This coming Saturday fight fans in China will be able to see IBF female Minimumweight champion Zong Ju Cai (9-1, 1) defending her title against Filipino foe Gretchen Abaniel (17-8, 6). The bout will be Cai's first as a champion whilst Abaniel will be looking to claim a major world title in her 5th, following reigns as a minor champion with WIBA level titles. The bout might not be anything massive to fans in the West, but to fight fans in China this is potentially a massive showdown and a chance for Cai to prove herself as a world class female.
In the ring Cai is a really skilled boxer-mover. She's not heavy handed and doesn't ever try to fight like a fighter with power. Instead she fights with energy, uses the ring and tries to always stay in control of the pace and action of the fight. Unlike many smaller fighters she doesn't fight like type of fighter who wants a high octane brawl, instead she wants to use her skill, potentially hiding a questionable energy tank.
With the Chinese crowd cheering her on it's going to be hard to beat Cai, but she isn't unbeatable. At times in her title win, which came back in January against Etsuko Tada, she seemed to flag late on and looked like she was running out of steam. If a fighter can force the pressure on her quickly then she could struggle later in the bout. If Cai can dictate the pace and tempo however, she will be very tricky to beat, and not many will have the skills to beat a comfortable Cai.
Aged 31 Abaniel is a true veteran, and one who has fought almost everywhere. She made her debut in China and has fought not only in the Philippines but also South Korea, Thailand, Mexico, Japan, Australia and Germany. Whilst she has had mixed success in the ring she has proven to be a world class fighter with only a single stoppage against her, back in 2011 to Katia Gutierrez, and competitive losses to a number of world class fighters like Ayaka Miyao. She's talented, experienced and tough, and a real handful for those on the verges of world class.
Although a talented fighter we can't help but think that Abaniel lacks the style to really compete with Cai. The two fought back in 2015 and Cai won with ease and we suspect that will happen again here. Abaniel will try, she always try, but we can't see her coming out on top here against the Chinese fighter, who is continually improving and is just coming into her prime.
Recently we saw the legendary Manny Pacquiao show his age as he came up short against Jeff Horn. Whether you agreed with the decision or not it was clear that Pacquiao wasn't the fighter he used to be, in fact it was obvious that father time had well and truly caught up with the fantastic Filipino icon. This coming Tuesday we see another veteran attempt to continue their fight, not just against opponents but also against father time.
That fighter is the 47, soon to be 48, year old Nao Ikeyama (18-3-2, 5) who looks to extend her reign as the WBO Atomweight champion and continue being the oldest active world champion in the sport. In the opposite corner to Ikeyama will be former foe Saemi Hanagata (13-6-3, 7), who fought to a draw with Ikeyama last year in a real thriller.
At her best Ikeyama has proven to be a truly fantastic veteran. She might not be the best Atomweight on the planet but she's managed to make a real career for herself, having won the WBO title back in 2014, becoming the inaugural champion at the time. Since winning the title she has impressively run up 5 defense, scoring notable wins over Masae Akitaya, Hanagata and Ayaka Miyao.
In the ring Ikeyama has shown a lack of power, but a great engine, a real will to win an has gone almost 7 years without a loss, showing how great she has become in recent years, following real struggles early in her career. At one point Ikeyama was 11-3-1 (4) but has gone 7-0-1 in recent times as her career has had a brilliant Indian summer. She probably would come off second best, by some margin, against Momo Koseki, but against anyone else at 102lbs she's certainly got more than half a chance against.
Although relatively unknown outside of Japan Hanagata is a real warrior with a great engine and aggressive style and a real gritty determination. She's a rough around the edges fighter, with aggression being her key to victory and her toughness being genuinely impressive. Whilst she's certainly not an incredible fighter she's a real handful for most, and gave hell to Naoko Shibata in 2015 and hell to Ikeyama last year, with plenty of fans feeling that Hanagata deserved both wins.
Coming in to this bout Hanagata has gone 4-0-1 (3) and at the moment she is looking the best she has ever looked. Not only is she in great form but at 32, and with a record of 0-2-1 in world title fights she will know that this could, potentially, be her last shot at a world title crown, and she cannot another set back at this level. With that in mind it's clear she will have put everything in this bout.
Although Ikeyama is the better fighter, we can't help but think she has been caught by father time and that Hanagata will be too hungry for her this time, taking a narrow, but very well earned, decision...and the title
This coming weekend we get the chance to see female boxing come to the fore for Asian fight fans as Japan's Terumi Nuki (9-1, 6) takes on legendary Mexican Mariana Juarez (45-9-4, 17), in a bout for Jaurez's WBC female Bantamweight title. For Nuki it's the biggest bout of her career, and a chance to define her career, whilst Juarez looks to further enhance her legacy as one of the modern greats of female boxing.
Although it can be hard to call any female fighter a legend the phrase certainly does apply to Juarez, who draws a huge audience and a lot of attention in Mexico and has done for years. She has managed to cross over, beyond boxing, thanks in part to her sexy looks, which has seen her feature in Playboy, but has also continued to have huge success in the ring.
Debuting back in 1998, as an 18 year old, Juarez struggled early in her career losing 2 of her first 3. In fact after 22 bouts she was still struggling to really make a name for herself, with a 14-5-3 (8) record. From then however she has gone 31-4-1 defining herself as a boxing legend in Mexico. Not only are the numbers impressive but so to are the opponents with Juarez notching up wins against Esmeralda Moreno, Simona Galassi, Gabriela Bouvier, Arely Mucino, Shindo, Tenkai Tsunami and Irma Garcia whilst claiming world titles at Flyweight and Bantamweight.
At her best Juarez is a talented boxer who can box brawl, she has a great engine and can do pretty much everything other than really bang. At 37 however and with a 5-2-1 record in her last 8 there is signs that she is coming to the end of her long career and that she could get old over-night, as we recently saw with Manny Pacquiao.
The 28 year old Nuki is a real boxing baby with just 37 rounds since making her debut just over 4 years ago. To date she has fought just two title bouts, both at Oriental level, and has gone 1-1 (1) in those bouts. To date her best win has been at Oriental level, with that being a 3rd round stoppage over Thai foe Nongbua Lookpraiaree, and she has never scored a win of note at Bantamweight.
Although a fighter with plenty of promise this is a massive step up for Nuki, who has never shown the ability to really impress at world level. There is potential for her to develop into a world class fighter, but she has never shown enough of that potential to think that she is ready for a world title bout, and in fact she would probably have been best served with a few Oriental title defenses first. She hasn't had to cope with a true all-rounder like Juarez, and she has never been beyond 8 rounds, giving her a lot of firsts here.
Juarez could get old, as mentioned above, but the reality is that she still looks fresh enough and hungry enough in recent bouts to easily over-come someone like Nuki, who is simply stepping up too much too fast. We think Nuki will have moments, and will be able to survive the 10 rounds, but will come up short against the Mexican fighting icon.
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.