By Jake Donovan
KISSIMMEE, Fla.—Masayuki Ito looks to extend his super featherweight title reign, but faces a tall order—literally—in 5’10” southpaw Jamel Herring, which headlines an 11-fight card Saturday evening at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee, Fla.
Their bout serves as the main event of an ESPN-televised doubleheader, beginning at 10:00pm ET. Also on the show, former two-division titlist Jose Pedraza looks to bounce back from a title-losing effort to Vasiliy Lomachenko, as he faces Mexican spoiler Antonio Lozada, who handed Felix Verdejo his first career defeat last March.
Ito (25-1-1, 13KOs) won the title in this very town scoring a clear-cut 12-round decision over previously unbeaten Christopher Diaz last July at nearby Kissimmee Civic Center. The bout marked his United States debut, returning stateside on Saturday five months after stopping previously unbeaten Evgeny Chuprakov in seven rounds last December in Japan.
Herring (19-2, 10KOs) comes in riding a three-fight winning streak. The run coincides with his drop in weight after having competed at lightweight, as well as signing with Top Rank and enlisting the services of Brian ‘BoMac’ McIntyre, the trainer and manager of unbeaten pound-for-pound king and three-division welterweight titlist Terence ‘Bud’ Crawford.
Upsets are rare to come by this deep on the undercard, especially involving local fighters with a deep amateur pedigree. That’s exactly what took place, as Kissimmee’s own Antonio Vargas was flattened in one round by Mexico’s Jose Maria Cardenas in their bantamweight preliminary bout.
Vargas has proudly represented the region as a member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic boxing team as well as throughout his pro career, fighting for all but once in Central Florida. His fanbase was hyped as his ring entrance complete with a crucifix and biblical overtones. The crowd was quickly silenced, though, as Cardenas scored what will likely register as the biggest win of his journeyman career.
A fast-moving opening round ended in an instant, as Cardenas (17-4, 13KOs) feinted with his jab before splitting the guard of Vargas (10-1, 4KOs) with a right hand that put him down and out. Referee Telis Assimenios reached the count of ten, ending the contest at 1:53 of round one.
The bout was some three hours before the ESPN portion of the evening began, but Puerto Rico’s Edgar Berlanga drew the night’s loudest cheers upon his ring entrance.
His brief yet explosive performance only intensified the love and support, as the Brooklyn-based Boricua annihilated Hungary’s Gyorgy Varju in the 1st round of their middleweight swing bout.
Berlanga continued his stretch of being a knockout every time out and having yet to be extended beyond the opening round. The 22-year old went straight to work against a hesitant Varju (7-5, 4KOs) who looked overwhelmed from the start.
Fortunately, his night would end in a hurry, as Berlanga (11-0, 11KOs) sent him crashing to the canvas with a temple shot which produced the full ten count, ending the fight at 0:36 of round one.
Marco Diaz came in as the least experienced fighter on Saturday's show, but none of that matters when you boast one-punch knockout power. The Palm Bay newcomer ended the night in just that fashion, scoring a 1st round knockout of Edgar Figueroa in their featherweight heat.
A single right hand put Palm Beach-based Figueroa (3-2, 1KO) down for the full ten count, with the official time of 0:50 of round one. Diaz (2-0, 2KOs) also scored a 1st round knockout in his pro debut less than two months ago, though with that affair going the full three minutes.
Puerto Rico’s Orlando Gonzalez looked sensational in a 3rd round knockout of Roxberg Patrick Riley in their featherweight preliminary to kick off the ESPN+ portion of the evening.
Riley was floored in rounds one and three, the latter leaving him unsteady in trying to beat the count as the fight was waved off immediately. The official time was 1:16 of round three.
Gonzalez (11-0, 7KOs) forced a brisk pace, for which Rlley (13-2)—who hails from the Atlanta suburb or Dallas, Ga.—wasn’t equipped. A one-sided affair turned violent in an instant, with Gonzalez flooring Riley with a sweeping right hook at the end of round one.
A similar sequence produced the second knockdown of the fight, this time with Riley defenseless and on wobbly legs in prompting the stoppage.
Steve ‘So Cold’ Nelson continued his rise as a light heavyweight prospect to watch, posting an 8th round stoppage over Victor Darocha.
An accumulation of punches following the bout’s lone knockdown prompted the one-sided contest to be halted at 2:42 of round eight.
The lack of televised coverage for the fight—which took place just before the ESPN+ stream began—resulted in the absence of Nelson’s usual costumed-entrance. The Omaha (Neb.) native was all business in his ring walk and from bell to bell, dishing out a steady beating on Darocha, a Brazilian journeyman based in Miami. Fla.
Nelson—a stablemate of Crawford and Herring, as all three train under McIntyre—had his foe hurt in round three, scoring with right hands. It was his left hook which ultimately caused the most damage, as evidenced by the swelling under Darocha’s right eye.
Darocha tried to change things up in rounds five and six, flipping between southpaw and conventional stance but with no real effect. Nelson (14-0, 9KOs) continued to grind, throwing every punch with knockout intentions.
The hard work paid off, dropping Darocha late in round eight with a vicious uppercut and straight right. Doracha beat the count, but was left defenseless and blood streaming across the bridge of his nose as Nelson sought to close the show. It would come moments later, with Darocha rescued by the referee in suffering the first stoppage loss of his career.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox