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Ryota Murata happy with progress after successful first title defense

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Going into the fight, it looked unlikely WBA middleweight champion Ryota Murata would lose his belt to obscure challenger Emanuele Blandamura.

But he still breathed a sigh of relief after successfully defending his title for the first time with an eight-round technical knockout victory over the Italian on Sunday night at Yokohama Arena.

It was hardly a cakewalk for Murata because Blandamura boxed with a strategy to carefully avoid taking heavy shots by circling around the ring and putting up a high guard. That was why it took a while for Murata to wear down Blandamura before finally sending him to the mat and finishing him off.

Speaking to the reporters at Teiken Gym on Monday, Murata said he was “fatigued” because he had to chase Blandamura for much of the fight, which required extra energy. He added he was “relieved” to have retained his belt.

Murata (14-1, 11 knockouts) often insists it’s up to others, not him, to evaluate his performances. So when asked, he did not give any marks for Sunday’s fight. Teiken Promotions president and former WBC super lightweight champ Tsuyoshi Hamada, however, gave him “about 80 points” out of 100.

One of the reasons why Hamada gave him such a high score was that Murata was composed throughout the fight and could make adjustments following instructions from his corner.

Murata said his cornermen told him he was not throwing his right with the proper mechanics, while his chin was a little too high when he fired uppercuts to the body earlier in the fight. He tweaked those things accordingly, which helped him control the ring better.

Also, Murata knocked Blandamura down with a right hook, instead of his signature right straight. That ended up being the finishing blow as the referee stopped the fight in the eighth round.

“That was a hook,” said Murata, who won the title from Hassan N’Dam last October in Tokyo. “I would have just hit his guard if I had fired a straight. So I made a little angle with the punch (to land on Blandamura’s face).”

In fact, Murata is becoming a boxer who is about more than just his right straight. In the Blandamura bout, he was satisfied with his left jabs, too.

“I landed my left well,” the London Olympic middleweight gold medalist said. “Even during sparring, my partners would say, ‘Murata is known for his right, but his left is a problem too.’ That has given me confidence. There was a time where I became less offensive because I was conscious of using jabs too much, but this time I was able to throw more attacking jabs.”

There is speculation Murata will have his next title defense in Las Vegas in September. The Nara native, who is co-promoted by Top Rank, said that he eventually wants to take on Kazakhstan’s Gennady Golovkin, who is at the top of the middleweight division.

“I have worked with him in the same training camp. He’s someone that I admire and is the symbol of competitiveness to me,” Murata said. “He’s the real deal. And if I can beat him, I can be the real deal as well. So he’s an ideal target for me.”

After Sunday’s bout, Murata said he would work harder to become WBA (Super), WBA, IBF and IBO champion, knowing Golovkin would be heavily favored if he gets the nod to box him.

Murata, however, offered this cliche: “You never know what is going to happen.”

“When I fought N’Dam, people weren’t sure if I’d win,” Murata said. “But when we fought for the second time (after N’Dam’s controversial split-decision win), they thought I should win. (But) you really don’t know what will happen until you get in the ring. So it is kind of nonsense to think of what would happen (against Golovkin) right now.”