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Saturday Boxing Preview: ‘GGG’ vs. Ryota Murata in Japan tops stacked day of fights

The return of Gennadiy Golovkin is finally here, and he’s in tough against one of Japan’s finest.

Gennadiy Golovkin and Ryota Murata at their April 7th press conference.
Gennadiy Golovkin and Ryota Murata at their April 7th press conference.
Photo by STR/JIJI PRESS/AFP via Getty Images

Is there such a thing as too much combat sports? Because April 9th would fit the bill given the sheer number of major boxing matches taking place throughout the world, not to mention UFC 273 in Jacksonville.

The biggest matchup of Saturday is a middleweight title unification between WBA champion Ryota Murata (16-2, 13 KOs) and IBF champ Gennadiy Golovkin (41-1-1, 36 KOs), whose 40th birthday is today (Apr. 8). This fight was supposed to happen last year but the COVID restrictions in Japan postponed this anticipated contest.

Golovkin’s career has unfortunately stalled out a bit since his loss to Canelo Alvarez in their 2018 rematch. He signed with DAZN on a huge contract, winning a tune-up fight against Steve Rolls before narrowly defeating the always dangerous Sergiy Derevyanchenko by unanimous decision in September 2019. With the pandemic impacting the fight schedule, the Kazakh knockout artist’s only fight over the past two years was a mandatory defense against Kamil Szeremeta, who was stopped after seven rounds.

If there’s any fight that could be instructive of Golovkin’s decline, it’s the Derevyanchenko bout. He scored an early knockdown but otherwise really struggled with Derevyanchenko and looked to be hurt to the body on multiple occasions. It was a genuinely close fight and you could’ve made a case for Golovkin losing.

Murata had a lengthy amateur career culminating in a 2012 Olympic gold medal. As a professional he hasn’t had too many fights but he’s been at a high level since 2016. The Japanese star suffered a controversial — honestly just a straight-up incorrect — decision loss to Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam that was so poorly judged that an immediate rematch was ordered. N’Dam never stood a chance and was stopped in the corner. With the WBA “regular” middleweight title in his possession, Murata’s reign was short lived as he suffered a clear loss to Rob Brant in his second defense. Once again there was a rematch, but Murata blasted out Brant in two rounds. His last bout was in December 2019, when he stopped Canadian contender Steven Butler.

Murata has since been promoted to the main WBA champion with Canelo Alvarez having vacated the division long ago. He’s been even more inactive than Golovkin and at 36 he’s no spring chicken, either.

On paper you have two boxer-punchers who have historically been in separate tiers of the middleweight division. Golovkin has a terrific jab, vaunted body work and a devastating left hook. Murata also likes to vary his attack — working the body, throwing uppercuts on the inside, etc. — and while his workrate isn’t always the most consistent, he tends to be more aggressive than passive. His power is not generational but it’s formidable and worth respecting. What’s going to be a major problem for Ryota is his lack of speed even against someone who’s hardly a speed demon himself. If GGG is anything like his old self then Ryota could be at risk of getting into a firefight that he most likely can’t win. The main question is really how much Golovkin has left at 40 and whether the erosion of his skills is as such that Murata can pull off the upset. If Murata wins it’ll surely be on points as Golovkin’s durability is otherworldly.

DraftKings Sportsbook has GGG at -575 to Murata’s +400, which feels about right. I lean towards Golovkin winning a decision (with a knockdown or two scored) but it’s going to be a competitive bout.

The Golovkin vs. Murata fight card airs live on DAZN at an early start time (duh) of 5 AM ET/2 AM PT from the Saitama Super Arena in Japan. Expect the main event to begin sometime around 8 AM ET/5 AM PT.

What are the other major boxing matches?

  • Erickson Lubin (24-1, 17 KOs) vs. Sebastian Fundora (18-0-1, 12 KOs) (Showtime, 10 PM ET). By the betting odds this is the most evenly matched fight of the weekend. If you don’t know Sebastian Fundora, ‘The Towering Inferno’ stands an absurd 6’6” and competes at 154 lbs. And yet, he’s not too far off from being a serious title contender in the division. Lubin’s only defeat was a brutal KO to Jermell Charlo, and he has since recovered with six straight wins. His last fight saw him crush Jeison Rosario in what is surely his best win to date. Fundora has stopped a couple of opponents Lubin has also defeated in Jorge Cota and Nathaniel Gallimore. He throws with tons of volume and loves to fight on the inside despite his toothpick frame. I’d bank on this being an exciting contest and Lubin’s power I believe will pose major problems for Fundora. Lots on the line for both men as a title shot could be at stake versus the Jermell Charlo-Brian Castano winner. The co-main event between former WBC junior middleweight champion Tony Harrison and Sergio Garcia (no, not the golfer) is another good matchup, with Garcia’s only defeat coming to Fundora and Harrison in desperate need of a big win after losing his rematch to Jermell Charlo and then mustering up a draw vs. Bryant Perrella.
  • Ryan Garcia (21-0, 18 KOs) vs. Emmanuel Tagoe (32-1, 15 KOs) (9 PM ET, DAZN). KingRy is back. The 23-year-old sensation hasn’t competed since a comeback KO against Luke Campbell in January 2021. Injuries, a hiatus to focus on mental health, and a trainer switch are all at the center of Garcia’s absence from the ring. While he’s one of the top contenders at lightweight, his return will be at at 139 lbs catchweight against Ghana’s Tagoe, who’s been out of action since late 2020 but has okay wins over Mason Menard and Paulus Moses. Odds are heavily in Garcia’s favor but if he’s not at his best Tagoe is a reasonably tricky enough opponent who could spring a surprise or two. Otherwise expect a Garcia KO. Marlen Esparza and Naoko Fujioka are set to collide in the co-feature for their respective WBC and WBA women’s flyweight titles. Gabriel Rosado Jr takes on Shane Mosley Jr in a super-middleweight affair.
  • Mikaela Mayer (16-0, 5 KOs) vs. Jennifer Han (18-4-1-3 NCs, 1 KO) (10 PM ET, ESPN/ESPN+). Women’s boxing is on the up-and-up and getting headlining events for major promotions these days, which is great to see. Mayer just signed a new multifight deal with Top Rank Boxing, and bigger fights await her as the unified WBO and IBF super featherweight champion. Her last bout was a thrilling decision over the heavy-handed Maïva Hamadouche to unify those two aforementioned titles. Han is a former IBF featherweight champion but she’s also 38 years old and coming off a clear defeat to Katie Taylor up at lightweight. This won’t be competitive and ideally the new Mayer deal will push for more unifications against Alycia Baumgardner or Hyun Mi Choi... or perhaps move up to 135 and fight the Katie Taylor-Amanda Serrano winner? You never know.