In a country with a rich heritage in combat sports, Japan has waited a long time to find a new boxing hero but that all changed this summer at the ExCeL Arena. Two months on from the London 2012 Olympic Games, Middleweight (75kg) superstar Ryota Murata is still basking in the glory of capturing his country's first boxing gold medal since 1964.
The 26-year-old Japanese was seeded second coming into the London 2012 Olympic Games and he quickly lived up to the hype surrounding him and as one of the major contenders for honours. Impressive with his unique blend of poise and power, he delighted the crowds at the ExCeL arena every time he took to the ring as he emulated his compatriot Takao Sakurai's final victory at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Born in the Nara Prefecture, in the town Nara on January 12 in 1986, Murata began boxing when in first grade at his junior high school. His talents were quickly identified by resident coach Hiroaki Takami, who was a former national champion and competed at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. He regularly attended the Shinko Boxing Gym in Osaka to train with former Japanese National Champion Coach Hiromu Kuwata during that time before changing schools to attend the Minami-Kyoto High School where he was then coached by the late Maekawa Takemoto who passed away at the age of 50 in 2010.
Murata won the All Japan Boxing National Championships at Middleweight (75kg) in 2004 when he was only 18 and since then has remained unbeaten on home soil. That same year he joined up with his national squad and made his international debut at the King's Cup in Thailand where he secured a hard-fought runner-up place. Following that impressive tournament, he then claimed a bronze at the 2005 Asian Championships in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Murata was unlucky not to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games after he lost in the two qualifying events in Bangkok and Astana to Uzbekistan's two-time Asian Games winner Elshod Rasulov and Iranian veteran Homayoun Amiri respectively and as a consequence the 182cm tall boxer decided to retire. After the unsuccessful qualification events he did have a rethink, went back on his decision and decided not to give up on his Olympic dream. Starting back from scratch, he won the Japanese National Championships in 2009 before returning to the international fold at the 2010 China Open Tournament where he secured a confidence-boosting bronze medal. Murata could not compete at the Asian Games in Guangzhou following an injury sustained right before the championships but he came back stronger and stepped up a level in 2011. The tough Japanese boxer went on to win the gold medal at the President's Cup in Jakarta where he stopped all of his rivals within the distance, with scalps including Russia's Anatoliy Klinkov and Turkmenistan's Arslanbek Achilov. As a result, he travelled to the ASBC's Asian Boxing Championships in Incheon as the favourite. His opening victory over Chinese titleholder Zhang Jianting however was unfortunately followed by a quarter-final loss to eventual winner Shukhrat Abdullayev of Uzbekistan.
The Japanese sensation was training harder than ever and was now reaching new levels, surprising many at the AIBA World Boxing Championships Baku 2011 as he eliminated Uzbekistan's two-time AIBA World Champion Abbos Atoev before dispatching of Ireland's Darren O'Neill and Brazil's Esquiva Falcao Florentino to advance to the final in spectacular style. Murata however had to settle for silver after being defeated by an impressive Ievgen Khytrov from Ukraine but the foundations for the assault on Olympic gold were laid.
Ryota Murata went into the London 2012 Olympic Games seeded second and soon lived up to his billing with triumphs over Algeria's Abdelmalek Rahou and Turkey's European Championships silver medallist Adem Kilicci. In the semis, he faced Uzbekistan's Abbos Atoev and came out on top in a riveting contest to go one step closer to his dream. In the final he was up against the inspired Brazilian Esquiva Falcao Florentino but nothing could stop Murata as he excelled on the night to claim the biggest prize of them all, the Olympic gold medal.
After being crowned Amateur boxer of the year in Japan in both 2005 and 2011, he received the Metropolitan Sport Award in 2012 and the Nara Citizens Honour Award after his heroics in London. Boxing is now back on the map in Japan with demand for coaching on the rise throughout the country.
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