Masayuki Ito returns in Saturday night’s ESPN main event, facing Jamel Herring in Kissimmee, Florida. Let’s take a look at the fight.
What’s at stake?
Ito (25-1-1, 13 KO) will be defending the WBO 130-pound title, and he and Herring (19-2, 10 KO) will also be fighting for a shot at unification with WBC titleholder Miguel Berchelt, who will be in attendance.
How did Masayuki Ito get here?
The 28-year-old Ito, a native of Tokyo, turned pro in May 26, 2009, just about 10 years to the day of this Saturday’s fight. His first fight was a decision win over Katsunari Fujii at Korakuen Hall, and Ito would fight his first 22 pro bouts at the famed venue, going 20-1-1 overall.
The draw came in his fourth pro bout in 2011 against Tsuyoshi Tameda, who is still fighting and has a career record of 19-4-2 (17 KO). The loss came against Japanese super featherweight champion Rikki Naito in 2015, a 10-round majority decision. Naito was unbeaten at the time and is now 21-2 (7 KO) and the reigning OPBF champion at 140.
After the loss to Naito, Ito claimed the vacant OPBF title at 130 by defeating Dai Iwai in Aug. 2015, and made successful defenses at Korakuen against Shingo Eto and Ernie Sanchez. Ito’s first fight away from Korakuen came on New Year’s Eve 2016, and he again defended the OPBF title, beating Takuya Watanabe over 12 rounds.
Ito gave up the OPBF title after that, beating Lorenzo Villanueva back at Korakuen in April 2017, stopping the Filipino opponent in the ninth round. After two more fights at Korakuen — wins over Glenn Enterina and Virgil Puton — Ito came to the United States in July 2018 to face Christopher Diaz for the vacant WBO super featherweight title.
In his first fight outside of Japan, Ito just proved too good for the unbeaten crowd favorite in Kissimmee, Florida, winning on scores of 116-111, 117-110, and 118-109, with Bad Left Hook scoring the fight 116-111 for Ito. By the end of the fight, Diaz’s left eye was a swollen, bloody mess, and the victor was clear.
Ito went back home to Japan for his first title defense on Dec. 30 in Tokyo at Ota-City General Gymnasium, where he stopped unbeaten Russian challenger Evgeny Chuprakov in the seventh round, leading 60-54 on each card when the fight was stopped.
He now returns to Kissimmee and American airwaves for his second title defense.
How did Jamel Herring get here?
Herring, 33, started boxing in 2001, and then joined the United States Marine Corps in 2003. He did two tours of duty in Iraq while enlisted, but also kept boxing, joining the All-Marine Corps boxing team in 2006. He won silver at the World Military Games in 2010 and gold at the 2011 and 2012 Armed Forces Championships.
Eventually, Herring qualified for the 2012 Olympics and served as team captain, fighting as a light welterweight. He was outclassed in the opening round in London, losing 19-9 to Kazakhstan’s Daniyar Yeleussinov who would make it to the quarterfinals that year and then come back to win gold at Rio 2016 at welterweight. Yeleussinov is now a 6-0 (3 KO) pro prospect.
After the 2012 Olympics, Herring finished his service with the Marines and decided to turn pro, making his debut in the paid ranks in Dec. 2012 at the age of 27. Time was, in all reality, against him making a real splash in the pros. He was a good amateur, but not one of those guys with various big tournament wins or anything, so 27 was late to be coming into the pro game.
Herring started his career 15-0, but frankly wasn’t really being tested. His best wins in that run came against the likes of Yakubu Amidu and Luis Eduardo Florez.
Fighting as a lightweight, Herring was matched with veteran contender Denis Shafikov in his 16th pro outing. It was a big step up in class, and as the doubters had suspected would be the case, Herring was simply out of his depth against the Russian.
Shafikov dropped Herring in the second round and battered him in the ninth round, with referee Gary Rosato stepping in to stop things 36 seconds into the 10th and final round. It was a one-sided fight. Herring had taken it on pretty short notice, too, and the whole thing just didn’t pan out for him.
At 30, Herring had to reset. But he stopped Art Hovhannisyan in his return seven months later in Toledo, so he was back on track. Then he faced Ladarius Miller, a once-beaten prospect looking himself to get back on track with a meaningful victory, in Aug. 2017.
Miller won a decision over Herring in Las Vegas, and two months later, Herring turned 32. After spending his pro career under the Al Haymon banner, he signed to Top Rank for another comeback. He debuted for Top Rank in May 2018, and had a plan: work down to 130 pounds and give super featherweight a go.
He beat journeyman Juan Pablo Sanchez in his first TR fight, and then followed that with a good shutout decision victory over John Vincent Moralde in Sept. 2018, on the Jose Ramirez-Antonio Orozco card in Fresno. In his last outing in December, he beat Adeilson Dos Santos via eight-round shutout, dropping Dos Santos in both of the first two rounds.
So here he is again. Now 33, Herring is getting his first crack at a world title. New weight, and he’s hoping for new results in another step back up the ladder.
How do the fighters match up?
Herring, at 5’10”, will have a bit of a height advantage over the 5’8½” Ito, but Ito will have a half-inch in reach.
As for the sort of competition they’ve faced, well — look, Ito hasn’t exactly been in against elite competition, but his wins over Christopher Diaz and Evgeny Chuprakov are a good deal better than anything on Herring’s record, and in his previous two real steps up, Herring has lost both times.
Who’s the favorite?
As of this writing, there are no odds listed anywhere on the fight. But Ito is the favorite in the eyes of pundits and fans, I wager.
Who will win?
Check back for our staff picks on Friday at Noon ET!
- In the ESPN co-feature, Puerto Rican lightweight Jose “Sniper” Pedraza looks to bounce back from his December loss to Vasiliy Lomachenko. Pedraza (25-2, 12 KO) has won titles at 130 and 135, and has only been beaten by top-shelf guys in Lomachenko and Gervonta Davis, with really solid wins over the likes of Andrey Klimov, Edner Cherry, Stephen Smith, and Ray Beltran. He’ll be facing Mexico’s Antonio Lozada Jr (40-2-1, 34 KO), who is best-known for upsetting Felix Verdejo in March 2018.
- On the ESPN+ prelims, Puerto Rican super flyweight prospect Jeyvier Cintron (10-0, 5 KO) faces Japan’s Koki Eto (24-4-1, 19 KO) in a 10-round bout, and featherweights Adam Lopez (12-1, 5 KO) and Jean Carlos Rivera (15-1, 10 KO) meet in another featured bout. Middleweight KO artist prospect Edgar Berlanga (10-0, 10 KO) is also in action, as is 22-year-old bantamweight Antonio Vargas (10-0, 4 KO), a 2016 U.S. Olympian.