JUNTO NAKATANI took an advantage into the ring with him last month. His hellacious left hand may have ended the fight in devastating fashion but the new WBO flyweight champion is adamant that what brought him victory over Giemel Magramo was more than just a physical edge.
“Yamato-Damashii,” declares Japan’s latest star to Boxing News, which translates as ‘Japanese spirit.’
“It’s in my blood. The history, culture, and the mentality. I think Japanese fighters have an indomitable spirit, which I always heed. I will never give up.”
The manner in which Nakatani went about his business was certainly a testament to this ethos. From the opening bell, and in his first world title fight, the Japanese bullied the ferocious punching Filipino into submission, leaving him all but a spent force by the eighth round. It took one perfectly placed cross from the imposing southpaw and the fight was over. Japan had a new world champion.
“First of all, I appreciate that Magramo accepted to fight in Japan, away from home. Magramo was a busy fighter, with good power, so I tried not to let him get in his rhythm from the beginning. I stayed in the centre of the ring to make the opponent uncomfortable, which was the strategy my trainer gave me. That was the key for me to win the fight.”
Such propensity for industry began at a young age. Born in the picturesque coastal region of Mie Prefectur, Japan, he spent much of his childhood toiling away behind the scenes of the family business. He was, Nakatani claims, the model son, the antithesis of the stereotypical young hoodlum who uses boxing to channel his angst.
“I did not fight at school at all, I was a steady, good boy! My parents ran a Japanese restaurant, I liked to help my parents with chores. I started Karate first when I was eight years old, but I was too small to compete with the bigger boys. So, when I discovered boxing I thought, ‘this is it!’
“I was getting confident as I was winning amateur competitions, especially when I won the national championship for the under-15s.”
But life as an amateur (14-2) was short-lived. At just 17 years old Nakatani successfully acquired his licence to begin a career in the noble art. That was five years ago, and since then his development has seen him compile a record of 21-0 (16). His is a style, he believes, ideally suited to the pro game.
“I’m good at long range, using my height advantage, but I’m also able to fight inside well. So I have options to adjust to fight any opponent and catch him with my straight left, which is my Sunday punch.”
Steering Nakatani through his professional development is long-time trainer, Rudy Hernandez. An experienced mentor to fighters in the lower weights, Hernandez took his brother, Genaro, to world title glory and has more recently worked with former Super Flyweight champion, Carlos Cuadras, as well as being cut man to the great Roman Gonzalez. For Nakatani it was a match made in heaven, and one that marries up well with his lofty ambitions to move through a multitude of weight classes.
“My friend gave me a chance to meet Rudy when he visited Japan working as a cut man. At that time I told Rudy, “I want to be a world champion. Please train me.” After I became his boxer I went to Los Angeles and had a lot of sparring with a variety of fighters, learning how to deal with them. Rudy tells me I can go up to 130lbs [super-featherweight]. I believe so. I am curious to see how I will perform when I move up in heavier divisions.”
Hernandez himself is full of praise for his young champion, revelling in both the commitment he’s shown to his dream and his willingness to take on all-comers along the way.
“When he was 15 he came over to the States and trained with us for three months,” says Hernandez. “When you know Junto, you know that there was nothing more important to him than boxing. He’s lived his life wanting to be champion of the world and nothing else mattered. He’s the most dedicated fighter I’ve ever met. The sky is the limit with Junto. I think he’s going to be around for a while. He dares to be great. He has what it takes to win titles in different categories. Remember he’s only 22 years old. He’s yet to get his man strength.”
These trips to California have only served to heighten Nakatani’s thirst for further honours, but it’s the runaway success of his fellow countryman, Naoya Inoue, that has really inspired his ambitions. The three-weight world champion has become one of the pound-for-pound stars of the sport, and with a breakout performance in the US earlier this year against Jason Maloney, Nakatani can see a blueprint from which to follow.
“I want to show what’s good about the smaller guys’ fights. That’s what we smaller guys have to do. The success of Naoya Inoue has encouraged fellow boxers, including myself. As I have been training in the U.S I want to fight there in near future, of course. But I want to defend my title first of all. And I want big fights, like unification fights, at flyweight. I will move up the weight divisions eventually. I want to be the best in the division. So, I am aiming to unify all four major belts. The rival that I care the most about is Julio Cesar Martinez. But winning against whoever in front of me is my job. I want to be a fighter who will be remembered by people.”