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After Olympic glory, middleweight boxer Murata now eyes global stardom

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

London Olympic gold medal-winning boxer Ryota Murata is thinking big about his professional career to come.

But he knows exactly what he’s getting into, recognizing that he needs to become much better to be able to compete in the professional ring.

Now preparing for his second bout since turning pro in April, the 27-year-old Murata spoke of his rock-solid determination for the future.

“I am not allowed to fight against an opponent that’s easy to take on because unless I fight with tough opponents, I won’t develop into a better boxer,” said Murata of Dave Peterson, whom the Japanese will exchange punches with on Dec. 6 at sumo’s mecca, Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, on Tuesday.

Peterson, who hails from Minnesota, has gone 13-1 as a pro with eight knockout victories.

Although he has yet to study his latest opponent, Murata, who defeated Akio Shibata in a two-round bout in his pro debut in August, gave a quick impression of Peterson, saying he would be a tough man to beat.

“His KO-win ratio is over 60 percent, so I think he has the ability to knock his opponent down,” said Murata of Misako Gym. “And he’s lost only once in 13 fights, which is certainly a better record than mine.”

Well, maybe he showed some respect to the American fighter when he said that, because it seems that Murata sees the big picture and his sights are set beyond the upcoming fight against Peterson (the contract weight for the Murata-Peterson fight will be announced later).

“I can’t afford to stumble here,” he said. “If I do, I’ve got no future ahead.”

Murata is in the middleweight classes, which are currently the most competitive and popular divisions in the sport. And it’s historically been said that smaller-built Japanese boxers are unable to really compete at that weight class.

Shinji Takehara won the WBA middleweight title in 1995, which was the primary accomplishment for a Japanese boxer on the world stage in the heaviest weight class for a Japanese to win a world title.

“These weight classes are not the ones that are popular just in Japan. These are worldwide weight classes,” Murata noted. “And there are so many superstars. I’m training hard in order to be one of those.”

And Murata is an entertainer. Although he was an amateur boxer until this year, it appears that he wants to bring more attention to the sport through his performances, both inside and outside Japan.

“I want to fight in a way that people that are watching my fights can’t take their eyes off (them),” said the native of Nara Prefecture, who signed with Top Rank, a renowned promotion company that has numerous global star boxers, including Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez.

“It’s not just about the techniques. If you think that’s OK to just win, why box? Does it have to be boxing? I want to fight grabbing people’s hearts.”

To earn a bigger spotlight and respect, like in any other sport, you want to take risks, leaving your house and embracing a challenge to reach the top. And Murata, who gained his current fame in last year’s Olympics in Britain, understands the importance of that.

“I’m not thinking that it’s fine to be doing well just in Japan,” he said. “I think that you’d be considered a real deal by doing it there (on the world stage).”

For Murata, it won’t be enough to just become a superstar in Japan.

Then, it was Murata’s turn to ask the reporters a question.

“Who do you think the main star in the world is right now?” he said with a smile. “It’s (Floyd) Mayweather (Jr.), isn’t it? I want to storm in there. That is where I aim to get to and it’s my dream.”

But Murata didn’t necessarily trash talk like Mayweather. As a matter of a fact, Murata said that he has a lot more anxiety than confidence now.

Murata believes that it is a good sign, though.

“That’s why I can train hard,” he said. “If I have 100 percent confidence now, I wouldn’t be able to do it (training hard).

“But I don’t think it is impossible for me to achieve.”

In the Ryogoku event, while Murata for sure will be the biggest attraction, there will be other Japanese star boxers lined up. WBC flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi, an Ohashi Gym fighter, will put his title on the line against Mexican Edgar Sosa. In addition, 20-year-old phenom Naoya Inoue, also of Ohashi, will challenge for the OPBF Bantamweight belt against Jerson Mancio of the Philippines.

“It’s great to have an event like that,” Yaegashi, 30, said.

Asked whose bout would be the main fight, Yaegashi laughingly said, “It’s the gold medalist’s one, isn’t it? Well, although my boss (Hideyuki Ohashi) told me that it belongs to me.”