FOURTEEN months ago, 2012 Olympic gold medallist Ryota Murata suffered a wide unanimous points defeat at the hands of the unfancied Rob Brant. The unexpected reverse was Murata’s second of his career, having been on the wrong end of a highly controversial split decision against Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam in May 2017 – a loss he avenged via seventh-round retirement five months later.

Just as he did against N’Jikam, Murata gained revenge over Brant when the pair met in a return bout in July of this year. The Japanese middleweight star put in an explosive performance, with Brant having no answer to the heavy-handed, two-fisted bombardment coming his way. The end came in only the second round.

In his second appearance of 2019, this past Monday (December 23) in his home country, Murata carried on from where he left off in the Brant rematch. The Tokyo-based 33-year-old scored another dominant stoppage, this time against the game but ultimately outgunned Steven Butler.

Stiff jabs and hurtful rights marked the Canadian up early on, before a brutal finish was delivered in the fifth. A crunching left hook square on the jaw – preceded by an assortment of right hands – dropped Butler down and out in the corner of the ring. The referee called the contest off immediately at 2-45.

Ryota Murata vs Steven Butler
Naoki Fukuda

With the conclusive victory, Murata retained his (exasperating) secondary WBA strap. The true WBA champion at 160lbs is Canelo Alvarez, but it would be surprising if the Mexican superstar decided to take on Murata – the pound-for-pound king no doubt has bigger, more lucrative fish to fry.

Interestingly, the number one-ranked contender in the WBA middleweight ratings is Chris Eubank Jr. The big-name Brit holds the WBA’s (needless) interim belt, so a clash with Murata would make sense. Forget the fact that it would unify two unnecessary titles. More than that, it would pit two exciting, aggressive fighters against one another in an intriguing collision.

The most likely next opponent for Murata, however, is not Eubank. With Brant having an option to exercise a contractual clause for a rubber match with Murata in 2020, it seems like a trilogy fight between the two is destined next year.

On the Murata-Butler undercard in Yokohama, Moruti Mthalane and Ken Shiro kept hold of their world championships by stopping Akira Yaegashi and Randy Petalcorin respectively.

South Africa’s two-time IBF flyweight boss Mthalane came through a gruelling, action-packed battle with local warrior Yaegashi, during which 1,200 punches were exchanged. In the end, Mthalane wore the former three-weight world titlist down at 2-54 of the ninth. With this triumph over his fellow decorated veteran, Mthalane made it 16 wins in a row. He has not lost in over 11 years.

Body blows did the business for Japan’s unbeaten Shiro in what was the seventh successful defence of his WBC light-flyweight crown. Rights to the midsection forced Filipino southpaw Petalcorin to crumple to the canvas on three occasions in the third. A wicked left hook to the liver in the next frame produced the same outcome, leading the referee to pull Petalcorin out at 1-08.