London Olympic boxing gold medalist Ryota Murata will get his first world title shot when he meets WBA interim middleweight champion Hassan N’Dam for the vacant title on May 20 at Ariake Colosseum, his Teiken Gym announced on Monday.
The winner will become the regular champion, the belt former champ Daniel Jacobs held before his loss against Gennady Golovkin in a multi-world title match in March.
Murata turned pro in early 2013 after he captured the middleweight gold medal at the 2012 Summer Games. Four years later, he’s finally earned the right to challenge for a world championship.
Fighting in one of the deepest weight classes in the sport, Murata is delighted to have been given the opportunity, expressing his appreciation to his gym and to other supporters who worked hard to make it happen.
According to Teiken president and former WBC super lightweight champion Tsuyoshi Hamada, the two sides officially signed the contracts for the fight the day before the announcement.
“I think I made the right decision to come to professional boxing after the Olympics,” Murata, 31, said. “Because I would not have seen the things I’ve seen as a pro fighter otherwise.”
But Murata knows victory over N’Dam will not come easily.
The 33-year-old Cameroonian-French fighter, currently ranked No. 1 in the middleweight division of the WBA, has far more experience as a professional fighter, having posted a 35-2-0 record with 21 KOs. He was briefly at the WBO middleweight helm in 2012 and has been the WBA interim middleweight champion twice.
Murata, who is 12-0-0 with nine KOs as a pro and is ranked right behind N’Dam, said the fight against N’Dam will “be a tough one without a doubt.”
N’Dam stands out with his incredible toughness. In October of 2012, he survived six knockdowns to go the distance against Peter Quillin of the United States, though he came up short and lost his WBO title.
N’Dam, who competed at the 2004 and 2016 Olympics, is a powerful puncher as well. His knockout of Alfonso Blanco, 22 seconds into the first round of their bout in December, was selected as the Knockout of the Year by ESPN in 2016.
Yet Murata is excited about the challenge, because if he defeats an opponent as skilled as N’Dam, he’d be able to proudly proclaim himself a genuinely strong fighter.
“In a sense, I’m doing this to measure how good I am,” said Murata, who made his pro debut at Ariake in August of 2013.
“I believe (N’Dam) is a dangerous boxer to take on. But I think you can say you are good when you beat someone like him. I’d like to prove I am by beating him. As a gold medalist, I’ve had so much support around me. This is a chance to repay them, and this is a chance to prove whether I’m strong or not.”
Hamada said it would be the “most important fight” of Murata’s professional career and could even change his life going forward.
Murata shares Hamada’s view and is going into the title bout with a back-against-the-wall mentality.
“One of the attractions of this sport is that your next fight could be what opens your path, or could be your end,” said Murata, who would be the first Japanese middleweight world title holder since former WBA champ Shinji Takehara, who captured the belt in 1995. “Your end could come any time. You can fight feeling the pressure and that’s an attractive thing.”
Murata said his strategy will be the same as in his past bouts, which is to put pressure on his opponent and land heavy blows.
“(N’Dam) uses his jab a lot and can keep moving using his feet for the entire 12 rounds, which nobody else does (in the weight division),” Murata said. “So for me, it’ll be important to not let him do that. I’ll try keep the fight at a mid- to short-range distance against him. I believe I’m better.”
Meanwhile, there will be two more world title bouts for Japanese boxers on the same card as Murata’s fight.
Daigo Higa (12-0-0), of Urazoe, Okinawa Prefecture, will challenge WBC flyweight champion Juan Hernandez (34-2-0).
Also, Kenshiro Teraji (9-0-0) will look to take the WBC light flyweight belt away from champion Ganigan Lopez.