,” said Inoue, the first Japanese to hold the mythical ranking. “Now that I’m ranked No 1, I think I should get the fights I deserve, and that means unifying the four titles and then moving up to super bantamweight.”

Inoue has won all 23 of his bouts since he turned professional a decade ago – 20 of them by knockout – and he plans to terrorise opponents for several more years.

“I’m looking to continue fighting until I’m 35,” he said. “I also aim to end my career undefeated. But I know boxing is a tough sport, especially when you go up a division.”

Inoue has reignited public interest in boxing in Japan, where the sport is competing for attention with MMA. Asked to define his appeal, he said he simply aimed to give fans value for money.

“I’m still not quite sure what it is about my boxing that appeals to fans,” he said. “My only aim is to entertain people who have paid a lot of money to watch my fights. I don’t just want to win every bout, I want to show off my skills as an elite boxer and put on the best show possible.

“You only need to look at my record to see that I try to knock my opponent out every single time, and I think the boxing world appreciates that.”