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Ryota Murata beats Hassan N’Dam in rematch to claim WBA middleweight world title

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Olympic gold medalist Ryota Murata has obtained another shining treasure.

Five months after he lost in a controversial split decision, the 31-year-old Murata gave a dominant performance in a rematch against champion Hassan N’Dam and captured the WBA middleweight title at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan on Sunday.

Murata (13-1, nine KOs) became the first-ever Japanese Olympic medalist to win a professional world championship. He is the first Japanese boxer to win a world title in that weight division since Shinji Takehara, who won the same title in 1995.

N’Dam (36-3, 21 KOs), a Cameroon-born Frenchman, failed to defend the title that he earned in his first match against Murata.

Murata was extremely cautious and threw only a few punches in the first round of the May fight. But he began the rematch in a different fashion. He was in more of an attacking mode this time and fired more blows from the opening round.

Murata got into his stride from the third round. He landed heavy, effective body shots — the type which earned him the gold medal at the London Olympics in 2012 — and began weakening N’Dam.

From that round on, Murata showcased his offensive arsenal, which included body blows, hooks and a straight right. About half a minute into the fourth round, Murata wobbled N’Dam with a right and then, with 10 seconds left in the round, hammered a heavy left hook into his opponent.

In round six, Murata smashed another strong right onto N’Dam’s face with about 20 seconds left. And in the next round, he landed body shots and left and right hooks in a bid to wrap up the win.

As the bout was about to enter the eighth round, referee Kenny Bayless waved his hands to signal it was over as N’Dam’s corner suggested that the boxer could no longer continue.

Just as he did at the Olympics, Murata entered the ring with a smile on his face. But after realizing that he was the winner, Murata could not hold back his tears in the ring.

“I didn’t cry,” Murata joked in an interview in the ring. “But in the December of my (pro) debut year (in 2013), I had a bad fight here at Ryogoku. And I thought that the fans were going to desert me, saying, ‘there’s no way a guy like this can become a world champ.’ But they still came out like this today and I want to express my utmost appreciation to you all.”

The sacred sumo venue was jam-packed with 8,500 spectators.

Leading up to the fight, Murata had said that the only thing he did not get in his first fight against N’Dam in May was the belt, and that it gave him valuable experience and confidence.

After Sunday’s match, Murata insisted confidence was a huge factor in winning the title.

But Murata added that he would not be satisfied with just claiming the belt and would attempt to progress further.

“It was the case after I won the gold medal as well,” Murata said. “But I know that you’re going to have a rougher time after you win a title. And there are other very strong champions in this weight class at other organizations. The people here know it. I will aim to be at their level.”

Meanwhile, Japanese champion Daigo Higa defeated Thomas Masson of France with a seventh-round technical knockout in his defense of his WBC flyweight title.

The 22-year-old hard puncher overwhelmed his opponent from the first bell, raining uppers and body blows against Masson, who is tall for a flyweight boxer and stands at 170 cm.

During round seven, the referee called for the ring doctor to check Masson’s bruised right eye and stopped the fight with 1 minute, 50 seconds left.

“I knew a first title defense is always difficult and thought that (Masson) was very tough during the fight,” said Higa, who maintained his undefeated record (14-0, 14 KOs). “But I feel good that I knocked him out.”

Higa said that he wants a unification match next. Higa’s gym chairman, Yoko Gushiken, hinted that it would be against Kazuto Ioka, who is the present WBA flyweight champion.

“I want an unification match,” Higa said. “I’m OK doing it on the New Year’s Eve.”

In the WBC light flyweight championship, Japanese champion Kenshiro Terachi edged Mexico’s Pedro Guevara in a 2-0 decision (114-114, 115-113, 116-112) to also defend his title for the first time.

Guevara had the edge in the early rounds but Terachi (11-0, five KOs) took the momentum with his body blows against the former champion.

“It was a tough fight, but I was able to win because of your support,” Terachi, 25, told his fans from the ring in the post-match interview. “I was told that I should have had more body blows (in my previous fights), so I tried that a little. But I hoped I’d knock him down later in the fight (but I couldn’t). I still need to work harder.”