Ryota Murata regained the WBA "regular" middleweight title with a dominant performance against Rob Brant at Edion Arena in Osaka, Japan, on Friday.
Murata (15-2, 12 KOs), who had lost the belt to Brant by unanimous decision in October, landed a stunning 64 power punches in Round 2, forcing referee Luis Pabon to stop the bout 2 minutes, 34 seconds into the round.
Murata's 64 power punches connected were the second most by a middleweight in a round. Mike McCallum landed 74 in a fifth-round TKO of Nicky Walker in 1991.
Following the defeat to Brant (25-2, 17 KOs) last year, Murata had considered retirement. But with this win, he's back as a legit contender in a crowded division that has Canelo Alvarez as the WBA "super" champion and the IBF titleholder, Demetrius Andrade as the WBO world champion and Jermall Charlo owning the WBC green belt.
Is Murata back as a legit middleweight contender? What are his chances against the elite fighters in the division? Whom should Murata and Brant fight next? Dan Rafael and Steve Kim weigh in.
Which Murata is the real one? What is his potential and what are his chances against the elite fighters in the division?
Rafael: Murata is probably not as good as he looked in destroying Brant on Friday and not as bad as he looked in the first fight, when he wasn't even competitive in a wipeout decision loss. Murata didn't have any urgency in the first fight and paid dearly for it. Conversely, he believed his career was on the line in the rematch, and he fought like it. He needs consistency.
As for how he would fare against the elites in the division, I would make him an underdog to each of them. He is not as skilled as the others and not that big of a puncher despite the knockdown and stoppage against Brant. But they would be big fights because Murata is such a big star in Japan, especially if the fights took place there.
Kim: As usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle. At his best, Murata is a guy that throws a lot of punches and creates a fast tempo and pace, which is what he did in this rematch. I would say Murata is limited in some ways from a technical standpoint, but he's also a highly marketable fighter from an international perspective, given his star power in his native land.
Whom should each of these fighters fight next?
Rafael: Murata should line up the biggest money fight he can get. There was some talk before the Brant rematch that if Brant won, he could go to Australia for a money fight with Jeff Horn. That now could be of interest to Murata, who might even be able to lure Horn to Japan. In either country, that is a money fight and Murata would be favored. At his age and with his limitations, whatever fight Murata takes next should simply be for the most money possible.
Brant's only losses have come when he fought outside the United States, once by decision in Germany and the stoppage loss in Japan. After his first loss, he was brought back in a low-key hometown region fight against a non-threatening opponent. Get him another one of those, rebuild his confidence, and he can be back in the hunt for a bigger fight.
Kim: At his age (33), Murata should go for the biggest and most lucrative fight possible, and if can entice one of the marquee names to come to Japan, even better. No matter whom he fights here, it's a huge event. And for the bigger names in the division, it'd be an opportunity to be involved in a significant international event and make some real money.
As for Brant, given the nature of his loss, his handlers will want to rebuild his confidence versus a light-punching middleweight who will get him back in the win column.
Can Brant rebound? How? Is he as good as we thought he was?
Rafael: He did rebound after the loss in Germany to Juergen Braehmer at super middleweight in the World Boxing Super Series, so there's no reason to think he can't do it again. But his handlers need to go easy with him. He could use a couple of lesser fights to regain a confidence that had to be shattered by getting knocked out by a guy he had so easily dominated the first time they met last fall. He can rebound because he is not nearly as bad as he looked in the rematch with Murata, although he is also probably not as good as he looked when he took Murata apart in the first fight.
Kim: Brant has shown the ability to rebound in the past, but this time, instead of losing on points, he was knocked out early. That's a huge difference, and you do wonder how he'll rebound mentally from a loss of this nature. And because of that, the immediate matchmaking for him will be very cautious, at least for the first fight or two. Based on the way Murata turned things around, it's too soon to count out Brant completely. It was shown on Friday that you shouldn't ever write off anyone completely.
How can Top Rank improve its middleweight division?
Rafael: Top Rank has big-fight potential at heavyweight with Tyson Fury, at light heavyweight and lightweight, where it has several top fighters, and even potentially major fights at featherweight and junior lightweight. But Top Rank cannot just snap its fingers and have a stable of quality middleweights. The promotion has Murata and Brant in the division, and that's about it in terms of meaningful guys. The rest of the top guys fight elsewhere: Canelo Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin, Demetrius Andrade, Daniel Jacobs (who is planning to move up anyway) on DAZN and Jermall Charlo, Sergiy Derevyanchenko and even Matt Korobov with Premier Boxing Champions. That's not changing anytime soon.
Kim: The reality is that Top Rank will have to develop the future, because presently the other significant 160-pounders are aligned with other promoters and platforms. Right now, the richest roads in the middleweight class go through DAZN and Canelo Alvarez.