’Tis the season for championship boxing in Japan. The excitement kicks off with a sensational tripleheader on December 30 at the Ota-City Gymnasium in Tokyo. Headlining the card is WBO junior lightweight champion Masayuki Ito (24-1-1, 12 knockouts). The champ makes his first defense of the title he won last summer when he welcomes challenger Evgeny Chuprakov (20-0, 10 KOs) from Russia.
When asked by RingTV.com whether Chuprakov would be his toughest foe to date, Ito responded, “We planned to face him last summer for the vacant WBO super featherweight title. Now he’s ranked number one and the strongest challenger. By beating him convincingly I’ll prove that I’m the best in the division and that’s why I chose to fight him. More than anything, he’s the challenger that all fans will be happy to watch me fight.”
Chuprakov will be fighting outside of Russia for the first time in over five years. A lot is said about how traveling abroad can affect a fighter, though the premise of being a world champion suggests it in the title itself, that the fighter should be willing and able to successfully compete around the globe. Ito, who won the title by defeating Christopher Diaz in Florida, tends to agree with the sentiment and acknowledged that an overt advantage in fighting in Tokyo is a mischaracterization of circumstances, “I don’t think fighting in Tokyo is an advantage. It would be a little easier with preparations for final conditioning. However the opponent himself will prepare carefully ahead of time, potentially more than usual, since he’s fighting abroad. This may actually work out well for him. The location itself doesn’t matter. In the end, it’s only us in the ring.”
The fight is expected to be picked up by ESPN+ stateside. Ito was showcased on the app in his title-winning performance as a part of a Top Rank-promoted show last time out. Top Rank’s President Todd duBoef apprised RingTV.com beforehand of their interest in picking up the action. Gaining more American exposure isn’t lost on Ito, who is fully aware of the added opportunity he’s having, “I want the American boxing fans to watch ESPN+ and (again) notice my ‘going forward’ mentality along with my ‘punch even if I’m being hit’ heart. I want to make the fight exciting for both myself and the audience and wish that they’ll want to see me fight again next year.” The remarks clearly earmark what type of fight Ito is looking for and what type of fighter he wants to be.
New Year’s Eve and the days leading up to it are prime time for premier fights within Japan. As the West continues to catch on to this celebrated boxing week with more broadcast opportunities presenting themselves abroad, Ito excitedly explains the honor in what headlining a card during this time means for him, “Christmas may be the biggest holiday event in America but New Year’s Eve is the most important for the Japanese. I’m honored to have a world title match as a main event during this time. This is my first experience to have such an opportunity and I’m very excited for it. There are some other world title matches happening that night and this week but I’ll make my fight stand out amongst the others.”
In a final message to his opponent, Ito said, “I’d like him to be in the best condition and ready to fight aggressively. I welcome his best performance and will fight back with my best as well. Together I want us to make a good fight.”
A special thanks to Teiken Gym for connecting our readers with Ito. Translations courtesy of Yoshiko Motomura.
You can contact Nick Skok on Twitter at @NoSparring.
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