By Michael Rosenthal
A busy weekend around the world produced one upset, some predictable results and redemption for a popular Japanese fighter. All in all, the entertainment value was pretty high.
Here is a look at the biggest winners and loser.
BIGGEST WINNER I
Ryota Murata: The Japanese middleweight – it’s still strange to type that – turned in perhaps the most-impressive performance of the weekend, controlling his rematch with Hassan N’Dam from the opening bell until the Frenchman’s corner stopped the fight after the seventh round.
Murata started slowly and lost their first fight by a bitterly disputed split decision for the vacant WBC title in May. On Saturday in Tokyo, clearly obsessed with revenge, he pounded N’Dam with hard, accurate punches to all legal areas of the Frenchman’s body until he the 160-pound title belt was in his possession.
And the Olympic gold medalist from Tokyo did it in only his 14th professional fight, making his accomplishment all the more remarkable.
Murata (13-1, 10 knockouts) is now in the mix with the best middleweights in the world. How would he do?
I believe he could compete with a certain crop of 160-pounders (think Billy Joe Saunders and David Lemieux) but might have trouble with the next level (Gennady Golovkin, Canelo Alvarez, Daniel Jacobs and Jermall Charlo).
Murata is well-schooled and durable, characteristics that could make life miserable for any opponent. However, he doesn’t seem to have special qualities. He’s not exceptionally quick or powerful, he’s not dynamic. He’s merely a very good fighter, or so it seems to me.
He’ll have a chance to prove me wrong, as he is marketable opponent for one of the top middleweights. He has had good exposure, he now holds a belt, he has a gold medal and he has an appealing, but not particularly threatening fighting style.
If nothing else, he’ll make a ton of money in Japan, where he is extremely popular.
N’Dam (36-3, 21 KOs)? He’s 36 going on 46, it seemed in the fight. If anyone asked me, I would suggest he take some time off and think long and hard about whether it’s time to pursue another vocation.
BIGGEST WINNER II
Alberto Machado: Puerto Rico might be the pound-for-pound king of boxing, as the tiny nation continues to produce world-class boxers at an inordinate rate.
The Puerto Ricans love their fighters. And they needed something about which to be happy amid the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.
Enter Alberto Machado.
Machado turned a so-so performance – in a so-so fight – into a spectacular success with a single straight left hand to the chin of Jezreel Corrales on Saturday in Verona, New York.
Corrales, whose WBA junior lightweight title became vacant because he failed to make weight on Friday, controlled the fight for five-plus rounds as a result of his superior speed and athleticism. Machado, a straight-forward stalker, went down and was hurt in Round 5 and couldn’t catch Corrales to do significant damage.
Then, in the sixth, Machado broke through with a right hook that hurt Corrales. Two rounds later, a straight left put Corrales on his face. The Panamanian got up before the count of 10 but, according to Mark Nelson, he couldn’t continue.
Corrales was leading on all three cards at the time of the stoppage.
Machado (19-0, 16 KOs) became the third Puerto Rican to win a title in the past two months, following Miguel Cotto (WBO junior middleweight) and Jesus Rojas (interim WBA featherweight).
Machado is a solid boxer and a hard puncher but he doesn’t appear to have the tools to become an international star. The Puerto Rican fans probably don’t care much about that at the moment, though. He gave them another night to remember when they needed it most.
Jezreel Corrales: Less than a year ago, after back-to-back victories over Takashi Uchiyama, Corrales (22-2, 8 KOs) seemed to be a star in the making. He was quick, slick and fun to watch if you like his herky-jerky, fast-paced style.
Now, after a shaky victory over Robinson Castellanos in July and his setback on Saturday, he’ll need to do some rebuilding.
Corrales can look very good, as he did for much of the fight on Saturday. He uses his feet to move in and out and scores with effective punches, as he did in Round 5. At the same time, perhaps because of his weak fundamentals, he can be vulnerable.
Castellanos put him down twice and barely lost a technical decision, the result of cuts. And Corrales had just thrown a wild punch – which stunned Machado – when he walked into the left hand that ended his night on Saturday.
Corrales is young, only 26, meaning he can still improve. He might have to if he hopes to regain the momentum he lost in his past two fights.
Murat Gassiev’s victory over Krzysztof Wlodarczyk in a quarterfinal match in World Boxing Super Series on Saturday in Newark, New Jersey, was hardly a surprise. Gassiev (25-0, 18 KOs) is a rising star while the 36-year-old Wlodarczyk (53-4-1, 37 KOs) has seen better days. Still, the left hook to the side that paralyzed the Pole was about as spectacular as a body shot gets. Wlodarczyk could barely move, let alone get up. Gassiev’s next assignment should be a lot more interesting: He faces hard-punching Yunier Dorticos in the tournament semifinals. Don’t blink. Someone is going down. … Demetrius Andrade (25-0, 16 KOs) made a successful debut as a full-fledged middleweight on the Machado-Corrales card, easily outpointing Atlantez Fox (23-1-1, 11 KOs) in a 12-round bout. Andrade has the skills to succeed at 160s but I wonder about his punching power. We’ll see. Fox just wasn’t busy enough to give himself a chance to win. … Ryan Burnett (18-0, 9 KOs) looked sharp against Zhanat Zhakiyanov (27-2, 18 KOs), defeating the Kazakhstani by a unanimous decision to unify two bantamweight titles Saturday in Burnett’s native Belfast, Ireland. Burnett has established himself as a very good boxer; that was on display again. I was most impressed with the Irishman’s poise in the face of Zhakiyanov’s relentless pressure. Burnett’s only 25 but looked like an old pro. His hometown fans have reason to love him.