Chris Algieri's School of Thought: Masterful Inoue should unify then move up to challenge Ramirez

In the aftermath of Terence Crawford producing what looks likely to be the performance of 2023 –  to defeat Errol Spence – Naoya Inoue’s virtuoso performance against Stephen Fulton is at risk of being overlooked. 

Until Spence-Crawford I had considered Inoue the best fighter in the world. He looked absolutely phenomenal in every way.

We all knew he was a power puncher and a knockout artist, but his power’s not quite the same at 122lbs, so by beating Fulton in the way that he did he also proved that he’s a masterful boxer.

His jab was phenomenal. His timing; his distance; his footwork; his ability to judge range; to change levels to set up punches; to remain defensively sound while being aggressive. Qualities you’d include in the perfect fighter – he showed them all. 

His power may not be as devastating at 122lbs but it’s still good, and he completely dominated Fulton – a fantastic fighter – and made him gun-shy from the opening round. I’ve never seen Fulton so tentative – and once he was, Inoue’s skills took over.

Algieri's School of Thought: Masterful Inoue should unify then move up to challenge Ramirez

photo credit: Naoki Fukuda / Top Rank

They fought in a very small portion of the ring because of his incredible judgement of distance. Despite Fulton’s advantages in height and range, he kept making him miss – just – and as the shorter fighter with the shorter reach completely out-jabbed his taller opponent. Even before Spence-Crawford I wouldn’t have gone as far as making Inoue’s the performance so far of 2023 – I’d previously considered that to be Teofimo Lopez against Josh Taylor – but Inoue had also moved up in weight and gone straight in with the best super bantamweight in the world.

We even saw Inoue improve. The first time he fought Nonito Donaire, in 2019, it represented a fight. The second time, in 2022, it represented an execution. The execution of his game plan was every bit as impressive against the normally elusive Fulton – he was setting up that right hand all night.

I’d expected him to win – potentially inside the opening rounds, but ultimately in a tough fight in which he would have had to separate himself from Fulton in the final rounds. To instead dominate from the opening bell, relatively easily, against such an adept opponent blew me away.

He’s good enough to become the undisputed champion at 122lbs by beating Marlon Tapales in his next fight. The challenge for him is at 126lbs – at featherweight, where he will also attract an increased audience across America – against Roibesy Ramirez, who defeated Satoshi Shimizu on the undercard in Tokyo. Ramirez is improving with every fight, and his size, ability and style makes him Inoue’s most dangerous possible opponent.

Fulton is best served by immediately moving to 126lbs – where he can again become a world champion. He remains a fantastic fighter, who has always been in tough fights, but he was fighting in a weight division his body was no longer comfortable with and, after travelling to Tokyo, lost only to a generational talent. 

The next great challenge for him is to accept defeat for the time being and look for the next opporunity to show the world what he is – I had to do so after losing to Manny Pacquiao and Spence – and to respond, mentally. It takes a lot of bravery to, as the champion, move up in weight, and then immediately move back down again – and therefore for a fighter to put his body through the struggle of making weight – for a big opportunity against such a dangerous opponent on the other side of the world.