The past 12 months proved far more memorable to Ryota Murata than was the case a year ago.
The two-time and reigning secondary middleweight titlist closed out 2019 with a bang, taking out Steven 'Bang Bang' Butler in a one-sided 5th round stoppage win Monday evening at Yokohama Arena in Yokohama, Japan.
Murata dropped Canada's Butler late in round five, prompting an immediate stoppage. The official time was 2:45 of round five.
Several plot twists paved the way for Monday’s bout to take place. Murata was due to enter a rubber match with Minnesota’s Rob Brant, whom he stopped in two rounds to regain his title after suffering a one-sided 12-round loss to the high-volume punching American middleweight last October.
Brant exercised his rematch (to the rematch) option but ultimately instead opted to head in a different direction, with the promise of a title fight there when he wants it. As it relates to this show, the moved paved the way for Murata—a 2012 Olympic Gold medalist for Japan—to enter a voluntary title defense.
It also left wiggle room for Butler to pursue what he felt was a better style matchup. The streaking contender from Canada was named the mandatory challenger to Demetrius Andrade’s middleweight title, but quickly bailed on ordered negotiations to take the more lucrative assignment versus Murata, even if for a secondary title. The early going of Monday’s main event suggested a wise business decision made, as Butler was able to score with right hands in the early going.
Murata was equally as effective with his own right hand, riding out the incoming to connect with his power shots before taking control of the action in round two. Swelling began to form around Butler’s right eye, the effect of Murata’s stiff jab setting the table for clean right hands upstairs.
The jab continued to work for Murata in round three, pushing around the 24-year old first-time title challenger and forcing him to clinch following a right hand to Butler’s chin midway through round three. Butler’s best moments in the frame came in the first minute, scoring with a left hook but quickly giving way to Murata’s increased attack.
It would only get worse for Butler as the fight continued. Murata continued to have his way offensively, while with little reason to fear the return fire. Butler’s punches lacked any steam as the bout entered round five, throwing for the sake of touching Murata but not landing anything of consequence.
Murata truly seized the moment, wobbling Butler with a right hand late in round five. As he did just five months ago in regaining his version of the middleweight title, Murata didn’t hesitate in closing the show. Butler found himself cornered and with too much time left on the clock, as Murata split the guard and sent him crashing to the canvas.
The sequence was enough to convince referee Rafael Ramos to immediately call a halt to the contest.
Murata registers the first defense of his second tour as a secondary titlist as he improves to 16-2 (13KOs). The national hero held the same title for roughly a year, his first reign also coming courtesy of a revenge-fueled knockout win as he stopped Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam in the 7th round of their Oct. 2017 battle, five months after dropping a highly questionable 12-round decision in their vacant title fight.
Talks will continue of the popular Tokyo-based middleweight pursuing higher-profile opportunities versus lineal champion Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez—should he return to 160—and two-time titleholder Gennadiy 'GGG' Golovkin. A more likely scenario, however, is a contractually-obligated third fight with Brant once the American is ready to return to the ring.
As for Butler, the loss snaps his 10-fight win streak coming as he falls to 28-2-1 (24KOs).
The bout streamed live on ESPN+ in the United States and aired live on Fuji-TV in Japan.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox