Barry Jones: We will know all we need to know from Naoya Inoue in Stephen Fulton fight

Tomorrow will see Stephen Fulton step inside the ring with Naoya Inoue to defend his WBC and WBO super bantamweight world titles in his first fight away from American soil at the Ariake Arena, Tokyo.

The highly anticipated bout will see Inoue try to achieve a world title in a fourth weight class having recently departed the bantamweight division as undisputed king. Fulton (21-0, 8 KOs) makes a third defense of his unified world titles, a forth defense of his WBO belt.

ProBox TV caught up with former WBO super featherweight world champion Barry Jones to get his expert opinion on the fight. The now commentator for DAZN, BBC and Channel 5 sat down with us in the city of Edinburgh, where he won a silver medal at the World Amateur Boxing Championships in 1992.

“The Monster! And he is a monster Naoya Inoue, he is fantastic.” Jones said as he began his assessment. “From light flyweight to bantamweight he has won world titles, he skipped over the flyweights which was due to weight more than anything else. A three weight world champion. It is a great fight, a great clash of styles. It is all about how Fulton deals with the pressure and the power. Inoue doesn’t throw many punches in clusters. All these big punchers; [Gennadiy] Golovkin, [Sergey] Kovalev, all those style of fighters pressurise you with the front foot. They stick you in the center of their stance and they make you feel their presence, Canelo does it to an extent. They put a panic on you, they make you throw when you don’t want to throw. When you want to throw out of necessity rather than when you are ready, your timing is not quite there. You tense up, the weight of the shots are not quite there. You lose the smoothness you need, they take that away from you with the pressure on the front foot. That is what he does so well, he slides into distance and is accurate. He keeps his shape really well, his balance is perfect. The distance between his legs never changes, so he has power on the back foot in every shot.

Does Fulton have any chance at all? It’s Inoue moving up to challenge the champion? I asked.

“It’s a hard ask, even though Fulton is the bigger guy.” Jones answered. “He’s got a good chin, he can rally when he is under pressure. He showed that against Brandon Figueroa in that controversial win, some people would say. He did show he can fight off the ropes under pressure there, he used the ropes to his advantage in fact. But, Inoue is a different kettle of fish to Figueroa. He won’t be leaning on you, he’ll be punching down this way [Jones arrowed his fingers down the center of his eyes] stepping to the side to an angel to hit you again. It all boils down to when he hits Fulton with the first clean punch, how does he cope with that? If he can absorb that and fire back, he is a live dog in the fight. If he can’t, he will struggle.”

Fulton puts his two world titles and his undefeated record on the line in Tokyo tomorrow. Inoue’s superstar power has seen the American been one of the very few champions from his country to take a punt at fighting abroad. 

“He’s taking the money, you can’t blame him.” Jones explained. “Inoue is a star in Japan. People are talking about this as Inoue’s breakout fight, maybe it is to the western world. In Japan he is as big as you can get, he is a megastar. I think Fulton will cope with it, it will be a different environment for him. He will know he is the underdog, he will know he is the B-side. People get confused with the A and B-side. A-side is the commercial, who brings the money to the table. Inoue will dictate everything, Fulton will know that he is there as a guest.”

Moving up in weight too quickly and too much can falter any great fighter's resume. Both fighters meet at 122 pounds tomorrow at a time when one has just joined and the other is soon to leave the division.

“Well he is saying he needs to move up to super bantamweight, I’m surprised about that.” Jones continued. “I’m not quite sure [if he is moving up too quickly]. In the Paul Butler fight, some of those shots at super flyweight, those opponents wouldn’t have been able to take them. Paul Butler is on the latter end of his career. It is a telling sign that power will subside a little bit, dilute slightly as he moves up. But he is sharp, and people forget that he has got a good boxing brain and he can box really well. He keeps his shape during the fight, his discipline and focus is fantastic. He is always in position to hit you hard and hit you clean. He is economically accurate as well, he just doesn’t waste a punch. There are very few fighters like that. Off the top of my head, Inoue has missed a shot, but I can’t think of one. He is that good and he is that focused. I think there could maybe be another shift to featherweight, maybe. The Fulton fight will tell us all we need to know.”