WBA middleweight champion Ryota Murata returns to the spotlight with a title fight against Gennadiy “GGG” Golovkin on December 29 at Saitama Super Arena.
The title matchup was announced on Friday, November 12.
Golovkin’s IBF and IBO title belts will also be on the line. The 39-year-old Kazakh, who has held his title belts since 2019, was a silver medalist at the 2004 Athens Olympics. He was a gold medalist at the world championships in 2003.
Golovkin (41-1-1, 36 knockouts) said he’s looking forward to clashing with the 35-year-old Murata in a high-profile bout.
"I am really excited to be bringing the Big Drama Show to Japan, a country where boxing is very popular," said the 39-year-old Golovkin, who made his pro debut in May 2006. "Ryota Murata has been an outstanding champion. It is going to be a special night when we meet in the ring to unify our titles. We are going to give the fans a great fight."
The title fight will be streamed live via DAZN in more than 200 nations and territories (excluding Japan and Kazakhstan).
Recognizing the magnitude of the fight and GGG’s place in the pantheon of standout fighters in the 21st century, Murata (16-2, 13 KOs) said his next bout will be an important chapter in his pro career.
"I feel that my entire amateur and professional boxing career has been a preparation for this fight against Gennadiy Golovkin,” Murata said. “This fight will determine my place in the middleweight division and boxing history.”
What’s more, Murata, the middleweight gold medalist at the 2012 London Games, is greatly impressed with Golovkin’s career feats.
"Gennadiy Golovkin has long been the standard-bearer of the middleweight division,” said Murata, who hasn’t fought since winning a title defense via a third-round TKO of Steven Butler on December 23, 2019, at Yokohama Arena.
“To me, he is still undefeated. I have the highest respect for him,” Murata continued. “It has been almost two years since my last fight, because of the pandemic, but I have put that time to good use, working very hard with my trainers on improving my physical conditioning and adding more power to my punches. I am so proud Japan is hosting this fight. It is a great honor for me."
Golovkin hasn’t fought since beating challenger Kamril Szeremeta on December 18, 2020, at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The Kazakh champion hammered Szeremeta to the tune of four knockdowns before the fight was stopped in the seventh round.
In a storied career that’s included a pair of fights against four-division champion and current undisputed super middleweight king Canelo Alvarez (GGG earned a split), Golovkin has made 21 successful title defenses. He has had two stints as a world-title holder, and held the IBF and IBO titles since 2019.
Ed Breeze, a DAZN executive vice president, proclaimed the GGG-Murata matchup will be “middleweight war.”
“What a way to close out a fantastic 2021 of boxing, with one of the best to ever step in the ring Gennadiy ‘GGG’ Golovkin facing off against Ryota Murata for the WBA, IBF and IBO middleweight world titles,” said Breeze. “Ryota Murata takes a big step up against the middleweight king GGG, who looks to continue his reign in the division after dismantling Szeremeta last time out.”
Swallows, Buffaloes Advance to Japan Series
Mirroring the storyline of the 1991 World Series, when the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins ascended from worst to first in just one year, the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and Orix Buffaloes have completed their improbable journeys to the Japan Series.
The Swallows eliminated the Yomiuri Giants in the Central League Climax Series Final Stage on Friday night, November 12.
The Buffaloes finished off the Chiba Lotte Marines in the Pacific League Climax Series on the same night.
Oddly enough, both NPB playoff series ended with a tie, but due to the quirky Climax Series rules, the pennant winner starts the series with an automatic one-game lead in the best-of-six series. (In elimination games, a tie is as good as a win for the team with the advantage in wins.)
In Game 3 at Jingu Stadium, the Swallows punched their ticket to the NPB championship series with a 2-2 tie. The Giants, who represented the Central League in last year’s Japan Series, had to win in order to extend the series.
In Game 3 at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Orix’s Yuya Oda stroked a walk-off single in the ninth to even the score at 3-3 and lift the Buffaloes into the Japan Series.
"I trust the players, and it's great that they delivered the ultimate results,” Buffaloes manager Satashi Nakajima said after the celebrations in Kansai, according to Kyodo News. “We won the pennant, and then booked a spot in the Japan Series. Now I want to take this all the way to the end."
The Japan Series begins on Saturday, November 20 at Kyocera Dome.
The unusual storyline of 2020 last-place teams vying for the 2021 title gives this year’s best-of-seven series added intrigue.
Furthermore, the Swallows reached the Japan Series for the first time since 2015, while the Buffaloes are making their first appearance since 1996.
The Twins beat the Braves in seven games in the 1991 World Series, and at the time of their Fall Classic showdown, no MLB pennant winner had ever finished in the cellar the previous season.
Ohtani Wins an AL Silver Slugger Award
Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani was named the American League Silver Slugger Award winner for designated hitters on Thursday, November 11.
Ohtani, 26, smacked a career-best 46 home runs in 2021. He finished the year with a .257 batting average, 100 RBIs, eight triples, 26 doubles and a .592 slugging percentage.
MLB managers and coaches choose the best offensive player at each position, selecting a Silver Slugger team for the AL and another for the National League.
Ohtani is one of three finalists for the AL MVP award, which will be announced on Thursday evening, November 18 (the next morning JST).
Japan Edges Vietnam in World Cup Qualifier
Junya Ito scored a 17th-minute goal to lift Japan to a 1-0 victory over Vietnam in a 2022 World Cup Asian qualifier on Thursday, November 11 in Hanoi.
Japan is in third place in Asian Group B, qualifying with nine points, trailing Australia (10) and Saudi Arabia (13).
Saudi Arabia and Australia settled for a 0-0 draw on the same day.
Japan captain Maya Yoshida was pleased that his team achieved its objective of winning the away match.
"We were set on taking three points from this match, so above all, I'm really happy we achieved that," the veteran defender was quoted as saying by Kyodo News. "We were in bad condition and just getting here was a struggle, but everyone gave their best to complete the task."
A second Ito goal was called off in the 40th minute because Ao Tanaka was offside.
Japan shifts its focus to another away match next week. Oman plays host to Samurai Blue in Muscat on Tuesday, November 16.
Strong Start for Yudai Baba in NBA G League Season
Texas Legends swingman Yudai Baba made key contributions in the NBA Ｇ League club's back-to-back victories to open the season on November 5-6.
Baba, a former Alvark Tokyo standout, came off the bench and scored 13 points, grabbed five rebounds and made a pair of steals in a 114-98 road win over the Lakeland Magic in Lakeland, Florida, in the Legends’ season opener.
On November 6, Baba, who suited up for the Australian NBL’s Melbourne United last season, had an 18-point effort on 8-for-13 shooting. He also finished with six rebounds and five steals in a 120-108 triumph.
In his second stint with the Legends, Baba continues his quest to reach the NBA for the first time.
He played for the G League club in the 2019-20 campaign after winning two B. League titles with the Alvark (2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons).
B. League Update
Small forward L.J. Peak scored a team-record 52 points in the Kumamoto Volters' 102-84 win over the visiting Rizing Zephyr Fukuoka in a B. League second-division match on Wednesday, November 10.
Peak made 20 of 28 shots from the floor, including 8 of 9 from 3-point range. He's averaging 24.8 points per game.
The Volters improved to 6-5; the Rizing Zephyr slipped to 5-6.
Last season, Peak played for B1's Utsunomiya Brex.
"It was a good match as a team," Peak told reporters. "It was a slow start, but [Takayuki] Kida got the rhythm of the team on the offensive side.
I think I was able to [step up] by continuing to hit aggressively in the second half.”
In the B. League first division, the East Division-leading Alvark Tokyo, Kawasaki Brave Thunders and Sunrockers Shibuya had identical 9-3 records and four-game winning streaks entering their weekend series starting on Saturday, November 13.
Hashimoto Captures Amateur Asia-Pacific Title
Mizuki Hashimoto put herself in contention for the Women's Amateur Asia-Pacific Championship entering the event’s final day, Saturday, November 13.
And things ended just as Hashimoto had hoped: a victory in the four-round tournament.
Hashimoto was at 12-under 204 after three consecutive rounds of 68 over the three previous days in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
In the final round, she shot another 4-under 68 to finish at 16-under 272. She led by one stroke after the 17th hole, and the advantage held up. The Tohoku Fukushi University student had three birdies and one eagle in the final round.
Thailand’s Kan Bunnabodee finished one stroke off the pace at 15-under 273 (73-64-68-66).
Nanako Inagaki shot a 13-under 275 (70-70-67-68) to place fifth overall.
“To be able to play in them is like a dream come true for me," Hashimoto was quoted as saying by Sky Sports. “I feel so happy to win this championship. I would like to say a big thank you to my teammates and everyone who supported me all week."
Natthakritta Vongtaveelap of Thailand held the tourney lead at 15-under 201 through three rounds.
Hashimoto, a 19-year-old Hyogo Prefecture native, said her second-round effort was satisfactory.
“I played well today. My tee shots were much better than yesterday,” Hashimoto was quoted as saying by Pattaya Mail, a Thai newspaper. “My first goal was to make the cut this week and I’m so happy that I did that.”
Several Japanese Players Are Finalists for BWF’s Player of the Year Awards
The Badminton World Federation’s Player of the Year finalists were unveiled on Thursday, November 11.
Due to scheduling disruptions because of the global pandemic, the BWF decided to combine the past season and the current campaign, including the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. The calendar period covers November 1, 2019, to October 31, 2021.
The Male Player of the Year finalists are Denmark's Anders Antonsen and Vikto Axelsen, Yuta Watanabe and China’s Yi Lyu Wang.
The Female Player of the finalists are China’s Yu Fei Chen, Spain’s Carolina Marin, Akane Yamaguchi, and Taiwan’s Tzu Ying Tai.
In the Pairs of the Year category, Watanabe and Arisa Higashino are among four nominees.
Daiki Kajiwara was selected as finalist for the Male Para Badminton Player of the Year, along with five others. Kajiwara earned the gold medal in the men’ singles WH2 category and a bronze in the men’s doubles WH1-WH2 division at the Tokyo Paralympics.
Sarina Satomi, a singles (WH1) and doubles (WH1-WH2) gold medalist at the Tokyo Paralympics, earned a spot among the six nominees for the Female Para Player of the Year.
Satomi and doubles partner Yuma Yamazaki are one of six pairs nominated for the Female Para Pair of the Year award.
Japan’s Breeders’ Cup Wins a Reminder of Commitment to Excellence
With Japan-trained horses (Loves Only You in the Filly & Mare Turf and Marche Lorraine in the Distaff) capturing the nation’s first-ever wins in a Breeders’ Cup race on November 13, there was palpable buzz about the achievement in the horse racing community.
Shawn Kennedy, a longtime racing chaplain at Woodbine Racecourse in Toronto, recalled the decades-long history of Japanese horses competing overseas in pursuit of glory in marquee events in a brief interview with JAPAN Forward.
“I admit to being aware of Japan’s long history of international racing, going back to the ‘60s,” Kennedy remembered. “There used to be a race called the Washington D.C. International, held at Laurel Race Track. This was a race that was way ahead of its time in promoting international racing. Horses were imported from all over the world. Even a racing star from the USSR, Anilin, raced and placed in this event.
“The comment I’ll always remember was the Japanese were ‘the first to arrive and the last to finish!’ Japanese thoroughbred racing has come a long way…”
Saito Claims Title at Grand Slam Meet in Baku
Tatsuru Saito won the over-100 kg division title at the Grand Slam Meet in Baku, on Sunday, November 7.
Saito, 19, defeated Tajikistan's Temur Rakhimov in the final.
The 164-kg Saito, who missed out on qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics, had four victories by ippon in the Azerbaijan capital.
Saito's late father, Hitoshi, was a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the over-95 kg division.
Quotes of the Week
“I want to thank you all for your [unconditional] support in good and bad times. This isn’t the end we wanted but it was a great season for our team and the Chiba Lotte Marine family. Thank you fans, will see y’all next year #wearefamily #26.”
ーLeonys Martin, Chiba Lotte Marines outfielder, tweeted a message to fans after his team was eliminated from the Central League Climax Series Final Stage on November 12.
"I had a really good sense of tension going into the first international meet in a while. I believe I'm making progress in getting my best time here."
ーNao Kodaira, runner-up in the women’s 500-meter final on November 12 at the ISU World Cup circuit stop in Poland, said afterward, according to Kyodo News.
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Author: Ed Odeven
Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward's [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays, in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter ＠ed_odeven.