Middleweight great Gennady Golovkin returns to the ring for the first time in 16 months on Saturday, where victory against Japan's Ryota Murata could set up a long-awaited third fight against Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez.
IBF champion "GGG" Golovkin (41-1-1, with 36 KOs) will face Murata (16-2), who holds the WBA version of the title, in a unification fight at Saitama, north of Tokyo.
The hard-hitting Kazakh has been hailed as the biggest name to enter a ring in Japan since heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, who was knocked out in Tokyo by 40-1 underdog James "Buster" Douglas in one of boxing's biggest upsets in 1990.
The prize at stake for Golovkin is a potential third crack at pound-for-pound king Alvarez in a blockbuster trilogy fight later this year, having pushed the Mexican all the way in two previous epic encounters.
If the pair, who appear to harbour genuine mutual animosity, remain unbeaten in their upcoming fights, then a September trilogy fight could smash box office and pay-per-view records.
The all-conquering Alvarez, having last year unified the four super-middleweight belts in just 11 months, will move up to light-heavyweight to challenge undefeated WBA champion Dmitry Bivol on May 7.
The veteran Golovkin, who turns 40 on Friday, has never beaten his Mexican nemesis.
Their first fight, in September 2017, saw Golovkin give an inspired performance, with many believing he had won, only for the judges to declare the bout a split draw.
The rematch eight months later was postponed after Alvarez tested positive for a banned substance.
When it eventually took place in September 2018, Alvarez battled to victory by majority decision after a pulsating contest.
Golovkin said his rivalry with Alvarez was not "the only thing that characterises my career" in a recent interview with Bleacher Report, pointing to his 21 world title defences – a middleweight record.
"If I'm going to approach the third fight with Canelo, it'll certainly be with different thoughts and not with the idea of righting any wrongs," he told broadcaster DAZN, adding he was not "bothered by the results in the first two fights".
"I'm not in boxing to prove anything to anybody."
Having been out of action since December 2020, when he stopped Poland's Kamil Szeremeta in the seventh round, 'GGG' will need to remind the world that his power and skill are undiminished when he faces 2012 Olympic gold medallist Murata.
Murata (16-2) is even more rusty – his last appearance was a successful defence of the WBA 'regular' world title belt against Canada's Steven Butler in Yokohama in December 2019.
Murata was then installed as WBA 'super' champion in 2020, the sanctioning body's premier belt, after Alvarez vacated the crown to move up in weight.
The 36-year-old Murata, who became a household name in Japan after winning Olympic gold, said his fight with Golovkin would decide his "place in the middleweight division and boxing history".
"My entire amateur and professional boxing career has been a preparation for this fight against Gennady Golovkin," he said when the fight was announced.
The bout had originally been scheduled for December last year but was postponed because of coronavirus travel restrictions.
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