Murata (left) vs. Jeff Chandler. (Photo courtesy of Eijiro)Murata
Eijiro Murata was born in Kaga, Japan, in the southwestern prefecture of Ishikawa, on November 30, 1956.
His father, who worked as a cook in a Chinese restaurant, encouraged his son to take up karate, but Eijiro was more interested in music. When Eijiro was in junior high school, his older brother was scouted by a talent agency and became a professional drummer.
“I was scouted by the founder, too, but my father declined the offer,” Murata told The Ring through Hank Hakoda. “My life might have been totally different if my father had agreed.” (laughs)
His father was concerned that Eijiro was introverted and shy, so he took him to a boxing gym in Kyoto when he was 12 years old.
“He thought it would be better if I learned to box and socialized with many people,” he explained. “I trained there for a year until my family moved to Shiga when I was in the third semester of my first year of junior high school. I had to stop learning boxing, as there was no boxing gym there at that time.”
Murata began his amateur career at 15, but it didn’t go as he’d hoped.
“I lost to a more experienced guy from Komazawa University in the local tournament,” he said. “I fought with eight-ounce gloves and no headgear. I had a busted-up face, but I never went down.”
Murata didn’t get discouraged and went on to become the youngest winner of the All-Japan championship at featherweight, aged 16 years, 9 months and 22 days — a record that still stands today.
“At that time, there had never been a world champion from Osaka, and if you wanted to become a world champion, you had to go take your chances in Tokyo,” he said. “My father and I visited Kaneko Gym in Tokyo after seeing an advertisement in a Pro Wrestling & Boxing magazine. After shadowboxing and showing them some other moves, Shigeji Kaneko, the former OPBF champ who was also an owner of the gym, let me join the gym. After I graduated from junior high school, I started my life in Tokyo.”
Murata lived in a dormitory at the Kaneko gym. The youngster did roadwork, cleaned the gym and ate at Mr. Kaneko’s house in the morning. He worked various jobs part-time, including working in a sauna, a public bathhouse and at a disinfection company run by the Kaneko family, and he taught beginners at the gym.
Murata had aspirations of representing his country at the 1976 Montreal Olympics but lost a decision to his nemesis, Hitoshi Ishigaki, in the final of the All-Japan championships, which served as a box-off. With a final amateur record of 78-10, Murata decided to turn professional in July 1976. He was matched tough from the beginning.
“In my third fight, I faced then-Japanese champ [Hisami] Numata in a non-title bout,” he said. “He dropped me once and I was in trouble, but [he ended up] a bloody mess due to nasty cuts in the later rounds. I would say this victory (an eighth-round TKO) sharpened and raised my profile.”
It was around this time that Murata added the services of well-regarded coach Eddie Townsend, famed for his work with six Japanese fighters who won world titles, to the team. It proved a shrewd move.
“I first met Eddie Townsend when I was still an amateur at 15 or 16,” Murata recalled. “At that time, Eddie came to Kaneko Gym to train a pro named Ricky Sawa (aka Kazuhiro Sawaguchi). While mainly working with Ricky, Eddie also trained me occasionally. When Ricky quit boxing, Eddie left the gym accordingly. He described himself as a ‘gypsy trainer’ who kept moving gyms depending on fighters he trained. Eddie then came back to Kaneko Gym to become my dedicated coach, and we worked together for about five years.”
Murata won the OPBF bantamweight title in 1978 and made four successful defenses before his team was able to bring WBC titleholder Lupe Pintor to Japan in June 1980.
“People talk about Pintor’s great offense, but actually his defense is always overlooked.”
“I was in a good physical condition and flawlessly prepared,” said Murata. “I naturally maintained my composure with no fear of fighting him. Looking back, it was simply because I had never fought at that level, though. I was energetic to seize the initiative out of the blocks, but as the rounds went on, I started to feel drained, probably because I was overly attentive on the big stage.
“Near the end of the 13th round, I took a bodyshot, and I thought I was in trouble. In the 14th, I took a barrage of damaging shots. I had to hang in there, whatever it took. In the 15th round, Pintor did not attack me, which encouraged me to take the plunge to recover the point I had lost in the 14th.
“After the fight, I was exhausted, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure what the decision was going to be. Everyone around me was saying I won, but the result was called a draw.”
Unperturbed, Murata defended his OPBF title twice more and was rewarded with a second world title opportunity. This time, it would be WBA titlist Jeff Chandler.
“In the first round, I landed a big right hand that literally sent him flying to the ropes,” said Murata. “Unfortunately, the ropes saved him from touching the canvas, and he retreated to the corner and ropes. He would have been floored without ropes, and if the fight had been fought under today’s rules, the referee might have called that a knockdown. That was the rule at that time, so there was nothing I could do about it.
“Being exposed to an imminent danger in the first round, he fought back well for the rest of rounds in a very sneaky way, shifting into another gear. I was so focused on doing the best I could that I had no idea what the scorecards would read.”
Again, the result was a 15-round draw. In December 1981, Murata headed to Atlantic City for a rematch.
“After a sparring session in my preparation in Japan, I suffered a serious back sprain while walking up the stairs of the gym,” said Murata, who fought gamely but was stopped in 13 rounds. “I was in bed, in pain, for about two weeks. The osteopathic doctor took care of me warming up my back and doing everything he could. After a week, I felt the pain got a little milder, but still I had to undertake a tough weight-cut in the lead-up to the contest.
“During my flight to the U.S., the pain in my back was so terribly bad again that I had to lie down and sleep. On my arriving in the U.S., about 10 days prior to the showdown, I was supposed to appear in a public training session, where I moved only lightly so media wouldn’t know I was in serious pain. And then during the bout, I had to deal with my back pain too.”
Murata returned to his homeland and reeled off another five defenses of his OPBF title before again facing Chandler in Tokyo in September 1983.
“I had a bit of a negative mindset, that if I lost again, I would quit boxing,” said Murata, who was stopped in 10 rounds. “I was unable to positively envision a bright future after I fought Chandler. I was rather obsessed with that negative sort of feeling instead of caring too much about the result. Maybe it was because I had been in chronically bad shape and it was hard to focus on boxing anymore. In fact, before this showdown, I hurt my lower back again. I had always suffered pains from my back to my knees, which cost me the necessary motivation to win. Eddie was not in my corner in my final world title shot.”
Looking back, Murata feels that winning a world title just wasn’t meant to be at that time.
“I produced a career-best display over Pintor. I wanted a rematch with Pintor for my second world title attempt. I am sure if that happened, it would have been a greater matchup than the first showdown,” said Murata (24-2-3, 15 knockouts). “I was way more comfortable with aggressive fighters than a boxer-mover. I was a fighter who made use of footwork constantly. It was as clear as day that Pintor was my best choice.
“I was a perennial contender in both the WBA and WBC when Chandler and Pintor were in their prime. My manager once told me that he had some talks about fighting junior bantamweight champion Jiro Watanabe. Personally, I thought I had a lot greater chance to beat WBA junior featherweight titleholder Ricardo Cardona.”
After retiring, Murata was offered a shot at the newly formed IBF’s belt, but as the title wasn’t recognized by the JBC, he turned down the offer.
Murata worked for NTT, the biggest telecommunications company in Japan for seven years. He was in the corner of Hiroki Ioka when he famously upset long-reigning South Korean legend Myung-Woo Yuh in 1991. He also opened up a gym to remember his mentor, Eddie Townsend. Despite moving locations, the gym is still going strong.
“I am doing my best every day to continue and develop the gym named after Eddie,” said Murata proudly. “I am eager to make a world champion as soon as possible to not let people’s memories of his achievements fade. It is not easy for me, in this peaceful residential area, to find reckless youngsters who are willing to box. I wonder if it would be better to locate my gym in the city.” (laughs)
Murata, now 66, is married and has two children and lives in Takatsuki, Osaka. He has three dogs and enjoys walking them near his home.
He graciously took time to speak to The Ring about the best he fought in 10 key categories.
Jeff Chandler: He shook me up with speedy jabs followed by the same speedy one-twos. What made his jabs remarkable was not only speed, but also distance and timing. When I was about to throw punches, he always threw effective jabs first. His jabs caught me from the distance I wasn’t expecting. He had a long reach, 71 ½ inches (182 cm). Lupe Pintor was also a good, unpredictable jabber who gave me a hard time, but Chandler was way quicker. Chandler threw a good jab and made other punches also effective. He was long and he had a good reach and very good snap behind the jab. Pintor’s jabs were also hard to predict.
Lupe Pintor: People talk about Pintor’s great offense, but actually his defense is always overlooked. He vigorously fought like a tank, throwing endless punches with an extremely busy tempo, but at the same time, he never forgot to keep his guard high, even when he was going forward. His defense obviously imposed a difficult fight on me. He kept his guard up all the time.
In Kyu Park: He showcased rhythmical footwork, which created good openings for him to throw very fast one-two combos. It was hard to keep up with those moves. He was a very good mover; he was tough to get to.
Hisami Numata: Numata had a very good handspeed. He delivered constant and quick moves.
Jiro Takada: Takada was a seasoned veteran, an ex-Japanese and ex-OPBF titleholder as well as a two-time world title challenger. [Note: Takada lost to WBC flyweight titleholder Miguel Canto (TKO 11) in 1975 and WBA flyweight titlist Guty Espadas (KO 7) in 1977.] Takada was still a smart and an elusive fighter. Due to his bob-and-weaver moves along with his great defense, I was unable to track him down to finish him. He fought a very smart fight. I would say his moves were very [well thought-out].
Shuichi Isogami: Physically, Isogami was pretty strong. I was not feeling up for the bout, as I knew his style would possibly annoy me. I knew he was a kind of driven fighter who never backed off and patiently kept attacking until his foes quit. He fought in an all-out attacking mode, coming at me hard.
Joe Araki: Araki was a durable guy. I whacked him with a slew of serious shots, but he was going nowhere and remained unstoppable as ever.
Pintor: It would be between Pintor and Chandler. Although Chandler was the only guy who knocked me out, I would still go with Pintor for his devastating punching power. Pintor had bigger single punch power; he had really powerful hands.
BEST BOXING SKILLS
Hurricane Teru: Hurricane Teru comes to mind first, and I think he was impressively skilled. There are so many different techniques in boxing. It could be defense, or the overall feel of the technique, etc. Needless to say, both Chandler and Pintor showcased rich, world-class [skills], but let me go with Hurricane Teru in this category. I was just impressed by his technical boxing.
Jeff Chandler: I’d have to say Chandler; he beat me twice. He was a good all-rounder and an evasive fighter. He was the best in speed, jabs and especially his sneakiness. His jabs were sneaky, very long jabs. He knew what he wanted and just employed as evasive tactics as he could think of without putting himself at risk to punches. He was a dodger who knew how to get out, and that was probably how he could survive knockdowns for a long time. He fought well at long distance and I could not forecast from where his uppercuts would come. I got caught with his signature uppercuts from a lot longer distance than I expected. He was always looking to outmaneuver and get out of the way.
Hank Hakoda coordinated and translated this feature.
Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected].
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