Naoya Inoue is making his next move.
Inoue was crowned the undisputed bantamweight champion after he knocked out Paul Butler in the 11th round of their lopsided contest in December. Just days after his historic achievement, Inoue expressed plans to move up to super bantamweight, and it seems like he’s going through with it.
“I would like to inform you that I will return the belts of the four [sanctioning bodies],” Inoue revealed to the assembled media at a Yokohama hotel conference room.
“Each belt is a memorable one for me.
“In 2023, I would like to move up one weight class and challenge the super bantamweight division. It’s the perfect match, but there’s nothing left to do in this bantamweight division, and there’s no opponent I want to fight.”
The announcement ends Inoue’s title reign that started in May 2018 when he technically knocked out Jamie McDonnell. After that he went on to a two-round domination of then-undefeated IBF champion Emmanuel Rodriguez.
In his next fight, he brought along the IBF and WBA belts in his memorable fight against WBA super champion Nonito Donaire; Inoue won by unanimous decision. The two continued their rivalry in their June 9 rematch, which Inoue ended up walking away both the IBF, WBA and WBC titles.
Now with Inoue’s belts up for grabs, this leaves much opportunity for the division.
Donaire was previously ordered to face two-time title challenger Jason Moloney in a WBC mandated fight, but that has been at a standstill.
Inoue’s younger brother, Takuma, has been making a name for himself is currently the highest ranked contender in the WBA along with Melvin Lopez, a Nicaraguan knock out artist.
In the IBF, it could be between Vincent Astrolabio and former champion Rodriguez.
For the WBO, Moloney, Rodriguez, Astrolabio and Lopez could be taken out of the mix, leaving Butler.