The attention Ryota Murata has garnered since winning the Olympic gold medal in the middleweight division at last year’s London Games comes with a price. Due to the Japan Boxing Commission’s strict oversights governing matchmaking, Murata won’t have the luxury of building his record against an assembly line of no-hopers.
In just his first bout, the 27-year-old Murata was matched with reigning Oriental Pacific Boxing Federation (OPBF) middleweight champion Akio Shibata, who entered Saturday’s bout at the Ariake Colosseum in Tokyo with a record of 21-7-1 (9 knockouts) built against a whos-who of Japan’s (admittedly limited) middleweights, in a scheduled six-round bout.
At the very least, Las Vegas-based promotional outfit Top Rank would know as much about the amateur standout that they signed as possible right off the bat.
With his new promoter Bob Arum seated at ringside, Murata would not disappoint. Using a barrage of heavy right hand leads, Murata pounded Shibata before the referee stopped the bout at 2:24 of the second round.
Stalking his opponent behind a high, peek-a-boo style guard with the words “BIG DREAMS” emblazoned on the back of his trunks, Murata stepped in and dropped Shibata hard with a right cross on the chin with 30 seconds remaining in the first round. Shibata rose up at the count of four. Murata’s greater physicality was too much for Shibata to overcome, and a few more right hands the following round led to the stoppage the following round
If the results were ideal, the application wasn’t always perfect. Murata often found himself following Shibata instead of cutting off the ring, allowing Shibata to move and survive while causing Murata to be out of position to land the right hand.
Murata, who had been training with former Cuban Olympic coach Ismael Salas in Las Vegas for this bout, won Japan’s first boxing gold medal since 1964 and is the first Japanese boxer to win a medal above the bantamweight division. Before he can be fit into Top Rank’s plans for casino events in Macau and Singapore, Murata must first satisfy a JBC mandate and compete three times at home before fighting abroad.
As Murata’s career was beginning, the up-and-down career of Jorge Linares was trying to get back on track. The former featherweight and junior lightweight titleholder Linares (34-3, 22 KOs) won his third straight bout in the co-featured slot, stopping Nicaraguan journeyman Berman Sanchez (26-6-3, 18 KOs) at 1:09 of the third round.
Linares, who is a native of Barinas, Venezuela who now resides in Tokyo, is working to revive his career after suffering back-to-back technical knockout defeats to Sergio Thompson and Antonio DeMarco in 2011-12.