Monday, November 28, 2022  |



Masayuki Ito upsets Chris Diaz via dominant decision, wins vacant WBO 130-pound title

Masayuki Ito and Chris Diaz celebrate the thrilling 12 rounds they had just fought. Photo / Mikey Williams-TOP RANK

Masayuki Ito made a promise to himself and his wife that he would return to Tokyo with some extra gear in his luggage—the WBO junior lightweight title belt. About the only ones who believed that may have been Ito, his corner and the handful of family and friends that made the trek from Japan to the highly partisan Kissimmee Civic Center in Kissimmee,Florida—which had been kind of a home away from home for Puerto Rican contender Christopher Diaz.

So much for the home-ring advantage.

There was no shock, no one yelling “robbery,” and even Diaz himself clapped before the final verdict was read Saturday night because Ito left no doubt. He won a rather lopsided decision to claim the vacant 130-pound belt, handing the rugged 23-year-old Diaz (23-1, 15 knockouts) his first professional loss in the process.

“I believed in my team and myself and believed that preparation was going to make this happen,” said Ito, 27, who was 7-0, with 5 KOs, since his last defeat. “I believed that. That’s how I prepared and that’s what I came to do. I believed I was going to become a world champion and that’s how I fought.

“In the first round, I felt that my power was getting to him. I knew I had to focus on it and keep going. In my mind, I wasn’t keeping score, I just wanted to knock him out, knock him out, knock him out. That’s what I was going after.”

Judges Robin Young (116-111), Rocky Taylor (117-110) and Paul Wallace (118-109) all saw it easily for Ito, who landed 194-686 (28%) of his total punches, to Diaz’s 190-601 (31%). Diaz also landed the higher percentage of power connects (143-349, 41%, to Ito’s 168-454, 37%).

Photo / Mikey Williams-TOP RANK

But Ito’s punches were heavier—and devastating. One look at the discolored left side Diaz’s face was proof of that. In the fourth round, a looping Ito right spelled the only knockdown of the fight.

Though Ito (24-1-1, 12 KOs) was two-and-a-half inches taller, and had a dominant four-inch reach advantage (68-to-64), it was Ito who initially smothering the shorter Diaz from slamming power shot by fighting close in.

Ito was winning the range game in the opening two rounds.

But in the third, Diaz stepped back to open up more, landing good shots to the head and body. Still, Diaz couldn’t avoid Ito’s lengthy jab and swelling began to occur under his left eye. The two had a spirited exchange in the fourth, when Ito felled Diaz with 1:32 left in the round with a looping right to left cheek, set up by a right, and then a left to the head.

Diaz did come back to land a big left hook in the fifth, but after five, it seemed Ito was in a good position to win. He remained calm during the sporadic times Diaz charged forward with winging left hooks, and during the times Diaz did connect, Ito appeared unfazed.

Sensing the fight slipping out of his hands, Diaz increased his work rate in the ninth, though by then it was too late. Diaz fought the last two rounds with his left eye swollen shut, after absorbing what seemed like dozens of Ito rights.

On the undercard, veteran Gabriel Bracero, 37, pulled off an upset, arriving on late notice as a replacement for Carlos Adams to stop Artemio Reyes (25-3, 20 KOs) in the fifth round of a scheduled 10-round welterweight fight. Bracero (25-3-1, 6 KOs) ended Reyes, who had his 10-fight winning streak shattered and who hadn’t lost since 2012, with a liver shot.

Antonio Vargas (7-0, 3 KOs), the 2016 U.S. Olympian, won a unanimous six-round bantamweight decision over outclassed Echeveste (5-3, 3 KOs), while junior welterweight Yomar Alamo (15-0, 12 KOs) stopped Wilfrido Buelvas (18-10, 12 KOs) at :28 of the fourth round, dropping Buelvas twice in the opening round.

Russian 2016 featherweight Olympian Vladimir Nikitin (1-0) made his pro debut with a six-round unanimous decision over Edward Kakembo (10-5, 2 KOs). Nikitin, who knocked down Kakembo twice, won the bronze in Rio de Janeiro. Some may remember him as the fighter who benefitted from a controversial decision at the 2016 Olympics over Michael Conlan, inspiring the Irishman to famously rage at the judges and amateur boxing.

In a scheduled six-rounder, junior lightweight Henry Lebron (5-0, 4 KOs) stopped Luis Diaz (2-6, 1 KO) at 2:43 of the sixth round, and featherweight Luis “El Chucho” Melendez (1-0, 1 KO) made his pro debut a success by stopping Vicente Loredo (1-2, 1 KO) at 1:19 of the first.

Junior welterweight Jose Lopez (11-0, 9 KOs) stopped Jorge Rodriguez (10-3, 10 KOs) with a body shot in the second.