Now that secondary middleweight world titlist Ryota Murata has put Hassan N'Dam behind him, he is ready for his first defense.
Japan's Murata lost a split decision to N'Dam for the vacant belt last May in a result that was so controversial it was a national scandal in Japan. An immediate rematch was ordered, and Murata did not leave it in the hands of the judges the second time around. He pounded N'Dam in a one-sided fight in October en route to a seventh-round stoppage when N'Dam's corner threw in the towel.
Now comes title defense No. 1 when Murata meets Emanuele Blandamura on Sunday in an international edition of Top Rank Boxing on ESPN (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes, 8 a.m. ET with an 11 p.m. ET replay on ESPN2) at the Yokohama Arena in Yokohama, Japan.
"I'm looking forward to defending my title in front of my home fans," Murata, who is a major star in Japan, said in translated remarks at the final pre-fight news conference on Friday. "Blandamura has excellent speed, and I think he has great timing and rhythm. I believe I'm superior to Blandamura in power and stamina, and wish to fight by keeping my distance."
Said Blandamura: "I wish to fight with intelligence. Murata is powerful, but I am faster. I'll do my best." Murata is well aware that his fight will be televised live in the United States, as was the second fight against N'Dam, and he is aiming to make fans beyond the borders of his country.
"I'd like to have this fight appeal to the world," Murata said. "Now that I have prepared very well, I wish to do and demonstrate my best."
If 2012 Olympic gold medalist Murata (13-1, 10 KOs), 32, beats former European champion Blandamura (27-2, 5 KOs), 38, of Italy, he is headed for Las Vegas this summer to defend against Brazilian southpaw Esquiva Falcao (20-0, 14 KOs), 28, in a rematch of Murata's close victory in the Olympic final. It would be Murata's third fight in the U.S.
Because Murata owns a secondary 160-pound belt, he is also a mandatory challenger for unified champion Gennady Golovkin -- a fight Top Rank chairman Bob Arum, who co-promotes Murata with Akihiko Honda of Teiken Promotions, is interested in making. Arum, who made the trip to Japan for Sunday's fight, said that if Murata defeats Blandamura and Falcao, he would like to have Golovkin-Murata at the Tokyo Dome.
Murata is up for any of the possible fights.
"I will fight anyone anywhere, anytime," Murata said.
There is also another world title fight on the card, but it is not part of the American broadcast.
Daigo Higa (15-0, 15 KOs), 22, of Japan, was due to make his third flyweight world title defense against Cristofer Rosales (26-3, 17 KOs), 23, of Nicaragua, in the co-feature. However, Higa missed weight by two pounds and he was stripped of the 112-pound title. The fight will go on with Rosales eligible to win the vacant belt. If Higa wins the title will remain vacant.