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Brant not intimidated by Murata's 'LeBron James-type' status in Japan

Rob Brant will travel to Japan to defend his secondary middleweight title against Ryota Murata in the rematch. Steve Marcus/Getty Images

Rob Brant handed Ryoto Murata his second professional loss last fall, and in the process, took Murata's secondary WBA middleweight title. They meet again in a rematch at the Edion Arena Osaka in Japan on Saturday.

Brant's second title defense offers Murata the same kind of home-field advantage Brant enjoyed the first time when they fought in Las Vegas.

"I heard the rematch was something that they were interested in, and honestly, I thought it was right -- he came to the United States and gave me a shot at the title," Brant, who is from St. Paul, Minnesota, recently told ESPN.com. "I feel it's right for me to go to Japan and give him a shot back.

"Of course, there is a financial gain in going over to Japan as well. [And] I'm very comfortable in feeling that I'm going to beat him again."

After earning six figures to defeat Murata (14-2, 11 KOs) last October, and stopping Khasan Baysangurov in the 11th round in a homecoming title defense in Hinckley, Minnesota, in February, the purse he will receive for going to Murata's home country is, "exponentially more," according to his promoter Greg Cohen.

There are a few key reasons why. In October, Brant (25-1, 17 KOs) defeated Murata in the relatively small room of the Park Theater in Las Vegas. The rematch will be held in a much bigger venue, and the magnitude of this event is much larger given that Murata, who won the 2012 Olympic gold medal for Japan, is a national hero -- one who plays to huge television ratings at home.

"He's like a LeBron James-type figure over there," Brant said. "When we went to the press conference, there were more people than were at some of my early pro fights. [But] I'm excited for it more than I am intimidated by it."

As far as Brant is concerned, regardless of the geography, once the bell rings it will just be him and Murata between the ropes.

"It's the same wherever you go," Brant said. "I'm really comfortable and confident wherever we're going to be."

There are plenty of reasons why Brant seems so confident heading into the rematch, having defeated Murata the first time. Still, there's an X factor to consider with the trip to Japan. Brant's only trip outside of the U.S. ended in a World Boxing Super Series loss against Juergen Braehmer in a super middleweight fight in Germany in 2017 -- his only professional loss to date.

Almost two years removed from that defeat, Brant says he feels as if he's in the right position to get the job done this time.

"The one thing I realize is that you can't get it in your head too much that you're going outside of your country, outside your comfort zone, you can't let it change you too much," he said.

"I expect [Murata] to come out very hot [being at home], probably in the first third of the fight. I think he's going to come out there and do what everybody does, as someone who's a volume puncher -- try to take [my] jab away and try to go to the body."

"We're all in the same conversation at this point. I don't think that you really stop until you are considered the champion. If there's other champions out there, I feel it's kind of all our responsibilities to go ahead and fight each other." Rob Brant

The first fight was dominated by Brant's activity and work rate as he swarmed Murata with a multitude of punches and turned him into a one-dimensional plodder. Not only did Brant jump on Murata early, to the surprise of many observers, he was able to keep up his torrid pace in the late rounds. Brant had his way throughout the entire fight.

It'll also be interesting to see how their diverging approaches to this rematch play out. Brant defended his belt in February. Murata has been inactive since their first encounter in October.

What can really change under those circumstances? Brant said it was a bit odd Murata had actually talked of retirement in the lead-up to this fight, especially considering the stakes and buildup.

Brant has his eyes squarely focused on putting an exclamation point on his dominant performance as a major underdog in the first fight with Murata. The payday will be substantial this time, and with a victory in Japan, Brant could then be putting his passport to use again for another defense later this year -- against Jeff Horn in Australia.

"There's no secret that we're partners with Top Rank, and Top Rank has some type of partnership and done events with Jeff Horn," Cohen said. "I can see that as a real possibility before year end. Rob's a world champion, boxing's a global sport, we have no problems fighting outside of the United States if it makes financial sense."

These valuable -- and lucrative -- opportunities for Brant could very well put him in the conversation as one of the elite fighters at 160 pounds.

"We're all in the same conversation at this point. I don't think that you really stop until you are considered the champion. If there's other champions out there, I feel it's kind of all our responsibilities to go ahead and fight each other," Brant said. "Of course I would love to be in there with Canelo [Alvarez], with [Demetrius] Andrade. Those are fights you definitely want.

"But none of that happens unless you beat Murata, so I definitely have to go out there and do my job and beat Murata and those opportunities will definitely be there."