He dared to fight at his opponent’s distance, and in his defense on April 9, he took advantage of his long reach to hit punches from all angles. Challenger Yamauchi’s face was contorted and swollen.He said, “Actually, I’m still growing taller. I measured him before our last fight and he grew 1 cm, to 172 cm.”
WBO flyweight champion Junto Nakatani showed a carefree smile. Once he takes off his bandage, the calm 24-year-old is not the type to talk big. But he exudes confidence in every word he says.
Nakatani was the winner of the WBA & IBF unification middleweight title match on April 9 against Ryota Murata (36). Nakatani successfully defended his title against Ryota Murata (36) and Gennady Golovkin (40) for the second time with a TKO victory in 2:20 of the 8th round. Golovkin (40), winning by TKO in 2:20 of the 8th inning for his second successful defense. He showed the world that he is capable of boxing at the largest boxing event ever held in Japan.
“Ryota Yamauchi (27), the challenger, did not lose his mind on such a big stage,” said Nakatani.
Nakatani controlled the fight from the start, but slowed down a little in the 5th and 6th innings. If Nakatani was so strong, he could have finished the fighter in the earlier rounds.
“I was in control of the pace, so from the fifth round, I tried to set up a close fight, which was my opponent’s playing field. Of course, I was at the very limit of my ability to kill Yamauchi’s punches. My plan was to let my opponent give me what he had, and then gradually chip away at his stamina and willpower. I was confident that I could handle my opponent whether he came closer, stayed away, or moved in an irregular manner.”
He always has a poker face in the ring, but on the way up the ramp, he sometimes lets a smile escape his lips.
“I always push myself in practice to the point where there is no chance of losing. Maybe I smile because I want people to look forward to seeing me fight. I want to enjoy myself as well.”
Nakatani has won all 23 of his fights (18 KOs), but he is not content with the status quo.
“I’m aiming to be the best pound-for-pound fighter.”
Nakatani is torn between staying at flyweight and moving up a weight class. The camp says, “At the moment, it’s fifty-fifty. I’m ready to move up to super flyweight as soon as I get a good fight.”
The WBO flyweight champion will travel to the U.S. on June 5 to train in Los Angeles for about a month.
Nakatani, who won the national U15 boxing championship when he was in junior high school, went to the U.S. by himself upon graduation to learn from Rudy Hernandez, a famous trainer who has coached fighters such as Takanori Hatekayama (46), who won two world titles in the super featherweight and lightweight divisions. He has been in the U.S. for less than two years. This two-year period of living in the U.S. laid the foundation for Nakatani’s career.
“I want to be successful as a professional boxer,” Nakatani said. “That was all I wanted to do. At first, my parents were against it, saying that I should at least go to high school, but in the end they relented and sent me off. I practiced alone every day in an environment where I didn’t understand the language. I felt lonely, but I was even more nervous because I knew that if I didn’t get Rudy’s approval, I wouldn’t be able to go on to the next level. There were many strong fighters in the gym, which was very stimulating, and I was desperate to make my way here, no matter what kind of fighters I had to spar with. It was a short period of time, but back then, each day was long.”
From the moment Nakatani steps into the gym until the end of practice, he never gives up, not even for a moment. He never chats with his colleagues, and when he changes his clothes, he carefully wraps a bandage around his body and faces himself like a monk in ascetic training. His level of concentration is probably one of the highest among current world champions.
Nakatani, who is about to meet Rudy again, sees his move to the super flyweight division as an advantage.
“I will be able to use my speed, and I will be able to punch more consistently.”
The current WBO title holder at super flyweight is Kazuto Ioka (33). With the corona yet to converge these days, world title fights between Japanese are on the rise. If a match between Nakatani and Ioka were to take place, it would surely be hotly anticipated by Japanese fans. Nakatani was seen winning his defense last September in Tucson, Arizona, U.S.A., with a fourth-round TKO. Former WBA light flyweight champion Yoko Gushiken (66) asserted, “If the two fought, Nakatani would win.”
Nakatani has a good eye. He has agile footwork. He is lean in his positioning and in his movements after he throws a punch. He keeps his distance and his jab is sharp. Furthermore, he has a variety of left punches, including straights, hooks, and uppercuts, the trajectory of which is difficult to read.
Nakatani’s mentor, Rudy Hernandez, born October 27, ’62, is a super featherweight champion in the WBA and WBC. He is the brother of Genaro, a featherweight champion in the WBA and WBC, and has trained his younger brother in numerous world title fights, including against Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr. His guidance expanded Nakatani’s potential.
“I always feel that training with Rudy has made me what I am today. Rudy taught me everything, including detailed step work, defense, and combinations. Eventually, I would like to enter the U.S. and fight there on a full-scale basis, like Manny Pacquiao (43), who won six weight classes.”
Nakatani’s imposing manner in the ring is a true American trait. He not only follows his trainer’s instructions, but also has the boxing IQ to apply the advice he receives while training.
“I use image training so I don’t panic during the fight,” he said. “For example, I practice in case my right eye gets blocked during a fight, or if I hurt either of my fists. Even in sparring, we consider the worst-case scenario and set up situations where we dare to be stuffed into a corner. I definitely don’t want to regret anything in the training phase.”
Rudy, who agrees with Nakatani, also says,
“The good thing about Junin is his heart. Even in the past, when he sparred with fighters stronger than him, he never flinched. A fighter grows as his knowledge grows, and I plan to teach him a lot at this camp. Personally, I think it would be better to move him up to super fly. After a couple of fights there, I would like to move him up to bantam.”
The sky’s the limit. How big will the ever-growing Junto Nakatani become?