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Murata loses by split decision to N’Dam in first title bout

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

When the announcement was made, Ryota Murata, standing near his blue corner, was dumbfounded.

Murata had come up short, losing to interim champion Hassan N’Dam in a 2-1 split decision (116-111, 115-112, 110-117) in their WBA middleweight title fight at Ariake Colosseum on Saturday night.

It marked the first professional loss for Murata (12-1), while N’Dam (36-2) captured a regular championship for the first time since he won the WBO middleweight belt in 2012.

“I know that at the end of the 12th round, I thought I won more rounds than him,” N’Dam said after the fight. “When I won the first decision (while hearing the scores being announced), I thought I won the fight.”

Just looking at the surface — especially for the Japanese fans at the arena — it felt like it was Murata’s bout. He came out conservatively, putting his arm high up to guard his face for the first few rounds of the fight, while N’Dam kept firing speedy punches.

But after he sent the Cameroonian-French boxer to the canvas with his signature right once in the fourth round, Murata turned up the pressure and was in a more aggressive mode.

Though he wasn’t able to deliver further knockdowns, Murata landed some effective blows that almost sent N’Dam to the canvas.

Yet in the end, Murata could not finish off N’Dam, who threw way more punches and cunningly used his legs to avoid taking crucial blows, before the bell at the end of the 12th and final round.

“We know Murata has a very good right hand. So our strategy was to keep distance and I did it very well. Even after I went down, I kept the strategy,” N’Dam, 33, said. “So that’s why I won. He’s a good boxer, but he’s not complete boxer.”

Meanwhile, the 31-year-old Murata, who entered the fight as WBA’s No. 2-ranked boxer in the division, did not make excuses and accepted the result.

“The result is the result,” Murata said. “It doesn’t matter how I feel myself. Decisions are made by a third party, and I don’t want to say I won it or I lost it.”

Asked if his side’s strategy was correct in feeling out N’Dam a little too much, Murata quickly shot down that notion.

“He fires punches from unusual angles. And I wanted to see how it would be early on,” Murata said. “So if I went in more aggressively, not watching the angle of his punches and took them, it could’ve ruined my game. So I don’t think our game plan was wrong.”

Despite the loss, Murata said he felt a sense of joy during the fight.

“Going into the 11th and 12th rounds, I was thinking that I am fighting for 12 rounds of boxing on a stage like this,” Murata said. “This is something that I did not even envision when I was in junior high school (when I began the sport).”

Murata did not comment on his future, but said that he needed some time off to think.

In another title match, Kenshiro Teraji defeated Mexico’s Ganigan Lopez in a 2-0 decision to capture the WBC light flyweight title.

Earlier, Daigo Higa, 21, brought a world championship belt to Okinawa Prefecture for the first time in 25 years, since Akinobu Hiranaka won the WBA junior welterweight title, with a sixth-round TKO of Mexico’s Juan Hernandez.

Hernandez had actually been stripped of his belt as he failed the weigh-in on Friday.

With another KO, Higa extended his streak of winning that way to 13 since the start of his professional career.

“I’m extremely happy,” said Higa, of the Shirai-Gushiken gym, whose president is legendary former champ Yoko Gushiken. “I’ve been able to get to this point because of the support from our gym president, trainers and all that. I really appreciate it.”