Naoya Inoue Has Eye on Bigger Prizes Than Mandatory Assignment

Naoya Inoue doesn’t feel obligated to adhere to a mandatory junior featherweight title assignment because he’s not long for the division, his American promoter Bob Arum told BoxingScene on Monday.

Arum was talking about the likely 2024 schedule for Japan’s Inoue (27-0, 24 KOs), which another boxing official had set out in a discussion with BoxingScene:

Instead of fighting his next-in-line mandatory, WBA No. 1 contender and former unified 122-pound champion Murodjon “M.J.” Akhmadaliev, Inoue prefers to next fight another WBA top-five contender, veteran TJ Doheny (26-4, 20 KOs), who has won his last three bouts in Japan, with Sept. 9 being their tentative date.

“[Doheny] has become a big, big draw over there, and that matters,” Arum said. “Look at what Luis Nery did as the bad boy [following a positive PED test], helping sell out the Tokyo Dome.”

Following Doheny, Inoue would turn to his next 122-pound mandatory, the IBF’s Sam Goodman, in December, the official and Arum said.

“Worse comes to worst, [Inoue] loses the WBA title … and that’s a ‘who cares?’ anyway, because the plan is for [Inoue] to fight at 122 this year and then move to 126 [featherweight] next year,” Arum said.

There was some confusion about which of the four sanctioning body mandatories was first in line for undisputed champion Inoue when Australia’s Goodman was there to personally greet Inoue in the ring following his knockout of Nery on May 6 at the Tokyo Dome.

Last week, the WBA clarified the matter by ordering Akhmadaliev and Inoue to negotiate a bout by mid-July, with a fight date before Sept. 25, prompting Akhmadaliev manager Vadim Kornilov to suggest the bout was perfectly situated to fall on Turki Alalshikh’s Saudi Arabia-backed Wembley Stadium card headlined by former heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua.

Inoue’s Japanese promoters had no intention of placing him on the September card in London, and the Goodman fight could also land in Japan, a boxing official said.

Arum also criticized the name value of Akhmadaliev.

“I guess another opponent with four losses on [Inoue’s] record makes more sense,” Kornilov responded to BoxingScene by text message Friday. “It’s not about mandatories. It’s about fighting the best.

“Inoue should be fighting Akhmadaliev and guys like him … as he wants to be remembered as the greatest.”

As an unbeaten four-division champion currently competing against undisputed heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk and fellow double-undisputed champion Terence Crawford as boxing’s pound-for-pound king, Inoue is positioned to seek his greatness as a five-division champion, Arum said.

“That’s why all these featherweight title fights coming up are so important,” Arum said, pointing to his titleholder Rafael Espinoza’s WBO featherweight defense Friday against Mexican countryman Sergio Chirino Sanchez in Las Vegas and Top Rank’s just-announced IBF featherweight title defense by Luis Alberto Lopez versus Angelo Leo on Aug. 10 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Premier Boxing Champions is also seeking to position its fighters for a title defense against Inoue, pointing the September winner of WBA titleholder Rey Vargas versus Brandon Figueroa toward a unification against England’s Nick Ball, with the emerging winner being an attractive option for Inoue.

“If you go in with Inoue, there’s big money on the table,” Arum said.