Late last year the Japanese government prevented international travellers into their country. That resulted in the planned Middleweight unification bout between IBF Middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin (41-1-1, 36) [Геннадий Геннадьевич Головкин] and WBA "Super" Middleweight champion Ryota Murata (16-2, 13) [村田 諒太] being postponed indefinitely.
Today we finally heard some news on that bout, though sadly nothing was definitive.
In Tokyo, at the Teiken Gym, Teiken held a press event to celebrate Murata's birthday, as he turned 36. The event saw him, and promoter Akihiko Honda talk about about a number of things. The most notable of those was from Honda, who revealed that Murata is now planning to face Golovkin in April, with Teiken keeping him busy, getting him sparring and making pre-fight adjustments in preparation for a date for his dream fight.
Originally the plan had been for the bout to be on December 28th last year. That was postponed with Teiken trying to secure a February date, which never managed to materialise and now the plan is April.
As part of his preparation for the bout Murata is sparring with two Mexican sparring partners, who arrived in Japan in November, before the border for the country was shot. They are Ricardo Adrian Luna (23-8-2, 15), a regular sparring partner of Murata's over the years, and Jose de Jesus Macias (28-10-4, 14).
As part of today's media event Murata sparred 2 rounds with Luna and worked the mitts afterwards. Despite the set back and the long break he's had from the ring, he looked in good shape, and like he was hungry to make a statement when he finally faces Golovkin.
According to Japanese site "The Page" the rights for Naoya Inoue (22-0, 19) [井上 尚弥] are yet to be decided, and could end up being a rather big factor in how boxing is set to be shown in Japan going forward.
Since rather early in his career Inoue linked up with free to air broadcaster Fuji TV, who broadcast his bouts nationally to millions of fans, helping make him a household name across the country. If the bout was in Japan they aired it live, whilst his bouts away from home were shown on premium channel WOWOW with Fuji airing on the next day in a prime time slot.
That changed last year, when his win against Aran Dipaen was shown on PPV, with Hikari TV and ABEMA both distributing the fight to a Japanese audience. And only a Japanese audience. According to his promoter, Hideyuki Ohashi, the PPV got "satisfactory results" and out doing expectation.
Now it seems that Hikari TV and ABEMA are still in the running for Inoue's next bout, but so to is Amazon Prime Video, who are looking to get the rights for Inoue's Spring bout, which is hoped to be in April. If that happens, and Amazon do get involved in the sport, things could be set to change.
Inoue, the current WBA "Super" and IBF Bantamweight champion, is said to be most interested in a rematch with WBC champion Nonito Donaire (41-6, 27), and a bout of that magnitude would likely be shown globally. If Amazon Prime are smart with this and pick up global rights for the bout, it would allow them to get a toe hold in the sport, prove they can carry the weight of a major professional boxing event, and help throw their hat into the proverbial ring as a global boxing broadcaster, potentially a rival to DAZN. At the moment Amazon Prime do carry some selected sporting events, including Tennis and Soccer in the UK, and to then add global boxing rights would be a feather in their cap and something they have the financial clout to actively push.
The same report on The Page, also suggests Inoue is planning 3 fights this year. An April bout, a Summer bout and a bout in December, with the December bout expected to be at Super Bantamweight as Inoue begins to chase a 4th divisional world title.
It is worth noting that Amazon Prime Video in Japan was supposed to air the bout between IBF Middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin (41-1-1, 36) [Геннадий Геннадьевич Головкин] and WBA "Super" Middleweight champion Ryota Murata (16-2, 13) [村田 諒太], which was scheduled to take place in late December. It seems really obvious Amazon are very interested in getting involved in the sport, and it's a case of when, and not if, they begin to sign up fighters, promoters and partners.
Earlier this week we reported that a number of major bouts set for later this year in Japan were in doubt due to the rise of the Omicron variant of Covid19, and Japan's reaction to it, which included essentially closing the boards. At the time there was 3 world title bouts, including two massive unification bouts, all at threat of being cancelled or postponed due to the new restrictions.
Sadly today we saw announcements being made to confirm what none of us wanted to hear, and that the shows for December 28th and 31st were both off, at least for now.
The official lines from Japan regarding the show are a little bit different, even though neither will go ahead as planned.
The first major bout was the planned Middleweight unification bout between IBF Middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin (41-1-1, 36) [Геннадий Геннадьевич Головкин] and WBA "Super" Middleweight champion Ryota Murata (16-2, 13) [村田 諒太]. That bout, which was set to be shown on DAZN around the globe and Amazon Prime in Japan, has officially been postponed. Not cancelled, as some have reported, but postponed.
Teiken released a statement about the contest, and the show as a whole, on their website, explaining:
"We apologize for the inconvenience caused to customers who have already applied for the spectator ticket lottery and those who have been looking forward to the event. We apologize for any inconvenience this time. We will cancel it and will contact you as soon as the postponement schedule is decided. Thank you for your patience."
The plan for the bout is to re-arrange it for the Spring time, after the current restrictions are lifted. The current restrictions are to run until late December, would could mean a February or March date for the bout.
With the Middleweight being postponed, it also means that the WBO Flyweight title bout, between unbeaten champion Junto Nakatani (22-0, 17) [中谷 潤人] and Mexican challenger Cristian Gonzalez (14-1, 4), is also postponed, and Teiken are looking to again put on the show as a double header.
The othe rmajor bout is less clear in what is to happen to it.
That was the planned New Year's Eve Super Flyweight world title unification bout between WBO champion Kazuto Ioka (27-2, 15) [井岡一翔] and IBF champion Jerwin Ancajas (33-1-2, 22). This bout is currently in an unclear situation, with the only thing known is that it will not take place at the end of 2021 as planned.
Shisei Boxing Gym have announced that the bout is currently cancelled, and that the teams may sit down and re-arrange it for the new year, however it's less clear than the Murata Vs Golovkin bout, and reports in Japan are that no decision has been made as to whether to cancel it all together, postpone it, or postpone it and change the location of it, potentially taking it to the US for 2022. A decision regarding what will come of this bout will be made in the future.
For those curious, the December 14th card, headlined by Naoya Inoue (21-0, 18) [井上 尚弥] defending his Bantamweight world title against Thai challenger Aran Dipaen (12-2, 11) [แก่นนคร ศักดิ์กรีรินทร์] and also featuring WBO Minimumweight champion Wilfredo Mendez (16-1, 6) defending against Masataka Taniguchi (14-3, 9) [谷口将隆], will go ahead as planned.
Sadly there is one other bout that has fallen through due to the new restrictions, and that was a scheduled December 16th bout between Masanori Rikiishi (9-1, 5) [力石 政法] and Filipino Roldan Aldea (16-8-1, 9). Aldea has been unable to travel, and as a result the promoter of the event has issues what is essentially an open challenger to fighters in Japan. The promoter, Koki Kameda, has offered 1 million yen (around £7,000 or $9,000) to a fighter willing to take on Rikiishi at short notice, in an attempt to keep the show on.
As we're sure everyone reading this will be aware, last week saw a discovery of a new mutation of Covid19, with the mutation now being called Omicron. After that news Japan has changed it's policy in regards to international travel, now essentially heading towards closing it's borders once again.
With big international fights pencilled in to take place in Japan in December this could be a major problem, and force several bouts to be cancelled. At the moment it's not completely clear which bouts may be off, though announcements are expected in the coming week or so.
Despite the full impact of Japanese changes not being known there are some things we do know regarding upcoming bouts.
Firstly the December 14th card, headlined by WBA "Super" and IBF Bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue (21-0, 18) [井上 尚弥] defending his titles against Thai challenger Aran Dipaen (12-2, 11) [แก่นนคร ศักดิ์กรีรินทร์] will go ahead as previously planned. That card not only features Dipaen as an international visitor but also WBO Minimumweight champion Wilfredo Mendez (16-1, 6), who will defend against mandatory challenger Masataka Taniguchi (14-3, 9) [谷口将隆].
At the time of writing it's known that both Dipean and Mendez, from Puerto Rico, are in Japan, with both men arriving in Japan on November 28th, before the rule changes were announced.
Now on to what we don't know.
The first bout to be in doubt at the time of writing is the December 16th contest between Masanori Rikiishi (9-1, 5) [力石 政法] and Filipino Roldan Aldea (16-8-1, 9), which was planned to be the first non-world title bout with an international fighter in Japan since they first closed the borders in 2020. This bout is still listed on one of the Japanese schedules, but others list Rikiishi as now being set to face an opponent "to be decided".
Of course the Rikiishi Vs Aldea bout isn't a massive one, and there are three much bigger bouts set to take place later in the year.
The most notable of those is set for December 28th and will see IBF Middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin (41-1-1, 36) [Геннадий Геннадьевич Головкин] battle WBA "Super" Middleweight champion Ryota Murata (16-2, 13) [村田 諒太]. This bout is the one of most concern, due to how big of a bout it is. Sadly it's very unclear on whether it will take place or not, though Akihiuro Honda has told Japanese press that they are seeking to get Golovkin's entrance into Japan any way they can, including requesting permission with Golovkin as a special case. On the same card WBO Flyweight champion Junto Nakatani (22-0, 17) [中谷 潤人] has his second defense scheduled against 22 year old Mexican challenger Cristian Gonzalez (14-1, 4). It would seem a lot less likely for Gonzalez to special permission than Golovkin, and we wouldn't be surprised to see that bout as being called off, if any of the scheduled world title bouts were to be cancelled.
The other major bout planned is the December 31st clash between WBO Super Flyweight champion, Kazuto Ioka (27-2, 15) [井岡一翔] and IBF champion Jerwin Ancajas (33-1-2, 22). At the moment no comments to the media have been released about this contest, which was only announced last week. Like the Golovkin bout this is a huge bout for Japan, and the promoters are likely to seek special considerations for the contest to go ahead. We suspect news will break about this contest later in the week, which could include it being moved to 2022, being move from Japan, or taking place as planned, with special permission.
A week ago we got the official announcement that the long awaited Middleweight unification bout between IBF Middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin (41-1-1, 36) [Геннадий Геннадьевич Головкин]and WBA "Super" Middleweight champion Ryota Murata (16-2, 13) [村田 諒太] was a done deal, with a press conference in Japan announcing the bout. The press conference confirmed that it would be on December 29th, at the Saitama Super Arena, and shown on DAZN around much of the world, and Amazon Prime in Japan.
There was no under-card announced, and no supporting bouts confirmed for the event.
That changed this morning when two major under-card bouts for the show were announced.
The "lesser" of those bouts is an all Japanese Lightweight bout as former WBO Super Featherweight champion Masayuki Ito (27-3-1, 15) [伊藤 雅雪] takes on Shuichiro Yoshino (13-0, 10) [吉野 修一郎], in a bout in a bout for the WBO Asia Pacific and OPBF Lightweight titles, both held by Yoshino.
This bout has been spoken about in Japan or over a year now, but had failed to come together due to Ito suffering an upset loss last December. Despite that it's still a very highly anticipated one, and one that both men were looking forward to, as they explained at a press event today to confirm the bout.
Yoshino, who has been one of if not the the top Lightweight in Japan for several years now, stated that "I'm only thinking about winning over Ito. I'm not thinking about the future". He also explained that he was happy to get a fight on such a big stage, and that it seems clear that he's looking at this as his chance to break out and make a name for himself internationally. Ito on the other hand showed his gratitude to those who helped put the bout together, explained that he was lucky for this chance and that he sees it as a crucial moment in his career.
The other bout announced is more likely to get international fans excited as WBO Flyweight champion Junto Nakatani (22-0, 17) [中谷 潤人] returns for his second defense, as he faces off with 22 year old Mexican challenger Cristian Gonzalez (14-1, 4).
Nakatani was last seen defending his title with an impressive performance in the US against Angel Acosta, making his US debut with that win, and got rave reviews from American fans. His inclusion on this card is a smart move, especially given the fact the Flyweight division is one with notable international interest thanks to world champions from Mexico, Ukraine and the UK. As for Gonzalez he is somewhat unknown outside of Mexico, but he does hold a win of note over perennial contender Saul Juarez, and has won 8 in a row since a 2019 loss to Angel Ayala Lardizabal.
At the press event to announce the bout Nakatani explained, "I'm glad to have a defense battle in such a historic event in Japan" and added that "It is an honour to be able to play a match at such a big event. I want to win and connect to the match between Mr. Murata and Golovkin."
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