Naoya Inoue gets his long-awaited homecoming fight.
The three-division and reigning WBA/IBF bantamweight titlist will headline a show in his native Japan for the first time since November 2019. The opportunity comes December 14, when Inoue defends his belts versus Thailand's Aran Dipaen (12-2, 11KOs) at the famed Ryogoku Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo.
"It's been two years since I've fought in Japan," Inoue stated upon confirming the fight. "I'm really looking forward to it."
Yokohama's Inoue (21-0, 18KOs) aims to make the fourth defense of at least one bantamweight title and his third as a unified champion. The pound-for-pound entrant is coming off of back-to-back knockout wins in Las Vegas, including a three-round drubbing of Philippines Michael Dasmarinas this past June at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas. The win followed a one-sided seventh-round stoppage of top bantamweight contender Jason Moloney last Halloween.
The title defense versus Dipaen is on the weaker side of opponents, though one who fits the bill given Japan's current Covid-related travel restrictions. The announcement itself was delayed as event organizers sought confirmation that Dipean—who enters his first career title fight—would be eligible to make the trip from Thailand to Japan for the event.
Dipaen suffered both career defeats on the road, as he is 1-2 outside of Thailand. The 30-year-old from Khon Kaen, Thailand does boast one win in Japan, a June 2019 second-round knockout of Ryohei Arakawa in his fifth pro fight.
In his most recent start, Dipean scored a sixth-round stoppage of countryman Sukpraserd Ponpitak this past March in Bang Phli. His role in this fight comes strictly on his being the highest-ranked available challenger as he is number-six in the most recent IBF ratings. Lee McGregor (#3) and Moloney (#5) are due to meet in an IBF-sanctioned title eliminator, while Paul Butler (#4) is currently set to challenge WBO bantamweight titlist John Riel Casimero, likely December 11 in Dubai.
As such, Inoue gets to play his home country for the first time in more than two years. His last fight in Japan came in his memorable twelve-round, unanimous decision victory over four-division champ Nonito Donaire in November 2019 at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. Inoue unified the WBA/IBF titles along with winning the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament with the win.
The upcoming return home marks Inoue's second career appearance at Kokugikan, a famed sumo wrestling arena which housed all of the boxing events for the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics this past summer. Inoue last played the venue in December 2013, coming in his fifth pro fight and his last without a title at stake. The supremely skilled boxer claimed the WBC junior flyweight title just one fight later, with every subsequent fight coming with some form of a belt at stake—14-0 (12 KOs) in major title fights along with a pair of first-round knockouts with a secondary version of the WBA bantamweight title at stake.
The show will also include the recently sorted WBO strawweight title fight between defending champ Wilfredo Mendez (16-1, 6KOs) and Tokyo-based mandatory challenger Masataka Taniguchi (14-3, 9KOs). Mendez will make the third defense of his title and second straight outside of his native Puerto Rico.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox