People who follow our Closet Classic series will know we love a good rematch, and a number of the bouts featured in that series are brilliant rematches that see fighters who had a great first bout go on to have a great second bout. Of course not all rematches are greats fights and not all bouts that get rematches were originally great. Here we look at a rematch that took place last year. Whilst not an amazing bout it was short, action packed, and well worthy of a watch.
Ryota Murata (14-2, 11) Vs Rob Brant (25-1, 17) II
In 2018 we saw Ryota Murata lose the WBA Middleweight title in rather embarrassing fashion as he was easily out boxed, out fought and out worked by Rob Brant. In July 2019 they faced off again. This time Murata was out for revenge in an attempt to recapture the title.
Murata had been a Japanese star since the 2012 Olympics, where he won the gold medal. He had been groomed for professional stardom, but had put in some mixed performances during his 16 fight pro-career. At his best he was an aggressive brute, with huge power, an iron chin and an impressive will to win, with under-rated hand speed and scary physical strength. He was a bit rigid but regularly fought to his his strengths with intense pressure. When he struggled to get opponents to back up however he typically looked poor, due to his slow feet and need to set himself before letting shots go. If he couldn't cut the ring off he could be beat, as we saw in the bout with Brant.
American fighter Rob Brant wasn't the number one choice for Murata's 2018 title defense. In fact the bout was essentially forced on Murata as a mandatory by the WBA and it seems like this played a part in Murata over-looking the American. The reality is that there was little on his record to scream world title challenger. He had no wins of note prior to facing Murata in October 2018, and had lost his notable bout to that point, being easily outboxed by crafty German veteran Juergen Braehmer. Despite being unheralded before beating Murata the American had shown what he could do in the first Murata bout, and it seemed logical that his style was always going to be a nightmare for Murata. He had quicker feet and quicker hands than the Japanese fighter, and was a more athletic talent than the strong, but rather rigid, Murata.
From the very start it was it was clear that Brant felt full of confidence, like his previous win over Murata was going to be repeated again here. He was on the move, letting his hands go and fighting in a similar style to the one which had seen him easily beat the Japanese fighter in their first clash. Murata on the other hand looked like he was more intense, applying more pressure and finding gaps to lands his shots in. He was going to the body with success, and was looking more active and hungrier than he had in their first bout. Brant was still busier, but Brant was being forced to work, rather than choosing when to work.
What's forgotten now is just how great the first round of this bout was. It set the stage for an equally fantastic second round as the two men continued to let leather fly.
Whilst the bout wasn't a long one it was short, thrilling and action packed, with a lot of heavy leather being thrown.
If you saw this originally it's worth reliving again now. If you missed it's worth a watch and was a very short bout full of big shots from two men each fighting like they had a point to prove. It wasn't a fight of the year contender, but it's a bout that was a lot better than we were expecting, very exciting, and full of explosive shots. A very intense but short thrilling war
The Middleweight division is one of the biggest messes in the sport, and like the Lightweight division it was the politics of the WBC and WBA that have caused a complete mess. The mess that those bodies have caused is compounded by the fact the division, if we're being totally honest, is rather thin on the ground in terms of worth while contender. In fact whilst the Middleweight division might be one of the most historically significant it is currently one of the worst, lacking depth in the ranks of the contenders, and being a total mess at the top.
WBA "super" and WBC "Franchise" - Saul Alvarez (53-1-2, 36)
Mexican star Saul "Canelo" Alvarez is by far and away the biggest name in the division, and the current unified WBA "super" and WBC "Franchise" champion. Sadly however it's looking less and less likely that he will fight at Middleweight again and is essentially holding up the division's development. As one of boxing's few global stars we understand the title bodies bending over to accommodate Alvarez to some extent but creating the whole "Franchise" tag to help appease him really was a pathetic move form the WBC who have really created a mess here. It's really unclear what Canelo's future holds, but as the biggest name in the sport he really is in the driving seat for whatever the future brings.
IBF - Gennady Golovkin (40-1-1, 35)
Kazakh star Gennady Golovkin is one of the stars of the division and still a hugely popular fighter even though he is now coming to the end of his long and successful career. The 37 year old won his first 37 pro bouts, unified the WBA, WBC and IBF titles and gave the division a real sense of clarity with a major divisional king. Sadly though he's gone 3-1-1 in his last 5 and looked more and more human with every fight. His two bouts with Saul Alvarez were both great but it was clear that he had slipped in the year between them. Golovkin looked even more of a faded force last October when he narrowly squeaked a decision against Sergiy Derevyanchenko to reclaim the IBF title. His next bout will be an IBF
WBO - Demetrius Andrade (29-0, 18)
American world champion Demetrius Andrade is a genuine, but also a man who has spent much of his career making poor decisions and and not doing things that would help him. Typically Andrade's fights have been dull to watch, and like he's fighting well within himself. Tall, rangy, talented, awkward and a southpaw he's a fighter that top fighters wouldn't be in a rush to face at the best of times, but he's also done little to help his marketability and his team don't seem to be in a rush to get him big fights. Andrade, known as "Boo Boo" has been a professional since 2008, yes he's fought 29 times in over 11 years, he's become a 2-weight champion, but his competition has been poor and at 31, soon to be 32, he really needs to do something big this year. He's started the year in an acceptable fashion, stopping the over-matched Luke Keeler, but now needs to face top competition to put pressure on the other champions to face him.
WBC - Jermall Charlo (30-0, 22)
The WBC mess, creating the Franchise champion status for Saul Alvarez, has seen Jermall Charlo being upgraded from the WBC "interim" champion to the WBC regular champion. Since being upgraded he's defended the title against Brandon Adams and Dennis Hogan. Charlo, like Andrade, is a 2-weight champion, having held titles at 154lbs and 160lbs, but is another fighter who has failed to secure big fights and done little to deserve them. On paper Charlo has a decent resume, with wins against the likes of Austin Trout, Julian Williams and Matt Korobov, but for a fighter who has been a professional for over a decade and has 30 fights he really should have achieved more. There is an argument that some fighters avoided Charlo, but in reality he did little to appeal to the top guys, and it's likely that he'll continue to meander through lower level challengers rather than get a career defining bout.
WBA "Regular" - Ryota Murata (16-2, 13)
Japanese fighter Ryota Murata might not be the most natural athlete, but the physically strong and imposing fighter is an Olympic champion, a former World Amateur Championship Silver medal winner and a 2-time WBA regular champion. In the ring Murata is a very basic fighter, but a very strong, powerful and heavy handed one who presses forward and looks to unleash monstrous right hands. At 34 years old Murata's time in the sport is limited, but he's expected to get a career defining bout this year, and he's been linked to both Canelo and Golovkin since December. The next 12 months will be pivotal in how Murata's career is remembered though it's hard to deny that he's a mega star in Japan and draws TV audiences in the multiple millions. His team have the money to attract a big opponent to Japan and that seems to be their aim this year.
Whilst the champions at Middleweight are exciting the Contenders unfortunately don't have great quality running through them, with a few standouts, a few unproven fighters and a few that seem to be making up the numbers.
We covered the champions here, The state of the Division - Middleweight - The Champions, if you missed it
Gennady Golovkin (38-1-1, 34)
The standout contender at Middleweight is Kazakh puncher Gennady Golovkin, a former unified champion and the man who was long considered the best in the division. He lost his belts in controversial fashion last year, losing a razor thin decision to Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, after having previously fought to a draw with Alvarez. Although still an elite level fighter we do wonder what his body has left in it, and he turns 37 in April. There is no set future plan for Golovkin and he is yet to announce which TV network he will be working with after the demise of HBO's boxing content. It's assumed he will head over to DAZN but no announcement has yet been made, and he may find himself frozen out of big fights until early next year.
Billy Joe Saunders (27-0, 13)
Another former champion in the division is England's Billy Joe Saunders, a controversial figure who has really harmed his career with out of the ring activity. The out of the ring issues saw Saunders turn many against him last year, before he failed a drug's test and forced the cancellation of a bout against Demetrius Andrade in late 2018. He's now been ordered to fight Adrade, in a mandatory title shot, but will receive a very low share of the purse and may well look else where. Saunders is a talented southpaw, and seemed set to become a star following his impressive win over David Lemieux, but the out of the ring issues has certain killed his moment.
Ryota Murata (14-2, 11)
Former WBA "regular" champion Ryoto Murata has blown hot and cold through his career, and at 33 it's not clear how much the 2012 Olympic champion can actually improve. Murata is a heavy handed and physically strong pressure fighter, but he's very basic, rather slow and can be out worked, out manoeuvered and outsped. At his best he's a tank but his title loss to Rob Brant last year showed just how limited he can be when fighters with good lateral movement and combinations face him. That loss was his only clear loss, with the other being a very controversial decision that was later avenged. He's hugely popular in Japan, but we do wonder if he will get another chance at the top given how poor he was against Brant.
Jason Quigley (15-0, 11)
Unbeaten US based Irishman Jason Quigley had long been linked to a fight with Murata, prior to Murata's loss to Brant, and as with many Irish fighters he does have a notable and loyal following. Despite that, following he is lacking in terms of notable victories and doesn't seem to have progressed in the way many had expected. As an amateur he won a Silver medal at the 2013 World Amateur Championships and a Gold medal at the European championships. He's been a professional since 2014, and whilst he is just 27 his best wins are against the like of James De La Rosa and Glen Tapia, rather than true top contenders.
Sergiy Derevyanchenko (12-1, 10)
Talented Ukrainian 33 year old Sergiy Derevyanchenko proved he belonged at world level with a good showing against Daniel Jacobs last year. He's a technically solid fighter, who is strong and has decent power, but at the age of 33 and given his lack of size he may well find himself unable to get the big win in the division. He was a standout in the WSB but turning professional in 2014 may well have cost him his peak years and it's hard to know how long he really has at the top. He's a fantastic fighter, it just feels like his career will be coming to an end before it ever really got the chance to take off. He was avoided at times but seems to be a high risk-little reward opponent for anyone in the sport, and may well be avoided again until he's slipped to the point where another contenders fancies their chances against him.
Khasan Baysangurov (17-0, 7)
Russian born, Ukrainian based, 21 year old fighter Khasan Baysangurov is one of the youngest challengers in the division, and is lined up for a shot against Rob Brant in February. Despite being a relative unknown he has been picking up wins against the likes of Guido Nicolas Pitto and Paul Valenzuela Jr. Given the quality of those wins he certainly doesn't seem ready for a shot at Brant, and very much looking like a fighter being jumped up levels. He is a decent boxer, but lacks power, and is really a few years away from developing his man strength. In a few years time Baysangurov might be a very good fighter, but right now it's far too early for him to get a shot at the top level.
Matt Korobov (28-2, 14)
At 36 years old Korobov is one of the sports most frustrating talents. He was an elite amateur, twice claiming World Amateur Championship gold medals, and he turned professional in 2008 at the age of 25 with the potential to go all the way. His career showed early promise, but he could regularly put in the performance that he was capable of, often preferring to win safe rather than to shine. In 2014 he got his first shot at the big time, but was stopped in the 6th round by Andy Lee and since then his career has struggled to come alive, that was until last December when he challenged Jermall Charlo and give the unbeaten Charlo a real test. That loss raised Korobov's profile and could well lead to another shot in the near future.
Maciej Sulecki (27-1, 11)
Poland's Maciej Sulecki is a 29 year old who has been a professional since 2010, but only really began to make a name for himself in the last few years. Since 2014 he has scored notable wins over Grzegorz Proksa, Darryl Cunningham, Huge Centeno Jr and Jack Culcay, as well as giving Daniel Jacobs a much tougher than expected fight. He's tough, has a good engine and a fun to watch style, though his lack of power and technical flaws do seem likely to hold him back from being a champion. He's a fun fighter however and should be considered a main contender at the moment.
Jack Culcay (25-3, 13)
Former WBA Light Middleweight champion Jack Culcay was just mentioned as one of Sulecki's best wins and is a pretty decent fighter himself, though sadly he sort of sums up the gulf between the top contenders and the other contenders. Culcay was a notable amateur, winning the World Amateur Championships in 2009, and was regarded as a big German hope as part of the post Sturm and Abraham era. Sadly however he has failed to fill the void left by the great Germans that came before him. Culcay is a pretty standard level European fighter who won the European title last year, but vacated it before making his first defense. He will likely get a world title fight, but unless he improves drastically at 33 he will be little more than a contender, never doing enough to become a true champion.
Liam Williams (19-2-1, 14)
Talented Welshman Liam Williams is probably another fighter who should be regarded as a European level fighter looking to move up a level. The 26 year old is a fighter who does have plenty of skill, but often ends up in gruelling affairs, which is a shame as when he's on point he is a fantastic fighter. He made his mark mostly at Light Middleweight, but move up after a couple of losses to Liam Smith and look fantastic last time out when he stopped the touted Mark Heffron. He still has a long way to go to prove he's a world class Middleweight, but he's young enough to develop the experience and tools. Worries do remain about his stamina and toughness at the highest level, but he does deserve a mention here.
Esquiva Falcao (22-0, 15)
Brazilian fighter Esquiva Falcao is one of two Brazilian fighters who are looking to get title fights at 160lbs this year. The southpaw from Vitoria is a talented fighter who won a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics, a bronze at the 2011 World Amateur championships and competed in the WSB. As a professional his career hasn't really taken off, and at the age of 29 it's getting to the point where it really needs to move on to the next level. His best wins aren't anything special but his performances have, for the most part, been dominant and it's clear he can step up another level. Sadly his competition has been several levels below world class, and we really don't know how good he is.
Yamaguchi Falcao (16-0-0-1, 7)
The other Brazilian brother looking to win a world title is the other brother, Yamaguchi Falcao. At 31 he is now in the "now or never" territory in regards to stepping up in class. He's proven to be talented, though like his brother we really don't know how good he is, and he's yet to face anyone of any known quality. Like his younger brother Yamaguchi was a top amateur, taking a bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics and competing in the WSB. If he's able to get the push he needs this year he could certainly be managed into a world title fight, but it really does seem too late in his career for him to become the star that Brazilian boxing needs.
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.