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Ryota Murata signs with Top Rank

Ryota Murata, the heralded 2012 Olympic middleweight gold medalist from Japan, has signed a professional contract with American promoter Top Rank, the Las Vegas-based company announced on Monday.

The 6-foot, right-handed Murata, who won Olympic gold in the 165-pound weight division at the London Games, will be co-promoted by Akihiko Honda's Teiken Boxing and will turn pro in Tokyo on a date to be determined in August, Akemi Irie of Teiken Boxing told ESPN.com. Teiken will promote his matches in Japan while Top Rank will promote his fights outside of Japan.

Murata is expected to fight his 2013 bouts in Japan before fighting in the United States as well as places such as Singapore, where Top Rank is planning a series of shows with the Venetian resort and casino. He will split time training at the Teiken Gym in Tokyo and Top Rank Gym in Las Vegas.

Murata, 27, who will campaign at 160 pounds in the pro ranks, will be introduced at a news conference next Monday at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.

"He's an exciting fighter and the people that know say he is ready for the professionals," Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said. "He fought like a professional when he was an amateur. He had that pro style. He's a banger.

"The way it looks and the way we evaluated him is that within a relatively short period of time he will be able to fight [top middleweights] like [Sergio] Martinez, [Gennady] Golovkin and [Julio Cesar] Chavez Jr. Sure, he needs some seasoning but in maybe year and half he could be ready to fight for a world title. He's a cut above most young fighters."

Murata's gold medal was the first for a Japanese boxer in the Olympics since Takao Sakurai took one home from the 1964 Tokyo Games. Murata is also the first Japanese fighter to win an Olympic medal in a division other than bantamweight or flyweight.

In 2011, Murata won a gold medal at the 2011 Presidents Cup and a silver medal at the amateur world championships . Reportedly, Murata was 119-19 as an amateur.

"He's probably one of the most popular athletes in Japan right now after winning the gold medal," Top Rank president Todd duBoef said. "That was one of the things we looked at. His popularity is huge and that is very compelling for us. We believe boxing is a global product, so we will look at all boxers from all ends of the world and if it makes sense to sign somebody, and we believe in them, that is what we will do.

"He is a good looking guy, he's big, he's physical the way he fights and he speaks a little bit of English already."

With Murata under contract, Top Rank now promotes the No. 1 Japanese amateur as well as the No. 1 Chinese amateur, Zou Shiming, who won three Olympic medals (including two gold) and his professional debut on April 6 in the headline fight as Top Rank brought big-time boxing to the Chinese gambling region of Macau.

"We signed these international fighters because the world is shrinking," Arum said. "And all of these markets are opening up and I've seen, for example, if you have a Japanese fighter who has a following and you bring him to the fight in the United States you get a ton of people who will come over to watch him. When [Japan's Toshiaki] Nishioka fought Rafael Marquez in [a junior featherweight title defense in 2011 in] Las Vegas in a fight we helped Mr. Honda with, the whole audience was Japanese and the casino was very happy.

"If you take somebody like Murata and take him to the Venetian in Singapore, where he will fight on our shows, then you'll get double and triple that and the casino will be very happy. So we're very excited to sign Murata."