JUNJIN NAKATANI and HAKUHAKU to win two weight classes at “5.20” in Vegas! 10-year bond between Jyunto Nakatani and his master | FRIDAY DIGITAL

JUNJIN NAKATANI and HAKUHAKU to win two weight classes at “5.20” in Vegas! 10-year bond between Jyunto Nakatani and his master

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Nakatani hits the sandbag with a sharp gaze. His concentration is top class among world champions.

Jyunjin Nakatani, 25, is preparing for his WBO super flyweight title fight against Andrew Moloney on May 20. Since his debut, he has steadily accumulated white stars, winning all 24 of his fights with 18 KOs. For Nakatani, this will be a fight for a two-division championship.

Originally, he was supposed to face Kazusho Ioka (34), who held the same title, as the designated challenger, but Ioka avoided Nakatani and vacated the belt. He opted for a return match against an opponent he had drawn late last year. At the time of this announcement, there were voices in the boxing world that Ioka, who had little chance of winning, had escaped. If the Ioka-Nakatani fight had taken place, Nakatani would certainly have won.

Nakatani went to the U.S. by himself at the age of 15 and mastered the real boxing. Rudy Hernandez (60), who has been coaching Nakatani since that time, said, “The Ioka fight was a 12-round fight.

“He was more than capable of winning the Ioka fight. Andrew Moloney is a strong fighter who can fight in-fight and outbox. Nevertheless, I don’t see any reason for Jundt to lose. He is always in his best condition to fight.”

Rudy, who trained his own brother, the late Genaro, to become a renowned champion and has coached Takehara Shinji, Hatayama Takanori, and Ito Masayuki, among others, has been Nakatani’s chief strategist for the past 10 years, and he is confident in Nakatani’s abilities.

“Junto is the best player I have ever coached,” Nakatani said. My brother was also a great champion, but he is better. In addition to his talent, he is always eager to learn. He trains to be the best, and he deserves to win four weight classes. Hopefully, he can go for the sixth weight class.”

Genaro, Rudy’s best before meeting Nakatani, won super featherweight titles with the WBA and WBC, successfully defending them eight and three times, respectively. He was a stylish, technical boxer who was known for his ability to not let his opponent hit him. His last match was against the then 21-year-old Floyd Mayweather Jr. and the 32-year-old Genaro’s defeat signaled a generational shift.

Nakatani, a technician with long arms and legs and no wasted movement, and Genaro had much in common in their boxing. When I asked Nakatani about this, he replied, “I watch a lot of videos.

Nakatani arrived in Los Angeles on March 29 to camp under Rudy in preparation for the fight against Moroni. Nakatani said that he had adjusted well to the new weight class, just as his instructor had said.

I’ve found the process of losing weight easier now that I’m a super flyweight,” Nakatani said. But the end of the weight cut is still hard. It seems like I’m still growing taller. 

Nakatani, who has been doing one thing at a time since he was 15 years old, has cultivated a steel mentality while enduring loneliness in a foreign country. That is why he has no need for grandiose words, and he never forgets to be humble at all times.

Nakatani said, “We sparred a total of 209 rounds at this camp, and we had two full 12-round sparring sessions. On average, we trained about 20 rounds every day.”

Rudy’s (right) loving and enthusiastic instruction helped Nakatani improve.

Nakatani won a decision in his first fight at super flyweight last November. In the two-month-plus camp leading up to the fight, Rudy told Nakatani, a southpaw, to move to an orthodox (right stance). Nakatani, a southpaw, is a brilliant boxer, but his hastily created right hand stance was awkward, and he was hit several times in sparring sessions.

I have full confidence in Rudy, so I have no doubts about him. When he tells me to do something, I just do it and learn it.

After training at orthodox, Rudy worked out at his natural southpaw position in this camp in preparation for the fight against Moloney.

He worked out at his natural southpaw position for the camp.

There are times when it is faster to use an orthodox stance to put pressure on an opponent in the ring. I can move well in such situations. I felt that in sparring. I began to understand, ‘So this is what Rudy wanted to teach me. I realized that I was practicing to increase my arsenal, to add one more option. I’ve done that many rounds, so I’ve become more balanced when I go orthodox.

In preparation for the fight against Moroni, Rudy cited number of moves and guard as his challenges. It is very simple, but he stressed the importance of these two points to Nakatani every day. He is now aiming for the world’s top two weight classes, and that is why he talks about the preciousness of the basics.

Moroni is an athletic fighter. Rudy advises me, ‘Don’t just hit him in the face with your jab, but also in the chest. Fighting at your own distance will be key. We spar four times a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, and you have done 10 rounds a day. On Tuesday and Thursday, we did 12 rounds of shadowboxing at full strength. This was another tough menu. After the beginning of GW in Japan, I did 12 rounds of full sparring as a menu to catch up. Anyway, the environment allows me to concentrate on boxing, so I am allowed to stretch myself. Also, I am learning a lot from my sparring partners, who are all world-ranked fighters.

Blessed with partners, he will be heading to Las Vegas for a showdown after completing the camp’s intense content.

The bond between Rudy and Nakatani is strong. When Nakatani first visited Rudy after graduating from junior high school and beginning his life in the U.S., he was tormented by the fear that if his performance was poor, Rudy would give up on him. Now, however, he has become a player who receives the utmost recognition.

“I feel like I’m trying to absorb as much as I can every time,” she says. It’s my job to do my best to do what Rudy tells me to do. I trust him 100 percent, so no matter what he tells me, I’m ready to go with his menu. Even if I feel confused, I just try my best to do it. As I do so, it becomes ingrained in my body. Rudy is strict but has a sense of humor, and every day is exciting.

During a sparring session during this camp, Rudy suddenly said to me, “In the next round, lower your guard. If you put your guard up, you will lose your arms. If you raise your guard, you will be punished with push-ups. This was to hone his defensive bodywork and to let him experience the effectiveness of his guard.

“That’s the kind of thing I enjoy,” he said. Rudy and I have a relationship that is not supercilious or rigid. Practice is hard, but it’s really fulfilling, and I can feel myself growing.

This exclusive interview was conducted online. His personality came through in each word.

The MGM Groundgarden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, where the fight against Moloney will take place, has been the site of many great fights, including George Foreman, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao.

I am honored to be given the chance to compete in such an arena in the second weight class,” said Tyson. It is a rare opportunity for a Japanese fighter. I want to be active in the U.S. in the future, so I want to make a good impression. American fans are very discerning, and I want to enjoy myself on that stage.

Finally, we asked him about his outlook for the 20th.

“I want to make the most of my long reach and get a good distance. I have many things to reflect on from my first super flyweight fight in November, but I learned a lot from my clinch work. I’m going to fight well against fighters who use the clinch a lot, and I’m going to keep my pace.”

The MGM Groundgarden Arena seats just over 16,000 people. In Las Vegas, where boxing fever is the hottest in the world, Jyunjin Nakatani will be aiming to win his second world title. Expect a hot fight that will burn the hearts of the fans and officials in the home of boxing.

  • Interview and text by Soichi Hayashi

    Soichi Hayashi was born in 1969. Passed the professional boxing test as a junior lightweight, but suffered an injury to his left elbow. After working as a reporter for a weekly magazine, he became a nonfiction writer and educator, teaching at a public high school in the U.S. In 1996, he moved to the U.S. He completed the Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies at the University of Tokyo in 2014. He is the author of "Minority Fist," "America's Lower Level Education Site," and "America's Problem Child Regeneration Classroom" (all Kobunsha e-books), "God's Ring," "The Door to the World: Forward! Samurai Blue" and "Hohoite to Nurture Coaching" (all published by Kodansha).

  • Photography Ryuto Nakatani

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