Ryota Murata to defend middleweight title vs. Stephen Butler

Japanese star Ryota Murata will defend his secondary middleweight world title against Stephen Butler in the main event of a world title tripleheader on Dec. 23 at Yokohama Arena in Yokohama, Japan, Teiken Promotions announced on Wednesday at a news conference.

Murata, a two-time titleholder and a 2012 Olympic gold medalist, will make the first defense of his second reign in a fight that ESPN+ will telecast live in the United States.

Murata lost the 160-pound belt to Rob Brant by one-sided decision last October in Las Vegas, but in a rematch on July 12 in Osaka, Japan, he regained it by second-round knockout.

Brant exercised his contractual right to an immediate rematch but ultimately Brant and his team agreed to a step-aside deal that will allow Murata to first defend against Butler. The Murata-Butler winner will be obligated to face Brant next. Brant, meanwhile, plans to take a tune-up fight in January, which will be his first bout under the tutelage of new trainer Brian McIntyre.

Butler had two world title offers on the table, one against Murata and one to challenge Demetrius Andrade in December, but he accepted the more lucrative -- and perhaps easier -- assignment against Murata (15-2, 12 KOs), 33.

Butler (28-1-1, 24 KOs), 24, of Montreal, has won 10 fights in a row heading into his first chance to win a world title.

The card will include a junior flyweight word title unification fight between Ken Shiro (16-0, 9 KOs), 27, of Japan, and Felix Alvarado (35-2, 30 KOs), 30, of Nicaragua.

Shiro will be making the seventh defense of his 108-pound belt and Alvarado will be making his second defense. Alvarado will be fighting in Japan for the third time and second time in a row. On May 19, in Kobe, he outpointed Reiya Konishi in his first title defense. In 2013, in Osaka, he lost a unanimous decision challenging then-junior flyweight titlist Kazuto Ioka.

The third world title bout on the card will see flyweight titlist Moruti Mthalane (38-2, 25 KOs), 37, of South Africa, defend his 112-pound belt against former three-division world titlist and noted all-action fighter Akira Yaegashi (28-6, 16 KOs), 36, who is from Yokohama.

Mthalane, a two-time titlist, will be making his third defense and second in a row in Japan, having outpointed Masayuki Kuroda on May 13 in Tokyo. Yaegashi, who has won world titles at strawweight, junior flyweight and flyweight, has won three fights in a row since losing his junior flyweight belt to Milan Melindo by shocking first-round knockout in May 2017.