Regardless of being champion, Masayuki Ito nonetheless a clean canvas

10:28 AM ET

Steve KimESPN

This a lot is evident about WBO junior light-weight champion Masayuki Ito and his coach, Rudy Hernandez: They work extraordinarily properly collectively.

There’s a private chemistry that exists between them, even with a language barrier. It has been a extremely profitable union, with Ito growing from a boxing novice (who had nary an beginner struggle) into a serious belt holder. Ito, 28, of Japan, captured the vacant title by outpointing the favored Christopher Diaz over 12 entertaining rounds final July.

In line with Hernandez, Ito, who made a profitable protection of his title in December by stopping Evgeny Chuprakov in Spherical 7, has retained the identical humble angle and powerful work ethic he had after they first linked up in 2015. However there’s one factor that irks the veteran coach.

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“He is so sensible, he questions stuff,” mentioned Hernandez with amusing. “Typically I do not really feel like I ought to have to clarify stuff to him.”

Hernandez believes that given his pupil’s relative inexperience within the sport, he should not be so inquisitive. However he says it is also a praise to Ito and his intelligence.

“He involves work, he is aware of what’s forward, he is a real skilled,” mentioned Hernandez, who’s a no-nonsense taskmaster within the fitness center. “[He’s] all the time on time.”

Final yr, as he appeared on a High Rank Boxing on ESPN broadcast, Ito was the determined underdog. Now he’s the defending titleholder towards Jamel Herring for his or her struggle Saturday evening in Kissimmee, Florida (ESPN, ESPN Deportes, 10 p.m. ET). A victory over Herring might push Ito towards dealing with WBC belt holder Miguel Berchelt in a unification struggle within the close to future.

On his second-to-last day of sparring on the Maywood Boxing Membership, about eight miles south of Los Angeles, Ito goes 10 rounds with a pair of southpaws, nearly all of them with fellow Japanese boxer Hirotsugu Yamamoto. Ito appears way more snug slipping punches, utilizing head motion after which counterpunching than up to now, when he would rely way more on his excessive guard to deflect oncoming punches earlier than beginning up his personal offensive assault.

General, it was Ito controlling the motion, setting the tempo not solely with a constant jab from the skin but in addition creating offensive alternatives by evading oncoming punches whereas sustaining his steadiness to throw punches again. You may see his talent set evolving.

“I am gaining confidence with all my coaching with Rudy Hernandez, all of the sparring right here. I really feel as if I am getting higher,” Ito mentioned by means of his assistant coach, Daisuke Okabe.

“This camp we’re much more centered on engaged on his offense and protection. He appears to be combining them so much higher now,” mentioned Hernandez, who believes that Ito remains to be just about a clean canvas, on condition that he is been within the sport for less than a few decade, after his basketball-playing days in Japan got here to an finish.

Masayuki Ito has develop into a world champion regardless of by no means having fought as an beginner. Mikey Williams/High Rank

Hernandez mentioned Ito’s confidence grows every camp and that like Drake, “he is come from the underside to the highest, from at some point to a different and his work ethic goes with it. He hasn’t stopped studying and he is getting higher.”

Whereas there’s a sure playfulness within the interactions between boxer and coach, Hernandez actually likes how arduous he works and the respect he exhibits to all people, from trainers to younger prospects and beginner hopefuls that practice with him on the fitness center. Except you really knew who he was, you would not know that there was a world champion of their midst.

However Ito (25-1-1, 13 KOs) can also be among the many friendliest fighters you may ever come throughout. His character and demeanor belie the occupation that he has chosen.

“That is why it is humbling,” Hernandez mentioned. “The sky is the restrict, as a result of on the finish of the day, he’s a piece in progress. And once more, he simply appears to be getting higher and higher — and he likes it.”

Whereas the opposite two champions within the division, Gervonta Davis and Tevin Farmer, play-fight on Twitter, figuring out full properly that community alliances and boxing politics will maintain this matchup from happening in 2019, Ito-Berchelt is a comparatively simple struggle to make contemplating that each boxers have ties to High Rank.

With a win on Saturday evening, Masayuki Ito, left, could possibly be in line for a title unification bout with WBC champ Miguel Berchelt within the close to future. Matt Roberts/Getty Photos

“I need to struggle Berchelt, after all, however now I concentrate on the Herring struggle,” Ito mentioned. “But when I ought to win, and there is curiosity, I might take a Berchelt struggle.”

Berchelt (36-1, 32 KOs) just lately defended his title in Tucson, Arizona, scoring a sixth-round stoppage of Francisco Vargas of their rematch.

“It was a very good struggle,” Ito mentioned. “He has glorious punches, left jab, uppercut, hook, however he may be hit. I am assured that I can land on him. I consider that I can win.”

In line with Carl Moretti, VP of boxing operations for High Rank, Berchelt can be at ringside to look at Ito struggle this weekend towards what ought to be a really motivated challenger.

Feelings ought to be using excessive for Herring, a former Marine boxing on Memorial Day weekend and on his late daughter Ariyanah’s birthday. Ariyanah died in 2009 from sudden toddler dying syndrome.

However a victory for Ito can be greater than only a title protection. It is a possibility to finally add one other belt to his assortment.

“I do not know if it will likely be instantly proper after that,” Moretti mentioned of a Berchelt struggle, “however each camps need it.”

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