Had you known ahead of time that Saturday’s fight at Tokyo’s Ariake Colosseum between Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam and Ryota Murata would yield a controversial decision, you would have placed your coin on Murata. Historically, the “home field advantage” is stronger in boxing than in any other sport. But it was N’Dam N’Jikam who emerged victorious in the 12-round bout for the vacant WBA “regular” world middleweight title.
The verdict was split. The Panamanian and Canadian judges favored the French Cameroonian invader by scores of 116-111 and 115-112 respectively. The U.S. judge, Paul Caiz Jr, dissented. He had it 117-110 for Murata, who scored the bout’s lone knockdown. The Reuters correspondent was as flabbergasted as anyone. By his reckoning, Murata, a national hero in Japan after winning a gold medal in the 2012 Olympics (Japan’s first gold medal in boxing since 1964), won eight rounds.
The victory gave N’Dam N’Jikam, a two-time Olympian (2004 and 2016), an odd distinction. It was the second straight fight in which he erased the “O” of a former Olympian with a 12-0 record. In his previous match to meeting Ryota, he starched Venezuela’s Alfonso Blanco in a bout that lasted all of 21 seconds.
N’Dam N’Jikam advanced to 35-2. His only defeats came at the hands of Peter Quillin and David Lemieux.
Needless to say, Japan doesn’t produce many good middleweights. The best fighters from the Land of the Rising Sun are found in the lowest weight classes. Daigo Higa and Ken Shiro won their fights on the undercard with the result that six of the seven champions in the flyweight and junior flyweight divisions are Japanese. (The one exception to Japanese rule is Zou Shiming who holds the WBO version of the flyweight title. The IBF flyweight title is vacant).
Higa (13-0, 13 KOs) looks like the real deal. The 21-year-old Tokyo resident came up big vs. Mexico City’s Juan Hernandez Navarrete, decking him five times en route to a sixth round stoppage to claim the vacant WBC flyweight belt. Navarrete came in with a 34-2 record and was riding a 16-fight winning streak.
Ken Shiro won the WBC 108-pound title with a majority decision over Mexican veteran Ganigan Lopez. Shiro, now 10-0, had fought only 55 rounds going in vs. 230 rounds for the 35-year-old Lopez. The scores were 115-113 twice and 114-114.
So it was almost a clean sweep for the Japanese contingent. Ryota Murata’s dubious defeat was the fly in the ointment. A rematch is in order and WBA President Gilberto Mendoza may order it. He said that he was embarrassed by the decision. But it appears more likely that N’Dam N’Jikam will move on to face Rob Brant, the undefeated (22-0) fighter from Minnesota while Murata is made to cool his heels. Such are the vagaries of boxing.
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