What: Masayuki “The Judge” Ito vs. Evgeny Chuprakov, Junior LightweightsWhen: Sunday, Dec. 30
How to Watch: ESPN Plus 5 a.m. ET
Why You Should Care: Because Evgeny Chuprakov has a chance to Masayuko Ito, Masayuko Ito.
Christopher Diaz was supposed to be something special. Undefeated at 24-0 and armed with a touching, media friendly story about losing his home to Hurricane Maria, Diaz was dropped in the fourth round and went on to lose a decision to Masayuko “the Judge” Ito -- yes, his nickname is an O.J. trial reference -- in front of a heavily pro-Puerto Rican crowd. Suddenly, in his first fight ever outside of Japan, the kid who started boxing at 19 with an original goal of becoming an MMA champion was the WBO junior lightweight champion, and Diaz and his touching story were afterthoughts.
This weekend, the 24-1 Japanese star who now trains out of Southern California will defend his title for the first time ever against Russia’s Evgeny Chuprakov. Like Diaz was, Chuprakov is undefeated, 20-0 with ten knockouts, but he is far more similar to Masayuko Ito. Like Ito, he has a 90s nickname, “Happy Gilmore,” though extensive Googling could not reveal why, and he has fought outside of his home nation only twice, and not since 2013. Now, the 28-year-old Russian will travel to Japan to face both Ito and a hostile crowd.
Because of his big win over Diaz, Masayuko Ito is now the boxing star fighting an unknown who rarely leaves his home nation in front of an adoring crowd. Evgeny Chuprkov has a chance to pull a Masayuko Ito on “The Judge” himself, the question is whether he can.
What: Ken Shiro vs. Saul "Baby" Juarez, Junior FlyweightsWhen: Sunday, Dec. 30
How to Watch: ESPN Plus 5 a.m. ET
Why You Should Care: Because Saul Juarez has won fights he was supposed to lose before and has no reason to think he can’t do it again.
Ken Shiro is known as “the smiling assassin” due to his tendency to throw up the peace sign and smile at photographers after his victories. This wacky attitude translates to his social media pages, where he shows off his expensive post-fight meals and questionable fashion choices to the delight of his ever increasing number of fans. Now 14-0 with eight knockouts, the WBC flyweight champion should walk through Saul Juarez on his way to bigger and better things.
But, so should Gilberto Parra have done. Juarez had lost his last four fights in a row before facing the then 26-3 with 21 knockouts Parra and was a full five inches shorter than his opponent. And while Juarez was on a four-fight losing streak, Parra had won seven fights in a row. It was clear what was supposed to happen in the fight, but instead Juarez stopped Parra in the ninth round to completely turn around his career. Tragically, Parra went on to be murdered in Mexico in what police described as an execution after the loss.
“Ken Shiro,” whose real name is Kenshiro Teraji, is clearly supposed to beat Juarez and use his wacky social media presence to become a huge star in Japan. But Juarez was supposed to lose before only to ruin the best-laid plans, and he has no reason to think he can’t do it again.
What: Takuma Inoue vs. Petch Sor Chitpattana, BantamweightsWhen: Sunday, Dec. 30
How to Watch: ESPN Plus 5 a.m. ET
Why You Should Care: To see which fighter doesn’t deserve to be here.
Takuma Inoue is the younger brother of Naoya “The Monster” Inoue, but while he is undefeated like his brother (12-0) there is one Inoue trait that was not passed on to Takuma. While “The Monster” is a monster puncher, having stopped 15 of his 17 opponents, Takuma has only three knockout victories over the course of his twelve-fight career, and has never knocked out an accomplished opponent.
Petch Sor Chitpattana is 48-0 with 33 knockouts as a professional. But, while Takuma Inoue hasn’t knocked out anybody accomplished, Chitpattana hasn’t either. Although he has 33 knockouts, the 25-year-old Thai has fought the worst level of competition I’ve ever seen. He’s exclusively fought in Thailand, and despite being both 48-0 and in his seventh year as a professional prizefighter, he is still facing debut opponents, guys that are 0-1, and even a 1-11 fighter in 2017. That’s not a bum of the month club, it’s a disgrace.
So, we have a Thai fighter with an absurdly bloated record against a light hitting fighter most famous for the successes of his brother. This doesn’t mean that either fighter is bad, they may both be great, it just means that this weekend we will have an easy excuse to dismiss the loser, and a far better idea whether the winner is actually good.
What: Floyd Mayweather vs. Tenshin Nasukawa, WelterweightsWhen: Monday, Dec. 31
How to Watch: International Stream on Fite.tv 10:15 a.m. ET (Fight is not available to those in North America)
Why You Should Care: Because you’ve made it this far, why stop now?
I still watch “The Walking Dead.” It’s not good anymore, there are far better shows I should be watching and I am under no illusions that it is ever going to get good again. I know I should have stopped watching when Rick left the show, I should have stopped watching after Rick started getting magical phone calls from his dead wife, or when it became clear the writers were going to rerun the same “find a safe place, it gets overrun” template repeatedly. I should have stopped watching numerous times, but I’ve put in so many years with the show, watched so many episodes of it, that I feel like I’ve invested too much to give up on it, and will continue watching until it is mercifully cancelled.
Which brings me to Floyd Mayweather. See, we kept watching Floyd when he was facing anyone but the one fighter we wanted him to. We watched Floyd after he went to jail for abusing a woman. We watched Floyd when he sucker-punched an apologetic Victor Ortiz. We watched Floyd shoulder roll his way to boring decision victory after boring decision victory, consistently lying to ourselves that we would never watch him again if he didn’t start finishing opponents. We watched Floyd after he got into a fight with Larry Merchant, and when he made racist comments about Manny Pacquiao “making him a sushi roll.” We watched Floyd when he faced Andre Berto and figured it couldn’t get any worse. Then, we watched Floyd face an MMA fighter who had us convinced he had some kind of magic in his left hand that was going to hurt Floyd, despite Floyd not getting hurt by some of the best punchers in boxing over a 22-year career. Yes, we should have stopped watching Floyd Mayweather years ago, but we didn’t, so why stop now?
Floyd’s facing a kickboxer who has never boxed as a pro in a three-round boxing-only exhibition. Is it stupid? Yes. Will he lose? No. But we’ve made it this far. We’ve invested this much time and money. We’ve come this far, so why would we stop now?
What: Donnie Nietes vs. Kazuto Ioka, Junior BantamweightsWhen: December 31
How to Watch: ESPN Plus 2AM ET
Why You Should Care: To see which fighter can win a world title in their fourth weight class.
Donnie Nietes and Kazuto Ioka will be fighting for the currently vacant WBO super flyweight title, but both men have won numerous world titles before. In fact, while this fight will take place at 115 pounds, both men have won world titles at 105, 108 and 112 pounds. Donnie Nietes should already have a 115-pound title, but in his last fight he was robbed of a victory in a split draw against Aston Palicte, while Kazuto Ioka retired for 17 months before watching a “Superfly” card, thinking he could beat anyone involved, and proving it against Mcwilliams Arroyo this September.
Four world titles in four different weight classes would be an impressive addition to an already impressive resume no matter who wins. If you stay up late enough on New Years Eve, you can see who does.