By Keith Idec
Ryota Murata’s pressure was too much for Emanuele Blandamura.
Japan’s Murata stalked Italy’s Blandamura throughout their bout until stopping him in the eighth round of their WBA middleweight title fight Sunday in Yokohama, Japan. ESPN aired the Murata-Blandamura match live from a sold-out Yokohama Arena.
Murata (14-1, 11 KOs) knocked down Blandamura (27-3, 5 KOs) with a right hand late in the eighth round. Blandamura made it to his feet, but referee Raul Caiz Jr. stopped their scheduled 12-round fight at 2:56 of the eighth round.
The 32-year-old Murata, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist, made the first defense of the WBA world middleweight title he won from France’s Hassan N’Dam (36-3, 21 KOs) by stopping him in their rematch October 22 in Tokyo. The WBA recognizes Gennady Golovkin (37-0-1, 33 KOs) as its true middleweight champion.
Murata became the third opponent to knock out Blandamura, who's ranked No. 6 by the WBA.
The 38-year-old Blandamura was previously knocked out by WBO middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders (26-0, 12 KOs) in July 2014 and super welterweight contender Michele Soro (32-3-1, 21 KOs) in June 2015.
Blandamura moved away from Murata from the time their bout began and didn’t have enough power to make Murata respect him.
Murata had worn down Blandamura by the eighth round. His overhand right floored the challenger and sent him to his gloves and knees with 14 seconds left in the eighth.
He got up before Caiz’s count reached 10, but Caiz didn’t think Blandamura should continue and stopped the fight.
The seventh round mirrored each of the previous rounds, as Murata pressured Blandamura and occasionally landed right hands to the head and body shots.
Murata seemed to hurt Blandamura with under a minute to go in the sixth round. Blandamura held and moved, but Murata still landed multiple right hands to the head as Blandamura attempted to cover up.
Murata drilled Blandamura with a right to the body just prior to the 30-second mark of the fifth round. The champion landed an overhand right to Blandamura’s head several seconds before the fifth round ended.
Blandamura slowed down Murata temporarily with a left hook to his head at the 35-second mark of the fourth round.
Caiz warned Murata for hitting Blandamura behind his head when there was just over a minute to go in the third round. Murata connected with two overhand rights as Blandamura backed against the ropes near the 30-second mark of the third.
Murata continued to stalk Blandamura throughout the second round. Blandamura flicked his jab at times and connected with a left to Murata’s body late in the round.
Blandamura moved away from Murata for most of the first round and made it clear immediately that he would fight off his back foot. Murata’s hard right to the body landed with around 10 seconds remaining in the first.
Earlier in the night, Nicaragua's Cristofer Rosales was crowned the new World Boxing Council flyweight champion after beating the former titleholder, Japan's Daigo Higa, with a ninth-round technical knockout.
Higa was stripped of the title the previous day after failing to make weight for the fight. The WBC and both camps agreed to proceed with the bout under the condition that Rosales would take the belt with a win, with the title to be vacated in the case of a draw or a Higa victory.
Higa fell to 15-1 after his corner threw in the towel as the 22-year-old began to falter and take heavy punishment in exchanges with 23-year-old Rosales, who improved to 27-3.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.