On December 23rd Japan's Ryota Murata (15-2, 12) will look to make his first defense of the WBA Middleweight title, as he takes on hard hitting Canadian foe Steven Butler (28-1-1, 24). The bout will be the main event of a triple header in Yokohama and is expected to draw in an immense TV audience in Japan, as well as a solid audience from external markets, with the bout being shown around the world. For Murata the bout is a chance to claim a notable win and move towards some huge bouts in 2020, with talk of potential bouts against the likes of Saul Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin and Terence Crawford in the near future. As for Butler the bout is a huge opportunity to become a star, and go from contender to champion.
Of the two men it's Murata who is the star. What many don't realise is just how much of a star he is in Japan. He is probably the only man with a bigger fan base in the country than Naoya Inoue. We all know Inoue is a star, and the fact Murata matches him shows what a draw he is. He's a former amateur standout, who famously won a gold medal at the London Olympics in 2012 and also won a silver medal at the World Amateur Championships in 2011. He is the first Japanese fighter to go from winning Olimpic gold to winning a world title as a professional, and he is also only the second ever Japanese fighter to win a world title at Middleweight, following Shinji Takehara.
For those who haven't haven't seen much of Murata, he is technically quite basic. He's a a come forward pressure fighter who marches forward behind a tight guard, with a very powerful jab and works well on the inside. At times however he is inconsistent. His 2018 loss to Rob Brant saw him slowly following Brant around the ring, never getting out of second gear, never letting his hands go with any consistency and never fully committing to his strengths. He tried to box the boxer, and he made to look foolish. In their rematch however he used his jab, his strength and his power and battered Brant to the point the referee needed to step in. It was only a glimpse of what Murata can do, but it did show that Murata can look good when he's aggressive. He takes a shot well, he's strong, he's powerful and when he fights to his potential he's really tough to beat. It's just a shame we rarely see him fighting at his best. At 33 years old he now needs to fight to his potential, as any slip is probably going to kill any hope of getting a super fight.
At 24 years old Butler is a rising youngster, with a power punching style and strong promotional backing. Butler likes to fight on the outside, using his freakishly long arms and reach to keep the bout at range. Although he's not actually a big Middleweight he does look like a rangy Middleweight, though that may be exaggerated by the fact some of his opponents have been small, making him look bigger than he is. One thing that is really obvious from watching him, no matter who he was fighting, was the fact that whilst he is heavy handed his shots don't look particularly crisp. His power is more thudding, dead heavy hands, rather than explosive or elastic power. He often looks pushing his shots a touch. More worrying than his punching technique is the fact he really is open when he fires off shots. A top class fighter will counter him and time him, as Vitalii Kopylenko did earlier this year. As well as his openness he has also been hurt to the body, and Kopylenko actually dropped him with a body shot.
Despite the flaws with Butler he and his team are confident. They travelled to Japan more than 2 weeks before the fight, and Butler has certainly had time to acclimatise to the Japanese conditions, the change in time zone, and the weather. What that won't help with is the atmosphere, and here he is very much going into the dragons den. Whilst Japanese fans are typically respectful to visitors, they are still very behind their local hero's and they will be there cheering on Murata. For Butler to not have the crowd support could be an issue. Especially when he's having to fight off the pressure of Murata, who will be looking to get to his body and take away his legs.
Butler's power might look impressive on paper, but the reality is that this is a huge step up in class for him, and it's hard to imagine that power having the same effect on Murata that it's had on Butler's previous foes. Instead we see Butler starting with a lot of self belief, but having that self belief chipped away at. By the middle rounds Murata's body shots, stiff jab up top, and his pressure, will have destroyed the belief of Butler and will then destroy his dreams.
Prediction - TKO8 Murata
In October 2018 we saw American Rob Brant (25-1, 17) end Ryota Murata's (14-2, 11) short lived reign as the WBA "regular" Middleweight champion, upsetting the Japanese fighter over 12 1-sided rounds. The bout, which was supposed to be a big opportunity for Murata to shine on US soil against a limited challenger backfired, big time, with Brant using Murata for target practice over 12 rounds.
It was as humiliating a 12 round decision loss that we've seen a champion suffer in years, and in many ways it was similar to Joe Calzaghe's dominant win over Jeff Lacy. Brant, like Calzaghe, was the under-dog who set an insane work rate and Murata, like Lacy, was made to look slow and clumsy, unable to use their vaunted power. Both were boxing's answer to death by 1000 cuts, with neither Calzaghe or Brant having the power to stop their opponent, but having the work rate to handcuff them, dominate them and leave their man mentally questioning their future.
The question coming in, is whether Murata can do what Lacy couldn't, and can rebuild his career? We'll find out on July 12th when Murata gets his rematch with Brant in Osaka, as the headline bout of a big Japanese card!
When Murata turned professional, originally with Top Rank in the US and Misako and Teiken in Japan, he did so with a lot of fanfare and attention. He made his debut in 2013, stopping the then Japanese OPBF Middleweight champion Akio Shibata, with that win following incredible amateur success, including an Olympic gold medal and a World Amateur silver medal. His amateur pedigree and professional debut seemed to put him on the fast track to the top, though unfortunately he didn't really shine as many had hoped. As a professional he looked good, strong, but never great. He looked effective, but basic, only showing glimpses of brilliance.
Sadly for Murata he would never really replicate his amateur success in the professional ranks. He would never develop beyond being a strong but basic fighter. He had thudding power in each hand, a great chin, good stamina and applied solid pressure, as we saw in both of his bouts with Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam. Sadly though he would never develop the tools to use a plan B. He never looked quick or sharp, just always consistent, basic and thudding. It was enough to win his bouts against his earlier foes, and yes we all know he was robbed in the first bout N'Dam, but against Brant he was too slow and seemed like he was made to order for Brant.
Brant had entered the first bout with Murata as the mandatory challenger, but someone who was given little chance. He was, seemingly, the latest in a long line of boxing's undeserving mandatory challengers. He had done nothing to earn a shot and had lost, just 12 months earlier, to Juergen Braehmer in what was a pretty clear defeat to the German veteran. What few expected was for Brant to look like a totally different fighter to the one who had froze on the big stage against Braehmer. Against Murata he looked like a perpetual punching machine, a tireless bundle of energy, who set an insane work rate, threw an average of 105 punches a round, neutralising Murata with work rate. He out landed the Japanese fighter round after round.
Officially in their first bout Brant landed 356 punches, to Murata's 180, though watching the fighting it seemed like there was an even bigger difference between the two men.
Although Brant had gone into the bout as the under-dog he had dominated Murata and went on to successfully defend the belt this past February, when he stopped the previously unbeaten Khasan Baysangurov. That bout saw Brant show a bit more venom on his shots, dropping Baysangurov in rounds 2 and 11 to force a TKO win. He hadn't become a puncher, but had seemingly just added a bit more to his game after winning the title, and looked like a solid, if still under-rated, Middleweight.
Sadly for Murata it's hard to see how he can do anything to change the outcome from the first bout. He was too slow, too open, too basic, fought too 1-paced and showed so little hunger and variation. For him to beat Brant would take one of 3 things. Either he hands a freak 1-punch KO, shocking Brant. He gets Brant to freeze, shocked by the atmosphere, and takes the win due to Brant not adapting to being in Japan. He totally reinvents himself at the age of 33, and has some how remodelled his entire style in just 9 months.
The odds on any of those 3 things happening are slim, and we really can't see how Murata avenges his loss here. He looked lost, and we expected the same again, with perhaps a late mercy stoppage if he takes clean and repeated head shots in the championship rounds, as he did in their first bout.
Prediction TKO12 Brant
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On October 20, Olympic Gold Medalist Ryota Murata will make his second defense of the WBA Middleweight World Title against Rob Brant, in the States.
Ryota Murata (14-1 / 11 KOs) is one of Japan’s biggest boxing superstars. Names like Naoya Inoue, Kosei Tanaka, Hiroto Kyoguchi, Kazuto Ioka (and more), who all are now (current or former) world champions, have had quite the accomplished amateur careers, but none like his. It could take an entire article of its own so I will try and keep this as short as possible. Murata managed to win the prestigious All Japan Championship 5 times, in 2004, 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011, as well as earning the bronze at the 2005 Asian Championships, the silver at the 2005 King’s Cup in Bangkok and the silver again at the 2011 World Championships. In 2012, he finally realized his dream of becoming an Olympic champion, thus making history on multiple fronts, as he became Japan’s only second boxer to win a gold medal at the Olympics, the other being Takao Sakurai in 1964, almost half a century ago, and the first ever Japanese boxer to win it in the middleweight division. During his illustrious amateur run, which lasted nearly a decade, he fought and beat several major names like Abbos Atoev, a gold medalist at the 2007 & 2009 World Championships and Esquiva Falcao, a silver medalist at the 2012 Olympic Games, who turned pro in 2014 and has amassed a record of 21 wins and zero losses (currently ranked #6 by the WBA at the middleweight division). Murata’s amateur record is 119-18, with 89 referee stoppages.
Murata made his much anticipated pro debut in 2013 against former Japanese & OPBF champion Akio Shibata (21-7*) at the Ariake Colosseum. He proved his dominance by knocking Akio down in just the first round and causing the referee to step in the second after putting a beating on the veteran fighter. After despatching Dave Peterson (13-1*), in a one sided beat down, he faced former world title contender Carlos Nascimento (29-3*). In the third round, Murata landed a lighting fast uppercut, followed by a nice combination of punches that floored Carlos. The punishment continued throughout the fourth as well, leading to the TKO win.
Basically Murata’s pro run can be described with one word: Destruction! Besides 3 decision victories, he has stopped everyone who has been in the ring with. Jesus Angel Nerio (12-4*) fell victim to his patented right straight, much like Gaston Alejandro Vega (24-10) and Felipe Santos Pedroso (13-1). Douglas Ataide (13-1*) actually gave Murata one competitive round, but in the end, he shared the same fate as the rest. His fights with George Tahdooahnippah (34-2*) and Bruno Sandoval (19-1*) weren’t even close. Possibly his two most dominant wins to date.
On May 20 of 2017, the Olympian was ready to make history once more when he met interim champion Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam (35-2*) for the vacant WBA Middleweight World Title. The Japanese challenger scored an early knockdown in the fourth round, courtesy of a right straight to the jaw of Hassan, much to the delight of the fans in Tokyo. He almost dropped him again in the next but Hassan held his ground and came back firing shots. The fight turned out to be a back and forth affair, with Murata turning the heat up in the later rounds, catching the interim champ flash on numerous occasions. Both men went from punch to punch until the closing bell. Everyone was expecting for Murata to be crowned the new world champion, as he was always a step ahead of Hassan, for the majority of the bout. However, 2 of the judges didn’t see it that way, since they awarded the French fighter with the split decision and the title. The crowd started booing heavily, which it’s not something we see very often in Japan, unless there’s a dubious decision or any unprofessional conduct from the fighters’ side.
The rematch was set for October of the same year. Murata, much like in their previous encounter, had the upper hand, as he kept rocking the champion constantly with his right straight punches and body shots, all the time. It quickly became like every other Murata fight, where his opponent was practically helpless against his power and speed. After the seventh round, Hassan simply gave up, refusing to continue the fight. As a result, Murata was declared the new World Champion. 5 years later after winning gold in London, Ryota Murata wrote history again as not only he became just the second Japanese to win a middleweight world title in boxing (Shinji Takehara won the WBA belt back in 1995) but also the very first Japanese boxer to win both an Olympic Gold and a World Championship.
His first defense took place this past April, when he stopped former EBU champion Emanuele Felice Blandamura (27-2*), in the eight round. Also a historic win as he became the first Japanese Middleweight World Champion to successfully defend the belt atleast once (Shinji Takehara lost the title in his one and only defense).
Murata’s next challenger will be American fighter Rob Brant (23-1 / 16 KOs), this Saturday in Las Vegas. It’s obvious that Brant is nowhere near the Olympian’s level. His brawling style will not work here against Murata, who can fight you in a phone booth or can knock you out with a right straight, which you probably won’t even see it coming. At this point of his career, Murata needs bigger challenges like David Lemieux (40-4), Kamil Szeremeta (18-0), Esquiva Falcao (21-0) which will be intriguing given their history, or the former world champion himself Gennady Golovkin (38-1) who had expressed interest in fighting Murata in the past.
Actually, a battle with GGG would make more sense, especially now that Murata is the sole WBA Middleweight World Champion (the super champion Canelo vacated the belt when he decided to move up a weight class). Considering that his 2 fights with Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam drew close to 30 million viewers, in Japan alone, a clash with the former middleweight kingpin at the Tokyo Dome, would be one of the ages. Plus, if that match is to take place, it will be the first time a Japanese boxer has main evented the Big Egg. But for all that to happen, Murata must finish with this mandatory challenge first, which in my opinion, shouldn’t be that hard. The best is yet to come for Japan’s favourite son!
*Fighter’s record prior to the fight mentioned.
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.