Masayuki Ito won a vacant junior lightweight title on Saturday night with a unanimous 12-round decision over previously unbeaten Christopher Diaz in a splendid battle that featured bristling action in every round.
The bout was the main event of a Top Rank on ESPN card at the Kissimmee Civic Center in Kissimmee, Florida.
Ito, 27, of Tokyo, who was having his first fight outside of Japan, took control in the opening round. He was out-boxing Diaz while landing left jabs, hard body blows and right hands to the head. It was a pattern that repeated itself throughout the fight.
By the start of the fourth round, Diaz's left eye was beginning to swell as Ito's right slammed home again and again. A trio of flush rights dropped Diaz midway into the round, but he beat the count and fought back.
Diaz, 23, a native of Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, rallied in the fifth, hurting Ito with a left hook to the body. He also landed a hard right early in the sixth, but Ito was back in charge by the end of the round.
In the seventh, Ito (24-1-1, 12 KOs) unveiled an unusual combination featuring a straight right to the head, followed by a right uppercut to the chin that Diaz could not seem to avoid.
Diaz (23-1, 15 KOs) was always dangerous and occasionally landed a hard punch, but his left eye was almost completely closed by the eighth round as Ito continued to connect with rights to the damaged area.
Diaz rallied in the 10th round, rocking Ito with a vicious counter right to the jaw, but he couldn't knock the Japanese boxer off his feet. The crowd favorite had another productive round in the 11th, drilling his adversary with a left hook, but Ito closed well in the final round, knocking Diaz back with a combination to the head.
They stood toe-to-toe as the clock ran down unloading everything they had left.
The unanimous scores in Ito's favor were 116-111, 117-110 and 118-109. When asked how it felt to win the title, he replied, "Unbelievable. In my mind I wasn't keeping score; I just kept going for the knockout."
In the chief supporting bout, Gabriel Bracero (25-3-1, 6 KOs) knocked out Artemio Reyes (25-3, 20 KOs) at the 2:43 mark of the fifth round of a scheduled 10-round welterweight bout.
Brooklyn's Bracero, who took the fight on 10 days' notice, schooled the favored Reyes with a savvy blend of movement and counterpunching. He repeatedly beat his taller opponent to the punch and gradually accelerated his offense every round.
Reyes, 31, of Colton, California, just followed Bracero around the ring, missing the majority of his punches. He seemed completely baffled by Bracero's hit-and-move style and never really got untracked.
By the fifth round Bracero was hitting Reyes virtually at will. He finished the fight with a crippling left hook to the body and a right to the chin. Reyes turned away and dropped to one knee, a look of agony on his face. He was unable to rise and referee Emile Lombardi counted him out.