By Jake Donovan
Masayuki Ito didn’t even bat an eyelash when it was suggested that his next title defense would take place in the United States. In fact, he welcomed the opportunity with open arms.
The reigning super featherweight titlist from Japan is set to defend his strap versus 2012 U.S. Olympic team captain and rising contender Jamel Herring, with their bout taking place Saturday evening at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee, Florida. The venue is mere miles from the Kissimmee Civic Center where Ito won his title last July, thus a corner of the world that holds a special place in his heart.
“I’m very excited for this fight and the chance to once again fight in the United States,” Ito (25-1-1, 13KOs) told BoxingScene.com of his upcoming title defense versus Herring, which will air live on ESPN (Saturday, 10:00pm ET). “It’s my first fight here since I won the title.”
Ito stormed into Central Florida last summer ahead of his U.S. debut and first career title fight, which came versus Puerto Rico’s Christopher Diaz. The region boasts a heavy population of residents of Puerto Rican descent, but whom the crowd supported was of little consequence once the opening bell sounded; Ito scored a landslide decision to win his title.
One successful defense has followed, a return to his native Japan—where he’s spent his entire pro career save for his title—for a one-sided 7th round knockout of previously unbeaten Evgeny Chuprakov last December. Each of his first two title defenses streamed live on ESPN+, with Saturday’s fight—which airs on the linear platform—preceded by his having entered a co-promotional agreement with Top Rank.
“It’s an honor that they think so highly of me,” Ito said of joining the Las Vegas-based promotional powerhouse.
Top Rank holds a stake in both sides of the main event, having signed Herring (19-2, 10KOs) to an exclusive deal last spring. The decorated U.S. Marine and two-time Iraqi war veteran has won three straight since joining Top Rank and connecting with trainer Brian ‘Bomac’ McIntyre, best known for his work with undefeated pound-for-pound king and three-division titlist Terence Crawford.
Of course, Ito comes also equipped for battle with a top-shelf trainer. The 28-year old has spent the bulk of his training camp at Maywood Boxing Club in Southern California under the watchful eye of renowned cornerman Rudy Hernandez. His time spent in training camp was just that—training, in a region free of the distractions he normally encounters at home.
“Training and fighting in the United States, it’s so much easier for me to do my job,” admits Ito, who is just a touch more popular back home. “When I am in Japan, everyone knows me and I don’t want to be rude to people but also it makes it harder to focus just on training.
“Over here, in California and even in Florida (during fight week) it’s much different. When I am training in California, I’m not doing anything else. I don’t mingle or hang out. I take it very serious. I love fighting in the United States and would love the opportunity to fight here more often.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox