The April 9 unification bout between IBF middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin and WBA super champion Ryota Murata at the Saitama Super Arena is a mega-fight on a scale never seen before in the Japanese boxing world.
The two big matches that did not feature a Japanese competitor were the WBA/WBC/IBF unified heavyweight champion Mike Tyson vs. Tony Taps on March 21, 1988 at the Tokyo Dome, and the James Douglas fight on February 11, 1990, when Tyson fell from his title. The list goes on and on.
One matchup that comes to mind when I think of a Japanese taking on a champion recognized by the world boxing world as a top-notch boxer is the WBA junior welterweight (now super lightweight) title match held on July 4, 1982, in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.
Akio Kameda was called the strongest Japanese welterweight in history and entered the ring as the designated challenger against Aaron Pryor, who was defending his title four times with 30 fights and 28 KOs.
The Japanese challenger, who has won all 17 of his fights with 14 KOs, is an intercollegiate champion, just like Ryota Murata. After graduating from high school, he entered Chuo University in 1975, and in his first year won the All Japan Championship in August and the Asia Cup in September consecutively. As a candidate for the Montreal Olympics, he won a silver medal at the Pre-Olympic Games held the previous year. He was expected to do well in the Games, but he lost his temper over the unreasonable treatment he received from a senior member of his university boxing club, and dropped out after beating up a senior student.
Kameda turned pro as a phantom Olympian and captured the Japanese welterweight title in his seventh fight. Masanori Kanehira, then chairman of his Kyoei Gym, promoted him by saying, “If Yoshitaka Gushiken was a genius once in 100 years, Akio Kameda is a gem once in 200 years. He defended the same title six times and showed that he was unbeatable in Japan, while facing Pryor one weight class below him.
Pryor had also missed the Montreal Olympics. He was the fifth of seven siblings born in the same family, with the same mother but separate fathers. Three of his siblings were imprisoned for crimes. The judges at the Olympic trials decided that he should not be allowed to carry the Stars and Stripes on his back.
As an amateur, Pryor beat future pro superstar Thomas Hearns by one-sided decision, and at a training camp for Olympic hopefuls, he sparred with Sugar Ray Leonard for over 200 rounds, taking each fighter down twice.
If the pound-for-pound theory that is so popular today existed back then, he was undoubtedly one of the three best fighters in the world. Pryor was feared for his strength and was avoided by both Leonard and Hearns in their professional fights.
Akio Kameda challenged Pryor in a hostile environment, and at 28 seconds into the first round, he took the monster champion down with a straight left and a one-two. However, he crawled on the canvas a total of five times under the fast-paced barrage of strikes from Pryor, who boasted of his inexhaustible stamina, and ran out of power in the sixth round.
Boxing insiders at the time commented on Kameda’s challenge to Pryor, “Why did Kyoei Gym let him fight such a monster? He wonders, “I could have definitely beaten Saul Manby or Kim Sang Hyun, the WBC same-class champions. However, Kameda himself has a different view.
I could have lived the rest of my life because I challenged the strongest man in the world. I am always proud of the fact that I fought a man of that caliber, and that I did not lose to a half-baked man.
We asked Kameda about Ryota Murata, who will soon be trading fists with Golovkin.
Murata is a very talented fighter and a very smart fighter. If you listen to what he says, you can see how smart he is. But I think that’s why he tends to think too much. He has lost two fights so far, hasn’t he? Both your first world title match against Hassan Endam and your second defense against Rob Brandt were not the kind of opponents Murata could lose to. I think he was too cautious and lost a lot of moves. The fact that they both won by KO in the return match means that Murata is stronger. I have always felt that mental well being is the key to his ring career.
But this time, I think he will fight without hesitation. Real strong fighters don’t give you time to think in the ring. Pryor was like that. Every second, it is as if he fights on instinct. It’s like your body reacts on its own. …… I think that when Murata faces Golovkin, what he has ingrained in his body will come out naturally. It’s not like “Ashita no Joe,” but there aren’t many boxers in the world who can take on their best opponents.
After the Pryor fight, I too felt like I had burned myself white hot, and it was a refreshing feeling. From the outside, Murata is very happy now. He is about to fight a man who is willing to put everything he has on the line.
Kameda said it best.
I think Murata will win. Golovkin is certainly a great champion who established his own era in the middleweight division. I don’t need to explain. But he is already 40 years old. There is no way he will not decline. The four-year age difference between Murata and Golovkin is huge for a boxer. If this were a 36-year-old and a 32-year-old, it might not be so big. But a 40-year-old and a 36-year-old have completely different instantaneous power, recovery, and the way they get tired in practice.”
Kameda also stressed the value of Olympic gold medalists.
In amateur competition, the more you win, the stronger your opponent becomes. It is natural because the stage is raised. The world championships are tournament games, aren’t they? Murata is a man who came in second at the World Championships in 2011 and won the London Olympics the following year. It is more difficult to win a gold medal at the Olympics than to become a world champion as a professional. It is because he has that much stuff that he was able to win in London.
To become a world champion as a professional fighter, you need to be blessed with good matchmaking. You will only get a chance when a powerful promoter finds you. The timing of your world challenge also makes the difference between light and dark. But I would describe the amateur world as a world of merit. Sure, there are some strange decisions. ……
Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, Oscar Dela Hoya, and many other famous champions would be former Olympic gold medalists. Winning a gold medal is a sign that one has the right qualities to do so. Golovkin also won a silver medal at the Athens Olympics, but there is a difference between the man who won in the final and the man who lost.
Kameda muttered as he recalled 40 years ago.
I only had one month to prepare for the fight with Pryor. If I have any regrets, it’s that I feel I could have had a better fight if I had been able to practice more ……. But Pryor was of a different caliber, so I don’t think we could have won.”
Due to the Corona disaster, Murata’s match was postponed many times after it was almost set. Nevertheless, he brought in several partners from overseas and continued sparring without intervals. When Kameda was told of Pryor’s decision to challenge him, he had been unable to train for nine months as far as he was concerned due to a transfer of gyms.
He had been unable to train for nine months. “I am a gold medalist,” said Murata, “so this is an environment that I have been able to obtain. He commented that if the Golovkin fight had been held at the end of last year, he would not have had enough sparring time. I am now ready to exchange fists with the best man in the world. There is no better stage than this. I really hope Murata will do his best. I will be rooting for him from the bottom of my heart.
Eight days remain until the bell rings at Saitama Super Arena.
Akio Kameda is currently battling an illness. He told me that his head and mouth are in good health. I wish him a speedy recovery. I know you will get through this!
Interview and text： Soichi Hayashi Photo： Takeshi Kinugawa (1st) Soichi Hayashi (2nd, 3rd)