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Omnicron knocks out upcoming unifications in Japan


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By Mike Coppinger, ESPN


Gennadiy Golovkin's wait to become a two-time unified champion will have to last a little longer.


Golovkin was slated to meet Ryota Murata in a middleweight title unification on Dec. 29 in Saitama, but the fight is now postponed, sources tell ESPN, due to new COVID restrictions that prohibit foreigners from visiting Japan.


The country's mandate was handed down Monday in an effort to combat the spread of the novel omicron variant. Officials hoped to obtain an exception for Golovkin from the Japanese government but were denied, sources said.


The Kazakhstan native has been training in Hollywood, Florida, for weeks in preparation for the bout. Officials plan to reschedule the bout in Japan next year, sources said.


Golovkin took to Twitter on Thursday night, writing, "I am deeply disappointed that fight in Japan has been postponed but the health and safety of the public must always be the priority. I look forward to returning to the ring against Ryota as soon as possible."


Golovkin, who turns 40 in April, is one of the biggest stars in boxing over the past 10 years. The menacing puncher was held to a controversial draw with Canelo Alvarez in their 2017 meeting before he dropped a narrow decision to the Mexican in the 2018 rematch.


Golovkin (41-1-1, 36 KOs) regained the title with a grueling victory over Sergiy Derevyanchenko in October 2019, but has competed just once since.


Murata (16-2, 13 KOs) represented a chance for GGG to claim a second title and also grow his reach. The 35-year-old became a star in Japan after claiming a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics (Golovkin won silver in 2004).


Both boxers were set to end career-long layoffs. Murata, ESPN's No. 4 middleweight, hasn't entered the ring since December 2019. He regained the WBA middleweight title with a second-round TKO victory over Rob Brant in 2019, exacting revenge over the only man to beat him in the pros.


"I feel that my entire amateur and professional boxing career has been a preparation for this fight against Gennadiy Golovkin," Murata said in November. "This fight will determine my place in the middleweight division and boxing history.


"Gennadiy Golovkin has long been the standard-bearer of the middleweight division. To me, he is still undefeated. I have the highest respect for him."


Golovkin, ESPN's No. 2 160-pounder, last fought in December 2020.


Meanwhile, GGG-Murata isn't the only title unification to be affected by Japan's new restrictions.


MP (Manny Pacquiao) Promotions President Sean Gibbons told ESPN on Friday that the Kazuto Ioka vs. Jerwin Ancajas 115-pound title fight set for Dec. 31 in Tokyo has been cancelled.


Ioka, ESPN's No. 4 junior bantamweight, is based in Japan and routinely fights on New Year's Eve in his home country, a holiday reserved for major fights.


Ancajas, ESPN's No. 5 115-pounder, is from the Philippines but trains in Hollywood, California.


"This is what he's worked for the last six years: a unification, a signature fight," Gibbons said of Ancajas. "They've knocked him for years for not fighting one of the best. Finally he gets it and he's in top form, so this is devastating."


Gibbons hopes Ancajas will be added to the PBC schedule in January before revisiting the fight with Ioka later in 2022. It's uncertain at this time if Ioka will still defend his title on New Year's Eve.


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--- The tragedy of this era. You'd think Boxing could figure out how to let these guys in what is guaranteed to be an entertaining fight with their corners intact in an empty venue streamed internationally.


It ain't rocket science any more. A million 8th graders in Japan or the US could do it for them, but they'd only need a few.

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