By Joe Koizumi
Photos by Naoki Fukuda
Gennadiy Golovkin (42-1-1, 37 KOs), 160, Kazakhstan, unified the WBA and IBF middleweight belts as he withstood a grueling battle with Japanese warrior Ryota Murata (16-3, 13 KOs), 160, and finally decked him with his tremendous attacks to halt him at 2:11 of the ninth round on Saturday in Saitama, Japan. Murata, WBA titlist, displayed his admirable courage in continually stalking GGG, who, however, caught up with him and scored a very significant victory.
Golovkin (amateur mark 345-5) won the silver medal in Athens Olympic Games in 2004, while Murata (118-19) acquired the gold one in London Games in 2012. It was in 2006 that GGG turned professional, while Ryota sensationally made a pro debut in 2013. Despite their only four-year difference of age, Golovkin, 40, was more experienced with 43 pro outings, while Murata, 36, fought just 18 bouts—even considering his two-year hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Also, in July 2014, Murata had an opportunity to experience sparring sessions with GGG at Big Bear, California. Then, Golovkin gave his advice to the still young and improving prospect from Japan, saying, “Hard training will give you the strength and confidence as well.” Murata diligently observed GGG’s suggestion thereafter.
It’s a Dream Fight not only for Japanese aficionados but also for Murata himself since he had highly respected GGG and pursued his footstep since 2013. The sensational event had some 15,000 people in attendance at the Saitama Super Arena, where we felt the greatest enthusiasm of spectators that prayed for Murata’s victory.
Murata made a good start with his opening attack, but Golovkin started throwing sharp and strong jabs to the peek-a-boo stylist to find his range. Ryota, however, turned aggressive from the second session as he connected with jabs and left-right combinations to GGG and was in command for two sessions. Murata, reminiscent of Alvaro Yaqui Lopez’s aggressive style, threw many straight blows in the long-range.
The fourth saw Golovkin turn loose with a flurry of punches to the tight-guarded Murata, who, in return, retaliated with left-right combos followed by left hooks to the side of the belly and had GGG retreating. It might be the beginning of the tide turning in favor of the Kazakhstani.
“I thought my body shots were effective to GGG,” said Ryota after the fight. But Golovkin cleverly pretended he didn’t take much punishment by Murata’s body bombardments, and connected with more effective shots to the Japanese aggressor in return.
The sixth witnessed GGG’s solid right hook had the mouthpiece thrown flying out of Murata’s mouth in the air. It seemed a clear sign of Golovkin taking back the initiative with his damaging shots with precision.
“Murata was (mentally) tough and (physically) durable,” reviewed Golovkin after the fight. It was true whenever GGG gave him much punishment, Murata fought back hard with persistent straight blows and left hooks to the side-belly. It became a give-and-take affair.
“Technically he was superior to me. I deeply realized it as the fight progressed,” reviewed Murata afterward. Golovkin, in round eight, pinned Murata to the ropes and landed light but effective combos to the face and body. But Murata’s strong heart made him endure them and fight back hard.
Despite his visible fatigue Murata gamely exchanged hot rallies in round nine, when GGG finally caught Murata with a vicious right followed by a left hook. Down he went. A towel came in fluttering into the ring, which made veteran referee Luis Pabon (Puerto Rico) call a halt. Good fight!
The victor GGG was interviewed in the squared circle. “Murata was a super champion. He showed his heart and strength as well. It was my great pleasure I could face him and exchange solid punches each other here in Japan.”
All the judges saw Golovkin leading after the eighth: Glenn Feldman 78-84, Alex Levin 77-75 and Robert Hoyle 79-73—all in Gennadiy’s favor.
The good loser frankly reviewed his defeat. “My body punches might hurt Golovkin, but he nullified the effect of my body bombardments by occasionally adjusting the distance so that I couldn’t go on attacking the midsection. Also, he often penetrated my guard with solid jabs and left hooks from outside. I did my best, and believe I could show my best. But Golovkin cleverly kept changing the angles of his punches to me with better precision.”
It was a heart-warming scene when Golovkin gifted his picturesque robe (called chepan, the national costume of Kazakhstan) to the loser Murata. They showed their utmost respect for each other, which had the spectators clapping hands for their sportsmanship.