Notebook: Undisputed no more as Inoue vacates bantamweight belts
Vianello faces most notable opponent in Rice; former heavyweight titlist Gerrie Coetzee dies; BetUS show; Quick hits; Show and tell
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Naoya Inoue is moving on up.
The Japanese pound-for-pound star on Friday vacated the undisputed bantamweight championship by relinquishing all four sanctioning body titles and setting his sights on the junior bantamweight division, where he will seek a world title in a fourth weight class.
“Today, I have returned these 4 belts that I have collected over 4 years and 7 months,” Inoue posted to social media along with a photo of him with the belts. “In 2023, I will rise in class.”
Inoue, who has also won world titles at junior bantamweight and junior flyweight, was a 2022 fighter of the year nominee for knocking out Nonito Donaire in the second round of their rematch to unify three of the 118-pound titles in June and then dominating Paul Butler en route to an 11th-round knockout to take his WBO belt on Dec. 13.
The one-sided destruction of Butler made Inoue the first undisputed bantamweight champion of the three- or four-belt era and first Asian fighter to become a four-belt champion. He was also the first undisputed bantamweight champion since Panama’s Enrique Pinder unified the WBC and WBA titles during the two-belt era in 1972.
“Our great champion Naoya Inoue has confirmed his decision to move (up) weight,” WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman wrote on social media. “We wish ‘The Monster’ great success and continue his Hall of Fame career.”
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Going into the fight with Butler, Inoue (24-0, 21 KOs), 29, said the fight would be his last at bantamweight and he reiterated his plan after the victory.
“It has been a long journey for me but this is the final chapter for me at bantamweight, Dec. 13,” Inoue said after the bout, which was his sixth bantamweight title defense. “I finally made it and was able to reach my goal of becoming undisputed world champion and now I will change my division.”
There has been some discussion about Inoue challenging WBC/WBO junior featherweight titlist Stephen Fulton (21-0, 8 KOs), 28, of Philadelphia, a source with knowledge of the conversations told Fight Freaks Unite. If that fight was made it would move Fulton off of a rematch Showtime is seeking to finalize between Fulton and Brandon Figueroa that would take place for the WBC interim featherweight belt.
Now the organizations will go about filling the vacant titles:
At its recent convention the WBC approved Donaire against Jason Moloney for the eventual vacant title.
The WBA’s top-ranked contenders are Takuma Inoue, Naoya’s younger brother, and Nicaragua’s Melvin Lopez.
The IBF is poised to order the Manny Pacquiao-promoted Vincent Astrolabio and former titlist Emmanuel Rodriguez to fight for its vacant title. They both won title elimination fights in late 2022.
It is unclear who the WBO would order to fight for its vacant belt.
Vianello ready for Rice
Heavyweight Guido Vianello, who was a 2016 Olympian for his native Italy, will take on the most notable opponent of his pro career in Jonnie Rice and proclaimed this week he is ready for the test.
“Jonnie has a lot of experience, more than me. But I’m ready,” Vianello said. “I’ve been training very hard. I’ve been training very hard for four years since I moved to the USA. I train all the time to fight in a war, so I’m ready for this.”
Vianello (10-0-1, 9 KOs), 28, squares off with Rice (15-6-1, 10 KOs), 35, a Los Angeles native fighting out of Las Vegas, in the 10-round co-feature of the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card headlined by the heavyweight fight between Efe Ajagba and Stephan Shaw on Saturday (ESPN, ESPN Deportes, ESPN+, 10 p.m. ET) at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York.
Vianello had his first pro fight in his home country in October, winning an eight-round decision over durable journeyman Jay McFarlane.
“I was happy to fight in my country, but I’m happy to fight here as well because America is my second home,” Vianello said. “My last opponent was very tough. I got him with a lot of punches. It was incredible because I have my gladiator style and he had a wild style. So, it was good for the Italian people.”
Rice has faced several notable opponents, including losses to Shaw, Tony Yoka and Ajagba, but he rebounded from the loss to Ajagba to knock out unbeaten Michael Coffie in the fifth round of an upset in July 2021 and then outpointed him in an immediate rematch in last January.
“It’s another chance to beat another undefeated fighter and that’s what’s on my mind,” Rice said. “I’m going to go in there and beat him.”
Coetzee dies at 67
Former WBA heavyweight titleholder Gerrie Coetzee died on Thursday in Cape Town, South Africa. He was 67.
Coetzee died just over a week after he was diagnosed with lung cancer, Thinus Strydom, his former manager, told the Associated Press.
Coetzee (33-6-1, 21 KOs), who was white, became the first African to win a heavyweight world title. He won the WBA belt in his third shot when he knocked out Michael Dokes in the 10th round on Dokes’ home turf in Richfield, Ohio, on Sept. 23, 1983 in a major upset. It was picked as the upset of the year by Ring magazine.
Coetzee, who boxed professionally from 1974 to 1997, lost the title by eighth-round knockout to Greg Page in his first defense in December 1984 in South Africa, but there was controversy as a timekeeping error saw the eighth round go past three minutes and it was during the extra time that Coetzee was knocked out.
Coetzee previously lost WBA title fights in South Africa by 13th-round knockout to Mike Weaver in 1980 and by 15-round unanimous decision to John Tate for the vacant title in 1979.
In the fight before Tate, Coetzee made a name for himself with a first-round knockout of former champion Leon Spinks in June 1979 in Monte Carlo in what was Spinks’ first bout after losing the undisputed title in a rematch against Muhammad Ali.
Coetzee was a popular figure in South Africa with both Black and white fans despite boxing during the height of apartheid. Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison and fought against apartheid, was a big boxing fan and a fan of Coetzee. Mandela had listened to radio broadcasts of Coetzee fights while in prison.
In the early 1990s, before Mandela became South Africa’s first democratically-elected president in 1994, he sought a meeting with Coetzee, who said it was one of the highlights of his life.
BetUS Boxing Show
If you missed the BetUS Boxing Show live at 1 p.m. ET on Friday on YouTube, please check out the replay (and also subscribe to the YouTube channel). We previewed the two featured heavyweight fights on Top Rank’s 2023 kickoff ESPN card on Saturday night: Efe Ajagba vs. Stephan Shaw and Guido Vianello vs. Jonnie Rice. We also, as always, took viewer questions and comments! Check out the show here:
Weights from Verona, N.Y., for Saturday’s Top Rank ESPN card: Efe Ajagba 235.25 pounds, Stephan Shaw 239.5; Guido Vianello 239, Jonnie Rice 274.25; Abraham Nova 129, Adam Lopez 129; Haven Brady Jr. 132.75, Ruben Cervera 130.25; Bryce Mills 143, Margarito Hernandez 144.25; Floyd Diaz 122, Edwin Rodriguez 121.5; Brian Norman Jr. 149, Rodrigo Coria 148.25; Bruce Carrington 128, Juan Antonio Lopez 127.5; Dante Benjamin Jr. 174, Emmanueal Austin 175.
Jessica Nery Plata (29-2, 3 KOs), 28, of Mexico, won a unanimous decision over Kim Clavel (16-1, 3 KOs), 32, of Montreal, to unify the WBC and WBA women’s junior flyweight titles in an entertaining fight on Friday night at Place Bell in Laval, Canada, just outside of Montreal. Plata, making her first title defense, won 97-93, 97-93 and 96-94 in the main event of a card that streamed live on ESPN+. Clavel was also making her first defense.
England’s Rocky Fielding has announced his retirement from boxing. Fielding (30-3, 18 KOs), 35, who turned pro in 2010 and last boxed in an eighth-round knockout loss to Dan Azeez for the British and Commonwealth light heavyweight titles on Dec. 17, scored his biggest win in July 2018 when he stopped Tyron Zeuge on his turf in Germany to win the WBA “regular” super middleweight title. Fielding parlayed the win into his biggest fight, traveling to New York’s Madison Square Garden in December 2018 and getting stopped in the third round of a one-sided fight and losing the belt to Canelo Alvarez, who had moved up in weight for the shot. Fielding concluded a retirement announcement that reflected on his career and thanked the many who helped him along the way with this: “Now for life after boxing.”
Show and tell
It was great to have a home game to cover last Saturday night as it is just about a half-hour drive from my house to the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., where secondary lightweight titlist Gervonta Davis stopped Hector Luis Garcia in the ninth round in the main event of a Showtime PPV card. The fight was sold out with an announced crowd of 19,731 and arena officials said the $5.185 million gate set the building record. I was pleased to obtain this full ticket to the fight for my collection.
Inoue photo: Naoki Fukuda; Vianello-Rice and Ajagba-Shaw photos: Mikey Williams/Top Rank; Coetzee with Don King photo: Getty
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Jermell Charlo should've done the same thing last year. Now he's left with small money fights versus prospects. But the endemic PBC politics wouldn't allow it. SMH
Donaire Moloney is a fight I am looking forward to more than likely it will be in my hometown of Melbourne australia