Dan Rafael: Ryota Murata

Top Rank Olympian binge continues

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21
Top Rank continued its 2012 Olympic signing binge this week when Bob Arum announced he had signed two-time Olympian Egidijus Kavaliauskas of Lithuania to his stable.

Kavaliauskas (4-0, 3 KOs), a 25-year-old welterweight, has fought three of his four professional fights on Top Rank cards. Now he and the company have a formal relationship.

His first bout under the deal is a scheduled six-rounder on March 29 at the Texas Station Gambling Hall in Las Vegas.

Kavaliauskas, who is trained by Robert Garcia, boxed for Lithuania in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. He was a bronze medalist at the 2011 world championships.

Kavaliauskas is managed by Egis Klimas, who also manages featherweight super prospect Vasyl Lomachenko, the two-time Olympic medalist.

“Kavaliauskas will put his mark on the welterweight division and will bring Lithuania onto the pro boxing map," Klimas said.

If you are keeping track at home, it brings the number of 2012 Olympians that Top Rank has signed has to 10, including gold medalists Lomachenko (Ukraine), Zou Shiming (China), Ryota Murata (Japan), Egor Mekhontcev (Russia), silver medalist Esquiva Falcao (Brazil), bronze medalist Alexander Gvozdyk (Ukraine), Jose Ramirez (United States), Felix Verdejo (Puerto Rico) and Oscar Valdez (Mexico).

Top Rank signs Olympic medalist

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
Top Rank promoter Bob Arum has added yet another 2012 Olympic medalist to his company’s growing stable, light heavyweight bronze winner Alexander Gvozdyk of Ukraine.

Gvozdyk will make his professional debut in the spring.

"Top Rank is delighted to have signed Alexander. We expect him to rise to the top level of his division," Arum said in announcing the signing.

Gvozdyk just missed advancing to the gold medal final, drawing 13-13 with Adilbek Niyazymbetov of Kazakhstan but losing via punch countback.

Gvozdyk wound up with Top Rank because of his ties to featherweight Vasyl Lomachenko, the two-time gold medalist from Ukraine whom Arum also signed. Gvozdyk and Lomachenko have the same manager, Egis Klimas.

"Alexander is another great addition to the light heavyweight division which is quickly becoming the hottest weight class in boxing," Klimas said.

Arum has signed several gold winners and other Olympians from around the world. As he sees it, there are many markets around the globe for him to do business in, which is what has led to his branching out beyond just signing Olympians from the United States, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

From the 2012 Olympics, Arum signed four gold medalists: Lomachenko (Ukraine), flyweight Zou Shiming (China), middleweight Ryota Murata (Japan) and light heavyweight Egor Mekhontcev (Russia). He also signed middleweight silver medalist Esquiva Falcao of Brazil, who won his pro debut on Saturday, and three other top prospects who fought in London, American junior welterweight Jose Ramirez, Puerto Rican lightweight Felix Verdejo and Mexican featherweight Oscar Valdez.

Arum met Gvozdyk a few weeks ago at his home in Los Angeles when Lomachenko paid him a visit and brought Gvozdyk along with him. Arum was impressed with him, liked his amateur credentials and eventually signed him.

Japan's fighter of year: Yamanaka

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
Bantamweight titlist Shinsuke Yamanaka has never fought outside of his home country of Japan and certainly isn't a well-known figure to American boxing fans, but he is one of the best 118-pounders in the world.

The 31-year-old Yamanaka (20-0-2, 15 KOs), a southpaw, has made five title defenses since knocking out Mexico's Christian Esquivel in the 11th round in November 2011. In 2012, in his first two defenses, Yamanaka outpointed Vic Darchinyan and knocked out Tomas Rojas, both former junior bantamweight titleholders.

Yamanaka made three more defenses in 2013, knockouts of Malcolm Tunacao, Jose Nieves and Alberto Guevara. It was a strong year for Yamanaka, who this week was selected jointly by the Japan Boxing Commission and the Japanese boxing writers as the Japanese Boxer of the Year for 2013. He received 21 of the 34 total votes for the award.

Junior lightweight titlist Takashi Uchiyama (21-0-1, 17 KOs), who made two of his eight defenses in 2013, was the runner-up (11 votes). He knocked out Jaider Parra in the fifth round in May and then survived a 10th-round knockout to easily outpoint Daiki Kanenko on New Year's Eve in Tokyo.

Kazuto Ioka (14-0, 9 KOs), the outstanding junior flyweight titlist, was third (2 votes), coming off a 2013 in which he made three successful defenses after winning his belt in late 2012.

Several other awards were handed out, including rookie of the year, which went to middleweight Ryota Murata (2-0, 2 KOs), the 2012 Olympic gold medalist, who turned pro in August. We should see him in the United States at some point because he is co-promoted by Top Rank.
The Japanese fight of the year award went to Uchiyama-Kaneko.

Murata, Linares, Frampton fights set

August, 21, 2013
A couple of notes from the boxing world:

• On Sunday in Tokyo, 27-year-old Ryota Murata, the heralded 2012 Olympic middleweight gold medalist from Japan, will make his pro debut. Murata will headline the card at the Ariake Coliseum in a scheduled six-rounder against Akio Shibata (21-7-1, 9 KOs), who holds the OPBF middleweight title, which is one of Asia’s most traditional regional belts. Murata recently signed a co-promotional deal with Akihiko Honda’s Teiken Boxing and Top Rank, which has plans for him to fight in the United States next year. Top Rank’s Bob Arum made the trip to Japan to attend Murata’s debut.

Also on the card is former featherweight and junior lightweight titlist Jorge Linares (33-3, 21 KOs), who faces Berman Sanchez (26-5-3, 18 KOs) of Nicaragua in a 10-round lightweight contest. Linares, who is from Venezuela, has made Japan his second home for years. He has won two fights in a row since disastrous knockout losses to Antonio DeMarco for a vacant lightweight belt in 2011 and Sergio Thompson in a March 2012 title eliminator.

• European junior featherweight champion Carl Frampton (16-0, 11 KOs), a rising talent in the 122-pound division, will defend his belt against Jeremy Parodi (35-1-1, 9 KOs) of France on Oct. 19 (BoxNation in the U.K.). The fight will take place at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Frampton’s hometown. Frampton is closing in on a mandatory world title shot at the belt that Spain’s Kiko Martinez won Saturday night in Atlantic City, N.J., by stopping Jhonatan Romero in the sixth round of an upset. Two fights before winning the title, Martinez (29-4, 21 KOs) was knocked out by Frampton in the ninth round. If Frampton becomes the mandatory, a rematch would be in the cards.

Romero to defend belt on Aug. 17

July, 5, 2013
Junior featherweight titlist Jonathan Romero (23-0, 12 KOs) of Colombia, who outpointed Alejandro Lopez in February to win a 122-pound belt that Nonito Donaire vacated, will make his first defense Aug. 17 (HBO) at the Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J. The opponent isn't set, but the leading candidate is Spain's Kiko Martinez (28-4, 20 KOs), a former European champion who is promoted by middleweight champion Sergio Martinez.

Whomever Romero faces, the fight will be the co-feature on the card headlined by middleweight titlist Daniel Geale (29-1, 15 KOs) of Australia, who will be making his American debut in a defense against England's Darren Barker (25-1, 16 KOs), whose only loss came by 11th-round knockout against Martinez in a 2011 championship fight in Atlantic City.

Welterweight prospect Thomas Dulorme (18-1, 13 KOs) of Puerto Rico will also be on the card, and his bout will be televised on HBO Latino. Dulorme was being lined up to face former lightweight titlist Paul Spadafora (48-0-1, 19 KOs), who has been fighting at junior welterweight and welterweight for the past several years. However, according to HBO, after going far down the road on a deal, Spadafora ultimately rejected the fight. Dulorme's team is still searching for an opponent.

• Assuming Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. gets his visa issues worked out and his planned fight with Brian Vera goes on as planned at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sept. 7, Top Rank and HBO are planning for Las Vegas welterweight Jesse Vargas (22-0, 9 KOs) to be in the televised co-feature. HBO and Top Rank want to match him with Luis Carlos Abregu (35-1, 28 KOs), but Vargas' team has so far balked at the match, according to Top Rank.

• Ryota Murata, the heralded 2012 Olympic middleweight gold medalist from Japan, will make his pro debut Aug. 25 in Tokyo. He'll face Akio Shibata (21-7-1, 9 KOs) in a scheduled six-rounder. Murata recently signed a co-promotional contract with Akihiko Honda's Teiken Boxing, the No. 1 promoter in Japan, and Top Rank, which will handle any of his bouts outside of Japan. Murata's gold medal was the first for a Japanese boxer in the Olympics since Takao Sakurai claimed one at the 1964 Tokyo Games. Murata is also the first Japanese fighter to win an Olympic medal in a division other than bantamweight or flyweight.

• Puerto Rican flyweight prospect Jonathan "Bomba" Gonzalez (13-0, 11 KOs) is stepping up his level of opposition in a major way. He will face former junior flyweight champion Giovani Segura (29-3-1, 25 KOs) of Mexico on Aug. 17 in a 10-rounder in Carolina, Puerto Rico. Promoter Peter Rivera said that the winner could face flyweight titlist Juan Francisco Estrada, who will first defend against Milan Melindo on July 27 (HBO2) in Macau, China.

"Segura beat two times our champion Ivan Calderon, and the fight is a fight that Bomba always has told us he wanted since he started his professional career," Rivera said.

• Middleweight titlist/knockout artist Gennady Golovkin is steadily building his name and audience. According to Nielsen, Golovkin's vicious third-round body-shot knockout of Matthew Macklin on Saturday drew 1.1 million viewers, the biggest audience of GGG's three HBO fights. It was a 35 percent increase over his January undercard fight against Gabriel Rosado, which drew 813,000 viewers -- a nice increase over his HBO debut last year against Grzegorz Proksa, which drew 685,000 viewers for a main event. What it means is that Golovkin is clearly gaining an audience with each successive fight.

• British lightweight contender Kevin Mitchell (33-2, 24 KOs), 28, was blown out in his most recent fight, getting stopped in the fourth round by titleholder Ricky Burns in September. Mitchell will return Saturday in London against Sebastien Benito (10-6, 3 KOs) of France for what should be a routine destruction. The scheduled 10-rounder is designed to get Mitchell back in the ring so that he can shake off some rust and move back in the direction of another title shot.

"It's a great division, and I want to get back up there," Mitchell said. "Where do I see myself in it? I want to be a world champion. I'm not here to mess around and play games, be second best and get stopped in four rounds. I'm in it for the long haul and I want to beat the top boys. Anthony Crolla just beat Gavin Rees [last Saturday], and they both interest me, and I'll be keeping a close eye on the Derry Mathews and Tommy Coyle fight next week. There are some big British dust-ups out there, and I love those fights as much as the fans and TV do. I want to correct the loss against Ricky for the world title and become a world champion. I've been out of the ring for too long and it's time to get back in there. I feel a lot of relief, really, as I feel like I've got something to work."