Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Is Ryota Murata Ready For The Top Of The Middleweight Division?

One could make a valid argument that the most significant story in the sport of Boxing currently is the situation that resulted in the highly anticipated rematch between undefeated unified WBA/IBO/WBC/IBF Middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin and Saul Alvarez imploding. Although the subject of that situation is a column of it’s own for another time, what can be overshadowed when so much of the attention is focused on a particular fighter or in this case, two fighters who have become marquee stars are other events that go on in the same weight class where those marquee stars ply their trade.

Some may recall one month after Golovkin and Alvarez squared off in September of last year in what was ruled a controversial draw, a bout took place in Tokyo, Japan between two of the Middleweight division’s top contenders to determine interim/regular champion status in the World Boxing Association’s (WBA) Middleweight ratings. A rematch between a former world champion and a top contender of a fight that also had a disputed outcome. On October 22nd of last year former WBO Middleweight world champion Hassan N’Dam faced previously unbeaten Ryota Murata.

N’Dam, who had defeated Murata via twelve round split decision in May of last year, was gradually broken down by Murata who was able to stop the former world champion in seven rounds in what was frankly a one-sided fight. The impressive victory however, did garner attention particularly here in the United States.

Murata, who won an Olympic gold medal in the Middleweight division in the 2012 Olympics in London, England had carved out an impressive professional record prior to his rematch with N’Dam in scoring twelve victories in his thirteen pro bouts and had scored nine knockouts in those wins. Avenging his only loss as a professional created attention not only because of the impressive way in which Murata was able to break his opponent down, but also because his rematch with N’Dam focused the spotlight on a segment of the sport that has not always received the attention and television exposure here in America that it has long deserved, the Japanese Boxing scene.

If Murata’s victory over N’Dam established him as a fighter to watch in the Middleweight division, his next bout offered an opportunity to both build momentum as well as increase a growing fan base in the United States. On April 15th Murata faced former European Middleweight champion Emanuele Blandamura at the Yokohama Arena in Yokohama, Japan. A fight that like his rematch with N’Dam was broadcast not only in Japan, but also the United States by ESPN.

Although the native of Rome, Italy Blandamura entered the fight with an impressive record of his own of 27-2, with 5 Knockouts and had recently relinquished his European championship to face Murata, he simply could not find a way to keep Murata, a native of Tokyo, Japan off of him. For eight rounds Murata used his come forward style to apply consistent pressure on Blandamura and as was the case in his previous bout against Hassan N’Dam, gradually broke his opponent down.

Blandamura was able to have some success in using his movement to evade Murata for a period of time and did attempt to throw short combinations, but he simply could not land anything to discourage Murata from coming forward. Murata frequently pressed his opponent against the ropes as the fight progressed and brought an end to the bout in round eight dropping Blandamura with a flush overhand right that sent the former European champion down to the canvas. Even though Blandamura showed his mettle by getting up from the knockdown, the fight was stopped by Referee Raul Caiz Jr. seconds before the round was to end.

It was a systematic and dominant performance by a fighter who has quietly established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the Middleweight division while much of the attention focused on the division has been centered elsewhere. The question now becomes whether Ryota Murata is ready to face some of the top fighters in the division?

Although Murata does hold interim/regular champion status in the WBA Middleweight ratings, which in reality makes him the number one contender in the WBA for current unified world champion Gennady Golovkin, this observer is not sure whether he is ready for that high of a step up in caliber of opposition at this stage of his career. Despite the ongoing situation between Golovkin and Alvarez, which has Golovkin now facing Vanes Martirosyan in what will be the twentieth defense of his championship against on May 5th, which was to be the scheduled date of the Golovkin-Alvarez rematch, I cannot see Murata being rushed into a fight of that magnitude so quickly. There are however, some interesting options that could be available to Murata against some of the top contenders in the division and perhaps the second world champion in the division if what would be a mandatory title defense for Golovkin, assuming he is successful in his defense against Martirosyan is not in Murata’s near future. There are two possibilities that I believe could be viable options for Murata and they are potentially facing the winner’s of either the upcoming bouts between top Middleweight contender Daniel Jacobs and Marciej Sulecki, which will take place in Brooklyn, NY on April 28th or June 23rd clash between undefeated WBO world champion Billy Joe Saunders and Martin Murray.

Both of these fights feature fighters who are either at the top of the division as Saunders currently is, or have faced other top opposition in the division including Gennady Golovkin as both Jacobs and Murray have. While it is also not out of the realm of possibility to see a fighter in Murata’s position as a fighter holding interim/regular champion status looking to stay busy before getting his opportunity at the current WBA world champion as many fighters have done over the years, this observer believes an encounter with the winner of either of these two fights could provide Murata with the best possible route to an encounter with the Golovkin-Martirosyan winner that would not necessarily involve taking the fight on short notice or having to wait a significant period of time while facing other opposition before getting his opportunity to fight for the world championship as has been the case for numerous fighters who have held interim/regular champion status in the WBA’s ratings throughout the entire sport over the years.

The future however, does indeed look bright for Ryota Murata, a man some have called the new face of Japanese Boxing. If Murata can continue to win and increase his standing in the sport, it could lead to more of the Japanese Boxing scene and many great fighters receiving valuable television exposure and an opportunity to grow their respective fan bases here in the United States. It is something that is frankly long overdue.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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