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Ryota Murata defends WBA middleweight title with TKO in Yokohama

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Ryota Murata successfully defended his WBA middleweight title with a fifth-round technical knockout of Steven Butler on Monday night.

And if one of the sport’s most influential figures gets his wish, Murata will have an even bigger bout on home soil in the first half of next year.

The London Olympics middleweight gold medalist took control of the Yokohama Arena ring from the opening bell with his signature fighting style — pressing his opponent and landing heavy blows.

Murata (16-2, 13 knockouts) utilized a variety of punches in his arsenal to deliver regular damage to the 24-year-old challenger — including straight rights, hooks and body blows.

Murata’s heavy punches put Butler on the defensive, forcing him to run around and use his legs to avoid taking too much damage.

Murata concluded the night in round five by raining punches on the weakened Butler (28-2-1, 24 KOs), who finally fell to the canvas. Rafael Ramos stopped the fight right away, with 15 seconds remaining.

“His jab is stronger than I thought and I was surprised,” Murata said of Butler, who is ranked eighth by the WBA and first in the World Boxing Organization, after the bout.

Murata added: “It’s been a year of upheaval, but I feel like I’ve finally been able to establish my own style of boxing.”

Murata had recaptured the WBA title with a second-round win over Rob Brant, who beat him in Las Vegas in 2018, in a July rematch in Osaka.

Top Rank CEO Bob Arum, who attended the event, said that he would like Murata to fight against either Gennady Golovkin or Canelo Alvarez “before the Olympics” next year.

“So what we hope really is, before the (Tokyo) Olympics, we hope to either get Canelo Alvarez or GGG over here to Japan do a big, big event with Murata in the Tokyo Dome,” Arum told reporters. “Both fighters have indicated to me that they would love to come to Japan and do a big fight against Murata and that’s what I hope to accomplish.”

Arum added: “For me, I really believe Murata beats both of them and whichever he’s going to fight, believe me, next year, he will fight each of them and everybody will accept that he’s the undisputed champion.”

While Murata said that he wants to take on “real deals” going forward, he would compete against whoever he was designated by his promoters.

Meanwhile, WBC light flyweight titleholder Kenshiro Teraji defended his belt for the seventh time with a fourth-round TKO of interim champion Randy Petalcorin.

Teraji struggled somewhat against the Filipino southpaw early on but found a way to bounce back in the third round.

In the third round, the 27-year-old knocked down Petalcorin (31-4-1, 23 KOs) three times, all with body shots, and ended the bout just over a minute into the next round. Teraji (17-0, 10 KOs) wrapped it up with a perfect combination of a right straight and left body shot.

“I took some left shots and have to reflect on that,” said Teraji, who participated in his first bout since changing his ring name from Ken Shiro to his real name. “But I was able to knock him out and can give myself credit overall.”

Teraji was originally scheduled to compete against IBF champ Felix Alvarado in a unification match, but the Nicaraguan withdrew due to an illness.

On the same card Monday, veteran Akira Yaegashi was TKO’d by IBF flyweight champ Moruti Mthalane in the ninth round.

The 36-year-old Yaegashi (28-7, 16 KOs), courageously fought toe-to-toe against Mthalane but eventually fell to the South African.

Mthalane (39-2, 26 KOs) damaged Yaegashi with a devastating body shot in the eighth and landed a heavy right late in the ninth. Referee Mario Gonzalez subsequently stopped the fight with six seconds left.

Speaking to reporters afterward, the Iwate Prefecture native hinted that he’s considering retirement.

Earlier in the day, former pound-for-pound king Roman Gonzalez posted a second-round TKO win over Diomel Diocos, who was making his pro debut. It was the first fight in 15 months for Gonzalez (48-2, 40 KOs), who was returning to the ring after undergoing right knee surgery.