Did Naoya Inoue's performance solidify him as the Fighter of the Year?

Naoya ‘The Monster’ Inoue (26-0, 23 KOs) added to his likely Hall of Fame legacy by becoming only the second male to become undisputed champion twice in his career. Earlier today, Inoue stopped Marlon Tapales (37-4, 19 KOs) in the tenth round of their fight to win all four titles in the junior featherweight division. It was another dominant performance by Inoue, but is it enough to become this year’s Fighter of the Year?

When thinking about Inoue's body of work today, everything seemed to be hitting on all cylinders. The quick, snappy left jab was effective early, footwork and balance were solid, and the torque he generated behind his punches was at a high level. Although all of these things were working for him, Tapales was a crafty southpaw in their fight. Early on, Tapales was just taking punches with the high guard and trying to find something that worked. Inoue’s creative offense found an opening in the fourth round as a left hook got through Tapales' defense, sending him to a knee for the fight's first knockdown.

Tapales saw what he was doing didn’t work for him in the first five rounds, so he made an adjustment that saw more of his punches land and Inoue’s missing for the moment. Inoue would then adjust to Tapales and shift slightly to his right to catch him moving backward with his face exposed. Inoue then began to pound the body, and when Tapales’ arms came down ever so slightly, that’s when Inoue landed the overhand right to the temple, sending Tapales down and out, putting an end to the fight and making Inoue the undisputed junior featherweight champion. 

Nayoa Inoue is a generational talent who had the biggest year of his career

As much as fans want to find something negative to say about Inoue, the truth is that he is not only a pound-for-pound fighter but also a generational talent. This year, he made the number one fighter in the division, Stephen Fulton Jr., who also held two titles, look ordinary. Inoue made it look easy, and that’s what you would expect from someone on everyone’s top ten list. Instead of going for some low-hanging fruit, Inoue decided to fight Tapales, who had just beaten Murodjon Akmadaliev, arguably the second-best fighter in the division. Tapales earned two titles when he beat Akhmadaliev in April, and Inoue didn’t hesitate to challenge him shortly after beating Fulton in July. Inoue beating the top two fighters in his division and becoming the undisputed champion within the same year is tough to compete against.

The issue is that he’s in a weight class that doesn’t get too much attention. Everyone will point toward Terence Crawford’s destruction of Errol Spence Jr. as the performance that gets him recognized as the Fighter of the Year. The only argument against it would be that it was only one fight. That’s the issue with the sport these days, as the stars don’t fight enough, and when you have to decide on a fighter of the year, choosing one fighter that surpasses the rest becomes challenging.

Inoue is truly the monster he calls himself, and what he’s accomplished this year shouldn’t go unnoticed, even if it’s in a weight class that doesn’t get as much attention as the rest. Should Inoue be the fight of the year? That’s a question everyone should ask themselves as we countdown the year's final days.