Gennadiy Golovkin rocks Ryota Murata to unify middleweight titles, moves closer to third Canelo Alvarez fight

Gennadiy Golovkin is inching closer to a long-awaited trilogy fight with Canelo Alvarez.

One day after he turned 40, Golovkin captured a second middleweight title with a ninth-round stoppage of Ryota Murata on Saturday in Saitama, Japan, in an early candidate for Fight of the Year.

Golovkin (42-1-1, 37 KOs) buckled Murata with the first punch he threw in Round 9, a powerful right hand, before he floored the Japanese star with another right later in the round, prompting the corner to throw in the towel to stop the bout.

The victory not only added Murata's WBA title at 160 pounds to Golovkin's collection but more importantly ensured Golovkin will move toward a third fight with Alvarez, slated for Sept. 17.

Golovkin and Alvarez agreed to the fight, which will take place at 168 pounds for Alvarez's undisputed super middleweight championship, in February. But first, Golovkin needed to turn back Murata in a bout that was set for Dec. 29 but postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions in Japan.

With Murata (16-3, 13 KOs) out of the way, Alvarez, ESPN's No. 1 pound-for-pound boxer, must now defeat Dmitry Bivol on May 7 in a light heavyweight title challenge to finalize the third clash with Golovkin, a bout Alvarez said is personal.

"It is not personal for me," Golovkin told ESPN last month. "I moved on from those fights before I returned home. I do not dwell in the past. If fighting me again is 'personal' to him, why did it take him four years to decide to do it?"

Golovkin and Alvarez fought to a draw in September 2017 before Alvarez outpointed him one year later.

It took Golovkin, ESPN's No. 2 middleweight, 16 months to return to the ring after his TKO victory over Kamil Szeremeta, and he was forced to withstand some early rocky moments against Murata. The Olympic gold medalist was able to walk Golovkin down and was particularly effective with his body attack over the first four rounds before Golovkin turned the tide in Round 5.

A vaunted, looping right hand sent Murata's mouthpiece flying in the fifth as Golovkin seemed to catch a second wind. Suddenly, he was the one controlling the action.

Golovkin began to push Murata back while he unloaded punishment on the Japanese star. The first punch Golovkin threw in Round 9 was the beginning of the end. Murata was on unsteady legs as he attempted to survive along the ropes while Golovkin feinted and let his hands go looking for the fight-ending shot.

The 36-year-old fighter was able to absorb the attack for a few moments before he landed a couple of punches on a seemingly exhausted Golovkin, who then dropped Murata with another right hand to produce the fight's only knockdown.

Golovkin appeared a step slower, just as he did in an October 2019 decision win over Sergiy Derevyanchenko, but the trademark power is still formidable. So too is Golovkin's chin, long regarded as one of the best in boxing.

The bout was Murata's first in 30 months after a December 2019 TKO victory over Steven Butler. He entered the ring ranked No. 4 by ESPN at 160 pounds, having avenged his loss to Rob Brant and his controversial defeat to Hassan N'Dam.

But the step up in class to Golovkin, a future Hall of Famer, proved to be too much.

Golovkin's 20 consecutive middleweight title defenses tied the legendary Bernard Hopkins' record before Golovkin suffered his first career defeat, a majority-decision loss to Alvarez in their September 2018 rematch.

Both bouts were commercial bonanzas and cemented Golovkin's status as one of boxing's top stars and one of its best pound-for-pound fighters.

But since the Alvarez bouts, Golovkin has been unable to capture his previous form, which included 23 consecutive knockouts, a streak that ended in 2017 with a decision win over Daniel Jacobs.

Now, assuming Alvarez defeats Bivol on May 7, Golovkin will seek to end this bitter rivalry and attempt to become a two-division champion in his debut at 168 pounds. The first two bouts generated more than 1 million pay-per-view buys each along with more than $50 million in combined gate receipts in Las Vegas.

"I think it is the biggest fight [in the sport] that is feasible. There could be others, but the boxing business prevents them from being made," Golovkin said. "The reason I think it is a big fight is because we have already given the fans two fantastic fights. A lot of people from around the world watched them. The fans know what to expect, and I think they want to see more of what we gave them the first two times."