More Sports / Boxing

Middleweight champ Ryota Murata training for first title defense

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Ryota Murata said that the biggest difference since he became a champion is that taxi drivers are surprised to see him when they look at the back seat of their cars.

“It’s one of those moments that make me feel (I’ve become a world champion),” said Murata, who captured the WBA middleweight title in a rematch against Hassan N’Dam in late October in Tokyo, on Tuesday as he resumed training at Teiken Gym. “People talk to me more often in the streets as well.”

All kidding aside, the 31-year-old fighter certainly wants to retain his belt as long as he can.

Murata (13-1, 10 knockouts) is scheduled to make his first title defense next spring in Japan. But the opponent has not yet been decided and his chief aim is to stay in shape and improve his level of physical fitness.

For Murata, his world title is one of his crowning achievements, and winning the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics is, too.

For Japanese boxing fans, Murata’s world title instilled pride in them. He brought the country a belt in one of the heavier weight classes, which is unusual for Japanese boxers.

Murata, who became the second Japanese to win a middleweight world title after Shinji Takehara, is trying to remain composed. The fighting philosopher said that the fact that he now has a belt will not change who he is nor his boxing style.

In fact, Murata is afraid that the champion status might unconsciously modify his mentality.

“One concern that I have is, I might lose my hungry spirit,” Murata said. “That obviously works negatively on you.”

He confessed that he had no idea how tough it would be to win it and that he carried so much pressure on his shoulders before he actually achieved the title. But he has gotten the monkey off his back now.

“I’ve been relieved from the pressure I had and will be able to fight more freely going forward,” said Murata, who fell to N’Dam in a controversial split decision in their first match in May. “I take it positively.”

His own concern of potentially losing his hunger might actually be a needless fear, because he surely knows he has still has to prove himself again to become more of a legitimate global boxing star.

“If I fight in the United States now, nobody would be interested to see it,” the Nara native said, comparing himself with mega stars like Gennady Golovkin and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. “So I still have a lot to prove myself. I will have to get better and put myself in a situation where people would say, ‘Maybe it’s interesting for this champion to have a match against Murata.’ “

Teiken Promotions president and former WBC super lightweight champ Tsuyoshi Hamada said that Murata would face more competitive bouts going forward and that he would have to overcome any potential tough situations in the ring on his own.

“A good thing is that (Murata) has time until his next match,” Hamada said. “He showed his adjustment ability in the fight (against N’Dam). But he has time to test a lot of different things in his training.”

Bob Arum, CEO of Top Rank, hinted that when he flew to Tokyo last month to observe the Murata-N’Dam bout, he wanted Murata to fight in the U.S. sometime in 2018.