Of the two men the one with the most upside, potentially at least, is Ito who is one of our favourites here at Asian Boxing. The often-overlooked 25 year old wasn't tipped for big things at the start of his career and debuted at the age of 18 in a 4 rounder. In December 2012 he was crowned the All Japan Featherweight Rookie of the year, beating Masaru Sueyoshi and Kosuke Saka on route to the crown. A year later he claimed a WBC Youth crown, up at Lightweight, and a year after that he scored a massive win over Masao Nakamura.
Heading in to 2015 Ito was one of the rising hopes of Japanese boxing, though suffered a loss early in the year to Rikki Naito, albeit a very close and hotly disputed loss. He quickly bounced back from that set back by beating Dai Iwai for the OPBF title, which he has defended twice, against Shingo Eto and Ernie Sanchez.
In the ring Ito is a talented pure boxer with developing power. He's a mover-boxer who is very intelligent in the ring and has shown good stamina through his career as well as impressive speed and a very under-rated ability to judge distance and control the tempo of bouts. Although still not a huge puncher his shots carry enough weight on them to make opponents think twice and to mess up their face, as Iwai found out last year.
Although Ito is a rising hopeful the same can also be said of Watanabe, despite the fact he is a bit older at 27 and already looks like a veteran with a 37 fight record. He debuted almost a decade ago and like Ito he has built himself up from early 4 rounders to being where he is today. His success was a slow burner, and after 14 fights he was 10-3-1 (3) but since then he has developed into a very solid fighter who has under-rated skills, insane toughness and a real will to win. Like Ito has he been the WBC Youth Lightweight champion and despite falling short in two Japanese title bouts, losing to Hisashi Amagasa and Satoshi Hosono, he has never embarrassed himself.
Many who have seen Watanabe will best remember him for his insane 2014 blood bath with Jae Sung Lee, a bout in which Watanabe gave the fans in Seoul a shower of blood, from a combination of a damaged nose and a bad gash on his head. Despite covering everything in claret Watanabe was always in the fight and ran Lee very close on the score cards. That loss is one of only 2 from Watanabe in his last 17, with the other being the loss to Hosono. Those 15 wins might not be against a who's who but they do include a recent win over Amin Sor Wangmoo for the Asia Pacific title which he will be defending here.
Skill wise Watanabe is a level below Ito, however he's proven his toughness, work ethic and desire and is also a bigger puncher than Ito. Whilst he is a level below Ito in terms of skills he's still a very solid boxer who has progressively gotten better, and better, and was very unlucky in a number of his losses, including the defeat to Hosono. At times he has looked disappointing but when facing his biggest tests he has stepped it up and given his all.
Coming in to this we're expecting a really high tempo, high skilled chess match, with touches of a war. It won't be a slugfest, neither man is a brawler, but it will be all action and it will be very fun with Watanabe likely getting the better of the exchanges and Ito getting the better of the work at range. It'll be close, it'll be competitive and it'll be a great fight, and we think Ito will just do enough to claim the win in what we think could be a genuine dark horse for fight of the day.