Fulton Jr looks ahead to Inoue challenge: 'He hasn't been challenged mentally yet'

Unified super-bantamweight champion, Stephen Fulton Jr (21-0), does not believe his 13-month stretch of inactivity will be a factor ahead of his upcoming encounter with three-weight world champion Naoya Inoue (24-0).

Inoue will step up seeking to become a four-weight world champion following a highly decorated spell at bantamweight which ultimately ended with Inoue becoming the undisputed world champion within the weight class and holding all four major governing body world titles.

Speaking to Dan Rafael’s big fight weekend podcast, Fulton explained that he hoped to secure a unification encounter against Murodjon Akhmadaliev. However, that did not come to fruition because “MJ” suffered defeat this April against Marlon Tapales.

“The reason was I waiting to see what MJ [Murodjon Akhmadaliev] was gonna do. They were prolonging, and now look what happened to him. That is waiting and prolonging and he came up short.

“No, I don’t think it’ll be a factor,” he answered sharply.

“I feel like I actually gave my body enough rest, my mind rest, not enough punishment for over a year. I feel like I’m gonna come out fresh. When you fight and win, you get a month, a couple of months off. Then that first day back in the gym, when you spar, you feel amazing. That’s how it’ll be.”

Inoue poses the biggest threat to Fulton so far in his career, with knockout statistics which far outweigh and outshine Fulton’s by some margin. Fulton, who has eight stoppages compared to Inoue’s 21 stoppages, is aware of the risks that Inoue brings to the contest and is prepared for the task.

“I’m very aware of my situations going into any fight,” Fulton said.

“I don’t just train to train. I train for each fighter that I’m going up against. I feel like I’ll be ready and prepared to take on whatever he dishes out that night.”

“He’s very talented, skilful, he’s more known for his power than anything, but he’s very skilful,” Fulton said of Inoue.

“From what I see, he’s a smart fighter, but I feel like no one was really in the ring with him to challenge those mental skills yet.”

Fulton argues that Inoue has not been challenged mentally enough so far in his career with Nonito Donaire, offering the Japanese sensation the toughest test of his career back in 2019 in his twenty-four-fight professional career to date. In the encounter, Inoue was chin-checked multiple times, hurt, wobbled and was outclassed by Donaire’s much greater experience in handling such an occasion. However, Inoue would ultimately claim victory in the encounter and the WBSS bantamweight tournament trophy. They would rematch each other in June of 2022, with Inoue demonstrating that he learnt from his mistakes and knockout Donaire inside in two rounds brutally and clinically.

Fulton explains why he only reads a little into the wins and challenges which Donaire presented to Inoue.

“I wouldn’t say Nonito challenged him mentally in that first fight. I feel like Nonito was a dog, so that’s what he wanted to do; that’s what got him hurt in the second fight by just trying to take the fight. He wasn’t really a smart fighter for that second fight.

“The first fight, it was like, ah, it was a nice fight, but the second fight, Inoue was already used to his style, already used to him. He came in that second fight with more confidence the second time. It was a good fight. I don’t think anyone really challenged him mentally yet.”