What is the ceiling of the brilliant future Hall of Famer Naoya Inoue?

Naoya Inoue could retire now and go into the Hall of Fame. 

But here is the problem he faces. A lot of fight fans don’t watch bouts in the lower weight classes, meaning they don’t have strong rapports with fans. When Tim Tszyu stopped Tony Harrison, it was a big win. Not just for the division, but for those watching since Harrison has been a part of big moments in the sport. When Inoue beat Stephen Fulton Jr., it mattered historically, some fans cared – but it went more unnoticed than it should have. 

Added to that, Inoue’s Japanese fights are on at around midday in the UK, and in the early mornings in the US, meaning it’s left to social media and writers to explain his greatness. Also, Inoue fights are often watched on-demand, as opposed to live, in marquee markets so he is not catering to the US. 

There is hope, however, and it comes in the shape of Luis Nery. 

If Inoue was to face Nery next, it would be an enticing proposition against a well-known fighter who is coming off ProBox TV’s 2023 Fight of the Year. 

Not unike Michael Carbajal, Ricardo ‘Finito’ Lopez, Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez, Nonito Donaire, and Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez, when you know the name of a fighter under super-bantamweight, they are special. Inoue is special. What Inoue is doing will be discussed for years after he is gone.

Here is a brief summary of Inoue’s achievements.

He beat Ryoichi Taguchi in his fourth fight. A year-and-a-half later, Taguchi would become the WBA light flyweight champion, make seven title defenses and unify his belt with the IBF.

Inoue won his first world title in six fights, capturing the WBC light flyweight title over Adrián Hernández via a sixth-round technical knockout. After one defense, Inoue skipped flyweight and became the WBO junior bantamweight champion.

He knocked out Omar Narváez in two rounds. Narváez had been a long-reigning world champion who held belts dating back to 2002. Narváez’s lone loss was when he moved up to bantamweight to fight world champion, Nontio Donaire. Before losing his world title to Inoue, Narváez had made 11 world title defenses. 

Inoue made seven world title defenses of the WBO junior bantamweight title, most impressively defeating David Carmona. 

Inoue’s run at bantamweight is one of legend.

Inoue, in 2018, moved up and faced formidable WBA bantamweight champion Jamie McDonnell and Inoue stopped him in one round. He followed that with a first-round knockout of Juan Carlos Payano and a second-round knockout of Emmanuel Rodríguez. 

Payano holds a win over three-time US Olympian Rau’shee Warren, and Rodriguez became a world champion again in 2023.

Inoue doubled-down. There was the Fight of the Year classic with Nonito Donaire, in really the only fight Inoue has looked human in at all and a bout that is widely considered a masterpiece. 

Post-pandemic, Inoue stopped Jason Moloney in the Top Rank bubble, another well-accomplished professional fighter. 

In 2022, Inoue stopped Nonito Donaire in the second round of their rematch and later in the year halted Paul Butler, making him the undisputed bantamweight world champion.

Last year, Inoue took two fights. He outclassed the WBC and WBO super bantamweight world champion Stephen Fulton Jr, stopping him in the seventh round and then defeated the IBF and WBA super bantamweight champion Marlon Tapales in 10th-round, a day after Christmas. 

The Japanese icon is already a Hall of Famer. He’s a four-division world champion who is undefeated and a two-time undisputed world champion, all by the age of 30.

So what is left? Featherweight? Super featherweight? Big-name fighters? Inoue is so good that logical conventions no longer apply. Now it is becoming what legend is close enough to his weight class for him to fight in his remaining years. 

Could he face Abdul ‘Tank’ Wahid [Gervonta Davis], Shakur Stevenson, Emanuel Navarrete or Luis Alberto Lopez? His achievements are grandiose, but with a fighter this great the natural inclination is to want even more.