Japanese Boxing Supershow: Murata, Higa, and Shiro

By Gleb Kuzin

Photo: Boxing Magazine Japan

On Sunday, October 22nd, two exciting young champions Daigo Higa and Ken Shiro will defend their belts for the first time, while Ryota Murata steps on the road to revenge

Boxing in Japan is at all time high. The land of the rising sun is now the home of 10 world champions boxing champions, making it second only to the US’s count of 12*. There are two major boxing show left on Fuji TV in 2017, and the annual autumn show is coming to us this Sunday October 22nd with 3 world title fights.

In the first televised fight of the evening, 25 year old champion Ken Shiro (10–0, 5KOs) will be defending his WBC World Light Flyweight Title against dangerous contender Pedro Guevara (30–2–1, 17KOs).

In the second fight of the evening, Daigo Higa (12–0, 12 KOs) will try to extended his knockout streak in an attempt to match and beat the Japanese record of 15 consecutive KOs set by Tsuyoshi Hamada back in the 80s. Higa is arguably the most exciting young champion in the world, as we wrote earlier this year. Opposing him will be little known contender Thomas Masson (17–3–1, 5KOs) in what will be his only second fight outside France.

In the main event, Olympic Gold medalist Ryota Murata (12–1, 9KOs) will try to avenge the defeat he suffered due to an outrageous decision against Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam (36–2, 21KOs) earlier this year. For those in the US, this N’Dam-Murata will be televised on ESPN2 at 7AM EST on Sunday.

Ken Shiro vs. Pedro Guevara

Of all the young champions from Japan, Ken Shiro is one of the most immature (in age, resume, and appearance). He can not match the power of Naoya Inoue or Daigo Higa, nor does he have transcendent boxing skills, yet he has managed to become a world champion in just his 10th professional fight by beating Ganigan Lopez. The title fight was a tough one, as was expected. The experienced champion pushed Shiro against the ropes, at all times looking to make the fight physical. Despite the gap in experience and level of opposition, Ken Shiro did not fall short, and gamely battled his foe toe to toe.

Just as as can be expect a Mexican warrior, the 35 year old Lopez gave everything he had left the last round. Ken Shiro fought back with the same resilience, and never backed up. Ariake Colosseum met the final bell with standing ovations for both warriors in celebration of the tremendous show. Naming the winner of a fight that close is always difficult, and the scorecards reflected it with a close Majority Decision nod for Shiro, which many saw as a gift.

For his fight against Pedro Guevara, Ken Shiro enter the ring carrying a wealth of experience that he did not possess back in May. And he will need every bit of it. Pedro Guevara is a former champion who holds wins against Shiro’s rival Ganigan Lopez as well as Japanese hero and a former three-division champion Akira Yaegashi. Guevara poses an even bigger test for Shiro than Lopez, and he will need to do more than he did in his last outing to walk out of Ryōgoku Sumo Hall still the champion in the eyes of the boxing public. The image of a questionable victory is still in the minds of his fans, so a close decision won’t cut it this time. Ken Shiro will have to fight as he never fought before to emerge victorious.

Daigo Higa vs. Thomas Masson

Daigo Higa’s fans anticipated his title fight against Juan Hernandez Navarrete earlier this year with caution due to several factors: lack of experience, stamina problems (due to a hard weight cut to 112), and his swarming fighting style. As a swarmer, he is one of the last of his kind. Nowadays swarmers don’t find much success at the top of the sport: Dejan Zlaticanin was the last man to taste the gold. Unfortunately for him, the next thing he tasted was the canvas of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, when Mikey Garcia casually obliterated the now former champion.

When fight night arrived however, Daigo Higa shattered all doubts with his masterful performance. With unexpected maturity, the young challenger from Okinawa paced himself and waited for the perfect openings to strike the veteran champion.

Navarrete came to fight without patience, and gave away enough space for Higa to capitalize on. Though he demonstrated tremendous heart and the will to fight till his last breath, Vic Drakulich called off the fight off after the 30 year old veteran tasted the canvas for the 6th time. Inside the distance of 6 rounds, Higa demonstrated every element of his skillset: catching Navarrete with crisp counters, working inside and outside, destroying the body with irregular precision, and showing his heightened ring IQ.

Masson doesn’t seem to pose any danger for the young champion this weekend. The fight will likely turn into a showcase of Daigo Higa’s skills from the opening bell. For Daigo, this fight is a but a step forward to match and break the Japanese record of 15 consecutive knockout wins, set by Tsuyoshi Hamada, also an Okinawa native, back in 1986 when he knocked out Rene Arredondo to win WBC Super Lightweight title. The likeliest next step for Daigo Higa is what his fans are waiting for — a showdown with Pakistani prodigy Muhammad Waseem. In the meantime, Daigo Higa will step into the ring to win over the hearts of boxing fans with another stellar and destructive performance.

Ryota Murata vs. Hassan N’dam N’jikam

Unlike his fellow young Japanese champions, Ryota Murata had an easier path to exposure in the west. Not only does he share a weightclass with two of boxing’s biggest stars in Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovking, but he also announced his name to the world when he won a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics. Following those games he signed with Bob Arum, who promised the aging Ryota a short path to the title. Now 31, Ryota Murata stands with a record of 12 wins against a lone defeat, but only one solid opponent to his credit.

To put it bluntly, his career in the pro ranks been underwhelming. Many expected a swift start from him to equal that of fellow amatuer star Vasyl Lomachenko. But not only the quality of his opponents upset the public seeking to see Murata in competitive fights, but the Japanese himself. Failing to demonstrate any diversity to his game, and at times ignoring his defensive abilities, Murata has not shown much to convince boxing fans that he is even a mild threat to the reign of the middleweight king.

In the long anticipated step up fight against Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam, Ryota Murata failed to deliver a performance worthy of the star he had become in his native Japan. N’Dam successfully outboxed Murata for the first part of the fight until he taisted the canvas thanks to Murata’s straight right hand. Despite N’Dam’s best attempts to mimic Zab Judah for almost eight rounds in a row, Murata struggled to land any shots. Though most saw Murata winning the fight comfortably, no one believe that his performance lived up to his hype. The shock came after the final bell when two of the judges gave the fight to N’Dam by margins of 116–111 and 115–112. Both of the judges were later suspended by the WBA, but they haven’t altered the final result.

N’Dam is unlikely to demonstrate more than he did in the first fight, yet the pressure laying on Murata’s shoulders is even heavier than before. A rematch is essentially a chance to rehabilitate any mistakes or wrongdoings one boxer committed. This is exactly what is expected from the Japanese star. With the recent news of the fight between Lemieux and Saunders being finalized, Sergey Derevyanchenko winning the mandatory position for the IBF belt, Jermall Charlo making a statement, and Danny Jacobs signing with Eddie Hearn, the line of contenders for Golovkin and Canelo is now longer than the Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō road. Ryota Murata’s task seems nearly impossible — how much can he do to distinguish his name from the others on that list?

With FUJI putting on 2 incredible shows in a span of less than 6 months, Japan is quickly growing to become one of the top boxing countries in the world. In fact, Japan isn’t far behind the recent success in the United Kingdom. Although it has more world champions than the UK, Japan can not yet secure the names and the opposition Eddie Hearn has managed to bring over to his country. Nevertheless, with a talent pool deeper than the lake of Baikal, Japan promises to become another mecca of boxing. In the meantime, all that Shiro, Higa, and Murata need to do is to put on a good show to the delight of boxing fans from around the world.

*Demetrius Andrade is not included, as he is the WBA Regular World champion with active Super World Champion in Erislandy Lara

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