Featherweight titleholder Rafael Espinoza has established himself as a formidable force in the division, but he aspires to be recognized as a pound-for-pound fighter. This, he believes, requires facing elite opponents such as Naoya Inoue and Robeisy Ramirez.

Espinoza wasted no time in stopping Sergio Chirino via a fourth-round technical knockout on Friday at the Fontainebleau Las Vegas. He knocked Chirino down three times during the bout – in the first, third and fourth rounds.

For the 30-year-old Espinoza (25-0, 21 KOs), of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, the dominant performance demonstrated his capability beyond a single notable victory, as he outclassed an opponent unfamiliar to a broader audience – a performance that would be expected of a titleholder.

After the fight, Espinoza reflected on the significance of his first title defense in Las Vegas.

“It was my dream, really. I thought about it a lot,” said the 6-foot-1 featherweight via a translator. “Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to fight in Las Vegas, and now I am here. I think what happened in that last fight, or after becoming a champion, I did get better.”

Espinoza’s towering height is unheard of at 126 pounds, and in the ring Friday he stood a full four inches taller than Chirino (22-2, 13 KOs), who, at 5-foot-9, is a relatively tall featherweight.

Espinoza previously defeated two-time Olympic gold medalist and featherweight titleholder Ramirez last December. It was a memorable match, with both fighters hitting the canvas. Ramirez, who is set to fight Brandon Benitez on June 29, has made claims that Espinoza is afraid of a rematch.

Espinoza said he welcomes the challenge, even suggesting possible venues, and acknowledged that his mentality has shifted since winning and defending the title.

“I am ready and willing because I want to be a pound-for-pound fighter,” Espinoza said. “I would like to [fight in] Guadalajara or Mexico, if possible. If not, we could do it here in Las Vegas.”

Another potential opponent for Espinoza is Naoya Inoue, the undisputed junior featherweight titleholder. Inoue, one of the top fighters of the modern era, seemed destined to fight Ramirez before Espinoza’s upset victory. Espinoza is now eager to take Ramirez’s place in a potential matchup with Inoue.

“Yes,” said Espinoza when asked whether he wants that matchup if Inoue moves up to featherweight. “Because that has been one of my dreams, to fight him. Because in beating him, I would become a pound-for-pound fighter, which is one of my dreams. We’re ready and willing, and we look forward to that. So we wait for him to come up.”

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