Brant Takes Title

By Wrigley Brogan on October 21, 2018
Brant Takes Title
Seldom will one see a boxer more anxious for a fight than Rob Brant. (Wrigley Brogan)

Rob Brant is more physical than Murata and has fought the better opponents. He is more vocal and exudes confidence…

Watching lesser-known boxers to the U.S., even champions, has always interested me so I was anxious to attend the Ryota Murata vs. Rob Brant fight October 20 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Murata, the WBA middleweight champion from Japan, is not exactly a household name in the U.S. even though he beat Gunnar Jackson in Las Vegas and later appeared on the Terence Crawford-Viktor Postol undercard at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on July 23, 2016, knocking out George Tahdooahnippah in the opening round.

I had done a bit of research with my computer on Murata while enjoying a cigar in the back yard. My dogs are always anxious for me to have a smoke because they get a treat. I am not much on the electronic age (I shoot many of the fights on film and I once attempted to call my wife from a motel using the television remote) but I appreciate being able to do research and to write outdoors. Murata is well loved and respected in Japan. Boxing has been a staple in Japan for many years and its popularity has been growing in recent years. Top Rank, the promoter, says it best. After all, they can afford the best PR.

“Murata (14-1, 11 KOs) is one of Japan’s most popular sporting stars, a crossover figure who captured Olympic gold at the 2012 Olympics in London. Following the Olympic gold medal and an amateur career that also included five Japanese national titles, Murata turned pro with great fanfare and graduated to scheduled 10-rounders by his fourth pro bout. He made his Las Vegas debut at the Thomas & Mack Center on Nov. 7, 2015, winning a clear 10-round unanimous decision.

“Murata’s lone loss was a highly controversial one. In front of his home fans at Tokyo’s Ariake Coliseum in May 2017, he dropped a 12-round split decision against Hassan N’Dam for the vacant WBA middleweight title. The WBA ordered an immediate rematch, and five months later, Murata stopped N’Dam in the seventh round, becoming only the second Japanese-born middleweight world champion in boxing history. He made his first title defense on April 15 in Yokohama, Japan, knocking out former European middleweight champion Emanuele Blandamura in the eighth round. The Blandamura fight drew a peak rating of 17 million viewers on Japanese television.”

I sketched out a few notes on the morning flight from Seattle to Vegas. Alaska Air features a number of daily flights at reasonable prices. The planes are clean, comfortable, quiet, and with quality service. I occasionally fly Spirit Airlines, but if you take a carry-on bag they charge extra raising the cost to the same as Alaska. If I can shove an extra pair of socks and underwear into my pockets and only need to take one camera, then Spirit is the way to go. It is strictly low budget but very professional and you can buy coffee and a muffin for $4.00 for breakfast.

The airport was fogged in and we were three hours late getting off the ground. I wandered to the event center and snapped a few shots at the end of the weigh-in. The weigh-in is usually a good place to talk to other boxing reporters an get their take on the fights. Because of the flight delay most of them had already left.

After checking into the Super 8 I stopped into a bar at the MGM Park for a drink, not of beer or whisky, but of coffee. (I drank a bit too much alcohol as a young musician and my liver is now an overcooked piece of saddle leather.) If you sit at a slot machine the whiskey is free, anyway, for those who like to imbibe. If it’s coffee you want you’re out of luck, at least with the women I talked to.

“What kind of world champion has only 15 fights,” said Bernie. “He’s been doing the sushi circuit knocking out flatfish and flounders.”

I didn’t know Bernie, or his friend. My photo vest contains a patchwork of boxing patches. I wear the vest as a lure to draw in conversation and to see what people think about upcoming fights, or which way the stock market is headed. The attraction works sometimes although I have never learned anything about the stock market. Bernie has a belly that rests on his lap like a ventriloquist’s dummy when he sits and was wearing a cowboy shirt and a string tie that someone had tried to hang him with. He was walking past when the vest snapped his head back and he flopped into a chair like a trout into a net.

“You don’t mind, do you?” he said. “You look like a boxing guy. This is David. We came over from Fresno to see the fight—and maybe get a little action on The Strip, if you know what I mean.” He winked and smiled. The only action he needed was a Stair Master.

“Not enough experience?” I said.

“Fighters today,” he said, as if there was some kind of law that would not allow a boxer to get his face beaten to pudding except in the past. “Look at that Ruskie, Lomie something-or-other. He jumps right in and gets a title fight after a few bouts. It ain’t right.”

“He’s the champ isn’t he?” I said. “An Olympic gold medalist, like Murata.”

“Sure; but that’s because no one can fight anymore. The Russian’s got a real fight coming up. He’s not going to be able to pull a win off this time. That Oedraza guy will tear him up”

Bernie was probably in his late 50’s, old enough to think boxers in the past were special. Because his face was furrowed and brown he probably worked outdoors, ran a few hundred acres of sugar beets in the San Joaquin Valley. In a few minutes David had smoked about four cigarettes attempting to get in as many as he could before being diagnosed with lung cancer and being forced to quit.

“What about Brant? I said.

“He ain’t no never-mind,” said Bernie. “I sell insurance and know a lot about people. Opponents don’t count, one fight or a hundred. They must figure him for a loss or he wouldn’t of gotten the fight. They might be surprised. I got him down for a win. A black man has got to be tougher than a Japanese. Them Asian types break easy, especially in the head. I figure that’s because they’re smarter than most of us. A man who thinks a lot has got to have a score of brains so his head gets soft to give them room without getting cramped.”

Somehow Bernie had gotten lost in the past and was unlikely to crawl out. He was a man content with his generalizations. Former lightweight champ Tommy Loughran said, “My manager had always told me he would not put me in with anybody that was a good fighter until I had 35 fights.” Today many fighters retire before they have that many bouts. After 46 fights Loughran went in tough, won the championship, and eventually fought the great Harry Greb 6 times. There were no easy fights in those days for top fighters.

Guys like Bernie are some of the things I enjoy about boxing: straight-forward and honest talk. Everyone’s an unyielding expert in his own way. Neither facts nor reason will sway them.

Murata is a stand-up boxer, hands beside face, good jab, will walk down an opponent, and expends little energy with footwork. He would rather dance the tango, close and intimate while following an opponent rather than the boot-scooting boogie with feet akimbo and no body contact. He also has a punch! Asians are not known as devastating hitters. Murata is an exception. He knows instantly when his opponent is hurt. However, he has not fought anyone of significance in the pro ranks. His opponents have all been has-beens, fighters on the way out.

Murata is being groomed for more lucrative fights, possibly with Golovkin or Alvarez. He is not thinking ahead. “Everything will happen after the result of this fight. I am looking forward to getting the victory on Saturday.”

Brant should not be taken lightly. He is a boxer-puncher, heavy on the puncher. He is more physical than Murata and has fought the better opponents. He is more vocal and exudes confidence. Seldom will one see a boxer more anxious for a fight than Brant. He should give Murata as much, or possibly more, than he can handle and may surprise people with a victory. In any case I was looking for a great fight.

“We knew that Murata would be the challenge of a lifetime,” said Brant. Brant has been training with the “Great One,” Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. If anyone knows how to beat Murata it’s Eddie. “We’re training especially for Murata. I feel good. I feel confident.” Brant says dropping weight from 178 to 160 has not been a problem. “My body is very comfortable at 160… That’s where I’m going to win my titles.”

I had the fight figured for Brant. Murata’s opponents have mostly been older, over-the-hill types. Murata is not so young himself. Brant has fought the stiffer opposition, tough men with tough records.

The MGM Park Theater is a wonderful venue for boxing. There is not a bad seat in the house and Murata and Brant were spotlighted well.

Brant fired the opening volley of the bout. He never stopped throwing combinations during the first round. Murata continued to be the aggressor. He threw only single shots as if trying to land a big one. That’s the way the first half of the fight went, Brant with combinations, Murata with single shots.

Halfway through, Murata started to pick up the pace and it looked as if Brant was tiring. Murata landed some nice right hands that rocked Brant. Murata’s left eye was swelling badly.

Brant picked up his second wind for the last two rounds. Murata knew he was behind. For two rounds it was toe-to-toe. In the end the combinations did the trick and Brant picked the belt.

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  1. nicolas 09:25am, 10/23/2018

    after looking at there respective records, I cannot see how the article could say that Brant fought the better opposition. I did not expect Brant to win as he had gone to Germany and lost to the overrated in my opinion Jurgen Braehmer, of course at the super middleweight division. That was a fight that originally I thought Brant would win. One of the excuses given by the merger of Murata’s Gym in Japan Times was that Murata had a fever and so preparation for the fight was not good..Would not mind if they had a rematch, perhaps in Japan, before a tuneup fight perhaps for Murata. Murat acknowledged that it was the worst defeat of his career, and actually was not sure if he would continue to box.

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