Naoya Inoue vs Marlon Tapales: boxing is the obvious sporting choice on Boxing Day


What’s the focal point of your Boxing Day? For some, it will be devouring the leftover turkey, roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts. For others, it will be a reluctant trip to the in-laws’ house for Christmas lite. For many readers on this page, it will be finding a comfy spot on the sofa and settling in for a slew of Premier League games. Lovely. In fact, the above aren’t mutually exclusive, but better yet? You can also squeeze in the real highlight of Boxing Day 2023 – one you might well have overlooked.

So, get the drive to the in-laws’ done nice and early, hold off on the leftovers until the afternoon (fill up on chocolate in the meantime, by all means), and look forward to the football, sure. But if you can bring yourself to miss just the early kick-off between an injury-ravaged Newcastle and flailing Nottingham Forest, then let your TV transport you to Tokyo. For there, the best boxer in the world returns to the ring.

On Boxing Day, boxing is the appropriate sporting choice, as Naoya Inoue makes his bid to create even more history. At 12.30pm GMT, the first whistle will sound on a day of Premier League action on Amazon Prime, but at 12.15pm GMT, the first bell will sound on the Inoue’s title fight with Marlon Tapales on Sky Sports.

I’ve written before about the Japanese superstar’s beguiling skill, startling speed and frightening ferocity – which has made him Indy Sport’s pound-for-pound No 1 boxer, ahead of even Terence Crawford – and how the 30-year-old’s fighting style is juxtaposed with the charm of his bouts taking place at 12pm on a Tuesday for UK fans. Conveniently, Boxing Day falls on a Tuesday this year, and while there will be next-to-no celebrations in Japan, celebrations on these shores can be enhanced by factoring in Inoue vs Tapales.

Inoue crumpled Stephen Fulton in July to pick up world titles in a fourth weight class

(AFP via Getty)

Inoue is the unified super-bantameight champion, having demolished the genuinely talented Stephen Fulton in disproportionate fashion in July to take the American’s WBC and WBO belts. Previously, Inoue reigned as undisputed bantamweight champion. Before that, he was a world champion at super-flyweight. Before that, the “Monster” was a world champion at light-flyweight. His professional record stands at 25-0 with 22 knockout wins. Each time he steps in the ring with a top-level fighter, the expectation is still that he will knock them out.

The expectation will be the same on Tuesday, as solid a boxer as Tapales is. The Filipino (37-3, 19 KOs) holds the IBF and WBA super-bantamweight titles, meaning a victory over the 31-year-old would make Inoue the division’s undisputed champion. It would also make him just the second man ever to become a two-weight undisputed champion in the four-belt era, following Crawford’s history-making win over Errol Spence Jr in July.

Such is Inoue’s prodigious ability that some fans are calling for a super-fight between the Japanese and Gervonta “Tank” Davis, one of several American stars in and around the lightweight division. Even Inoue, however, believes that scaling another three weight classes may be an overly ambitious move. “I don’t think it’s possible [to fight Davis],” he told Fight Hype this week. “It’s more [just] hype that fans are putting together. I think of him very highly; if he’s on the lower part of the pound-for-pound list, I think he should be up a little bit further up than where he is now.”

Now a unified super-bantamweight champion, Inoue is seeking undisputed status for the second time

(AFP via Getty)

There is an engaging conversation to be had about Davis, Devin Haney, Teofimo Lopez and Ryan Garcia, and the various match-ups that could involve them (Davis vs Garcia is the only combination to have come to fruition so far, with “Tank” winning emphatically in April).

In truth, it is silly to drag Inoue into that conversation. His achievements stand on their own, and while his opponents tend not to have the profile of that gaggle of Americans, they are skilled operators against whom victories are significant.

Inoue will seek another significant victory on Tuesday, on Boxing Day. Why not factor the fight into your festivities?

Watch Inoue vs Tapales live on Sky Sports on the morning of Boxing Day. The undercard starts from 8am and the main event after 10am





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