Ryota Murata rattled off a long-winded response in Japanese to his interpreter as a clueless reporter waited for the translation in English.
Murata was asked about his shocking split decision loss in Tokyo last year against Hassan N’Dam for the vacant WBA “regular” middleweight title.
It’s not a surprise in boxing when the home fighter gets the benefit of questionable scorecards. But it’s extremely rare when the road fighter gets gifted the victory.
Murata (14-1, 11 knockouts) headlines Saturday’s Top Rank card at the Park Theater inside the new Park MGM. He’ll defend his title against Rob Brant (23-1, 16 KOs) with ESPN Plus streaming the event at 7:30 p.m.
Many viewed Murata as the clear winner and it led to WBA president Gilberto Mendoza apologizing to Murata and suspending the two judges who scored it in favor of the Frenchman.
In the 24 hours after the controversial decision, nearly every Japanese newscast started with Murata’s first career defeat.
“That actually made me more famous,” Murata said in English to the reporter on Monday.
If Murata knew a little more English, he probably would have added “Who knew?”
The Japanese sensation was shocked about the positive outcome from his loss. He wanted to make sure the reporter knew that and it wasn’t lost in translation.
Murata, 32, was granted an immediate rematch and left no doubt the second time around by making N’Dam quit after the seventh round and won the secondary middleweight title.
In April, Murata became the first Japanese middleweight champion to make a successful title defense after knocking out Emanuele Blandamura in the eighth round.
Japan’s most popular fighter ever — according to Teiken Boxing promoter Akihiko Honda — is back on track and ready for the biggest fights in the 160-pound division.
“I felt remorse for not being able to win for the people who actually put the fight together for me,” Murata said about the 2017 defeat. “But for myself, it gave me more confidence, and I knew that I could fight at that top level.”
There’s a sense that Murata put plenty of pressure on himself to make everyone around him happy and his country proud.
But the 2012 Olympic gold medalist realized that losing isn’t the end of the world. The support didn’t go away just because he had one blemish on his record.
Murata is too humble to say how famous he is back home, but Honda said Murata would get bombarded if he was spotted at an airport in Japan. Honda has worked with the best Japanese boxers for decades and is a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, who co-promotes Murata with Honda, is hoping he could lure Gennady Golovkin to fight Murata in the next year at the Tokyo Dome in Japan.
Murata laughed at the potential match, which would be the biggest fight at the Tokyo Dome since Mike Tyson had his stunning first career loss against Buster Douglas in 1990.
Murata has too much respect for Brant to look ahead at other bouts.
“I don’t know what my goal is,” Murata said. “I just take one fight at a time and that’s how I got here, and that’s how I’m going to keep going.”
Murata feels at home in Las Vegas. He spent most of 2014 training in Southern Nevada and has a close relationship with Las Vegas resident and fellow Teiken Boxing stablemate Jorge Linares.
Murata trained at Linares’ new Las Vegas gym this week.
“It’s an honor for me to fight in Las Vegas,” Murata said. “People here are used to watching the best fighters.”
Conlan to fight on undercard
Another popular foreign boxer will fight Saturday at the Park Theater.
Michael Conlan, a well known fighter in the United Kingdom, will face Nicola Cipolletta in an eight-round featherweight bout and co-main event to Murata-Brant.
Conlan, a Northern Ireland native, was one of the most sought after amateur fighters from the 2016 Olympics. He signed with Top Rank in 2017. This will be his debut fight in Las Vegas.
“It’s something that I’ve wanted to do and that’s to fight in Las Vegas,” Conlan said. “It’s another big step in my career and it’s something every kid in my generation dreams of, and Vegas is the hot bed of boxing and it does feel like an achievement.”
Conlan, 26, spent a year training in Southern California with trainer Manny Robles and stablemate Jessie Magdaleno, a Las Vegas native and former junior featherweight champion. Conlan recently moved to London to be closer to his family.
Who: Ryota Murata vs. Rob Brant
What: For Murata’s WBA “regular” middleweight title
When: Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
Where: Park Theater at Park MGM
TV: ESPN Plus app, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: Start at $25 on ticketmaster.com