It'd be fair to say that 2017 was both the best, and the worst year for Ryota Murata (13-1, 10) as a professional boxer. In May he was robbed of the WBA Middleweight title, when the judges some how scored his first bout with Hassan N'Dam N'Jikan in favour of the French fighter, in one of the worst decisions of the year. In October however he avenged that loss by dominating N'Dam on route to a 7th round retirement of the Frenchman, to then claim the WBA Middleweight title.
This coming Sunday Murata looks to make his first defense of that title as he takes on Italian veteran Emanuele Felice Blandamura (27-2, 5), himself a former European and European Union champion.
Murata, for those unaware, is one of the most successful amateurs in Japanese boxing history. He won a Bronze at the 2011 World Amateur Championships, a Gold at the 2012 Olympics, 13 national titles and ran up an incredible 119-19 (89) record in the unpaid ranks. As a professional he has been on the fast track from the off, facing the then Oriental champion on his debut and never facing a fighter with a losing record as he raced into the world rankings. He hasn't always looked amazing, and his US debut against Gunnar Jackson was a very disappointing performance, but he's looked the boss in every one of his fights, including his loss.
In the ring Murata is a pretty basic fighter. He's not quick, he doesn't have amazing reactions and he's not a defensive master. But what he is is very tough,very strong, very powerful and very well schooled. His jab looks like it has the power of a straight right hand from most other fighters, he applies a lot of consistent, and educated, pressure, and uses very sharp straight punches to force fighters on to the back foot. Despite being quite a basic fighter we have seen Murata change gears at times, and when he really goes into top gear he looks sensational, sadly though we have only seen that in glimpses.
Although a pressure first and foremost Murata has brutal power, cuts off the ring surprisingly well and is a nightmare for most at 160lbs. He might not be truly elite level, but no one in the division will have an easy time with him.
Aged 38 Blandamura is a true veteran and made his debut almost 11 years ago. During that time he has fought in and around the fringes of European level, picking up notable wins over Manuel Ernesti, Marcos Nader, Matteo Signani and Alessandro Goddi whilst coming up short against world class fighters like Billy Joe Saunders and Michel Soro, both of whom stopped Blandamura in 8 rounds. Despite those stoppages Blandamura was competitive in both bouts, and showed the boxing skills and experience to give both real issues. Sadly though those skills weren't coupled with much in terms of power and despite having success he could never get the respect of either Saunders or Soro.
Blandamura has got really nice skills, skills that kept him competitive with Soro and Saunders, but at 38 his legs are slowing, his lack of power has always been an issue and so to has been his chin. Against Murata a fighter needs a chin, as mentioned Murata's jab is solid, and although Blandamura will have some moments where he can out box Murata he will always by dancing on ice. Eventually that ice will crack Murata will connect and the Italian's dream of becoming a world champion will end with his third stoppage loss.
On paper this looks a good first defense for Murata but the reality is that it's a show case defense for Murata who is planning to return in the summer to face former amateur rival Esquiva Falcao in the US. If things go to plan Murata will stop Blandamura in impressive fashion and get the bout with Falcao, as long as he doesn't over-look the Italian here.
It's fair to say that 2017 has been a brilliant year for boxing, with so many great fights having already taken place. Sadly it's also been marred by a pretty consistent stream of poor decisions. One of the worst came back in May in Japan when Ryota Murata (12-1, 9) lost his unbeaten record to Frenchman Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam (36-2, 21), who claimed the WBA Middleweight title with a decision that was widely viewed as a massive gift. In fact so bad was the decision that two of the judges were suspended by the WBA and an immediate rematch was ordered. That rematch will take place this coming weekend and will see N'Dam seeking to make his first defense of a “tainted” reign whilst Murata will look to avenge his loss.
Going into the first bout it was N'Dam who was widely favoured. He had proven himself at a high level, and despite two losses had certainly shown himself to be a world class operator, with incredible toughness and resiliency. He went in to the bout as a fighter known for being slick, a brilliant mover and although everyone questions his chin he always manages to show amazing re-recuperative powers, coming through some staggering knockdowns.
Aged 33 N'Dam is coming to the end of his physical prime, and there will likely be signs of both natural slowdown and and the wear and tear of tough bouts, but he still appears to be a smart and confident fighter. He looked sharp and full of bravado at the pre-fight public work out and certainly seems to be a fighter who has worked on a game plan to defeat Murata, working hard on neutralising the powerful right hand of the Japanese puncher.
Whilst N'Dam is proven, and is the champion, there are few who feel he won the first bout with Murata. He was too inactive, too open to the right hand and he lacked the physicality to get Murata's respect. He showed touches of great ability, but a lack of fire and hunger and he really was very lucky to get bailed out by the judges.
As for Murata the Japanese former amateur stand out, who won an Olympic Gold and a world Amateur Silver, he went into the first fight as a fighter who wasn't given much respect. He had looked lacklustre on his US debut, against Gunnar Jackson, and had left fans thinking that maybe he wasn't as good as his amateur pedigree suggested. There was real touches of class, but too many questions to favour him against N'Dam in May. In their first bout however it was Murata who shone, using his power,footwork and physicality to force N'Dam on to the back foot, and shake the Frenchman a number of times.
At the age of 31 Murata is still in his prime, and despite having had a long amateur carer he is still a very fresh fighter, with just 77 rounds of professional experience. He's tough, heavy handed and and highly skilled, whilst adding to his experience with every fight. It was possibly a lack of experience that worked against him when he faced N'Dam the first time, and whilst he was in charge he just failed to put his foot on the gas in the way he should have.
Although it's clear that N'Dam has worked on ways to counter Murata's dangerous right hand it's hard to see anything but a dominant win for the Japanese fighter, who will be looking to close the show this time and keep the result out of the hands of the judges. The Japanese fighter will look to force his will and this time we suspect he will look to crush the Frenchman. Whilst N'Dam is tough we do see Murata actually stopping him here, and really making a statement to become Japan's second ever Middleweight world champion.
Japanese world champions aren't rare in boxing, in fact the country has been one of the most successful countries in the history of the sport, however the country has struggled in the weights above 130lbs with only a handful of champions at Lightweight or higher. The highest weight a Japanese fighter has ever won a world title at is Middleweight, with Shinji Takehara being the only man to have done that. This coming Saturday we see 2012 Olympic gold medal winner Ryota Murata (12-0, 9) attempt to become the second Japanese fighter to claim a Middleweight crown, and the first Japanese fighter to claim both an Olympic gold and a professional world title, as he takes on Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam (35-2, 21) for the WBA Middleweight title.
Of the two men it's N'dam who is the more well known, and with good reason given he's had a very long and pretty successful professional career. That career began in 2004 and has seen the Frence based Cameroonian win the WBA International Middleweight title as well as the WBO and WBA interim belts, winning the WBA interim crown twice. Not only has he won titles but he has beaten a strong of notable foes, such as Avtandil Khurtsidze, Giovanni Lorenzo, Max Bursak, Fulgencio Zuniga, Curtis Stevens and Alfonso Blanco.
Whilst N'dam has beaten some top foes he's unfortunately best known for his two losses, to Peter Quillin and David Lemieux, who both dropped him numerous times on route to decision wins. N'Dam prove in both of those bouts that he was a talented boxer-mover, with love skills a very dodgy chin but an amazing heart. In total N'Dam has been down more 10 times during his career, but he has has never been stopped. On the other other hand he as scored 21 stoppages, including the sickening KO of Blanco last December.
With 37 professional bouts to his name and 249 rounds under his belt N'Dam is a genuine veteran of the professional game. He's also an accomplished amateur reaching the 2004 Olympic quarter finals and reaching the the Rio games in 2016. He was also a competitor at the World Junior Championships in 2002 and an African Junior champion. It may seem obvious, but he certainly has a lot of miles on the clock and it's fair to ask how many more he can add before his body just gives up with it's fighting spirit, and he finally suffers a stoppage loss.
Murata really came to the attention of international boxing fans when he was still an amateur, having won Silver at the 2011 World Amateur Championships and a Gold at the 2012 Olympics in London. Following those success Murata turned professional with huge expectations on his shoulders and he quickly made an impact on the professional scene by stopping the then Oriental champion Akio Shibata on debut. Since then the hope in Japan was that Murata was going to be fast tracked to a title, with the help of American promotional giant Top Rank. Unfortunately Murata wasn't moved as quickly as hoped but he has picked up plenty of experience whilst fighting in Japan, Macau, China, Hong Kong and the US. Despite only having 12 bouts he already has 65 rounds and has gone 10 rounds 3 times already.
Despite being a former amateur standout Murata isn't a “skill” fighter. In the amateurs his success came from an amazing engine, an impressive toughness and incredible physical strength. He was an out and out pressure fighter as an amateur and was one of the most exciting fighters in the unpaid ranks. Since turning professional he has flirted with being a boxer but has seemingly realised he's a better puncher than a boxer. It seems that whilst he was a good amateur he was unsure of sort of a professional fighter he was until recently, and now he's stopped his last 5 foes.
Blessed with pure physical strength and toughness it does sometimes seem like it's going to take a special fighter to hurt Murata, He looks like he can be out boxed, with his relatively slow feet and less than quick hands, but he seems to always find a way to be in the right place and and can really land dynamite with his right hand. Notably his hands are quicker than they look, and when he wants to let combinations go he can, as Douglas Ataide found out in one of the most impressive stoppages of Murata's career so far. It's the speed and movement that looks the key to beating him, but keeping on the move for 12 rounds against his pressure is going to be very, very difficult.
Given that N'Dam has been down numerous times it's hard to imagine him staying upright here for 12 rounds. Murata simply hits too hard not to take down N'Dam. There is however no proof that Murata will be able to stop N'Dam and the French fighter will get on his toes, box, move and out land Murata in the vast number of rounds. The real key here will be how many knockdowns Murata can get, and just how much damage he can do to N'Dam. If he can drop N'Dam 5 or 6 times, or cause facial swelling and following up on that, Murata will likely end the weekend as the WBA Middleweight champion. If N'dam can avoid the power of Murata and can fiddle his way to a decision however the title likely ends up back in France.
Our prediction is that Murata's power will be too much for N'Dam and the Japanese fighter will drop the French enough times to take home the win, either scoring a close but clear decision or a very late stoppage of the French. N'Dam certainly has a chance, but we're going with Japanese star to create his own little slice of history here.
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.