The Atomweight division, 102lbs, is the lowest weight in professional boxing and is a weight unique to female boxing. It's not had the greatest of reputations, with the lack of depth being a major issues, but it has given us some notable fighters, like the great Momo Koseki and the often fun to watch Ayaka Miyao. It's also responsible for Japan's oldest ever champion, current WBO Atomweight champion Nao Ikeyama (18-3-3, 5) who holds her title at the age of 48. In fact not only is Ikeyama an old champion but she was 44 when she actually won the belt.
This coming Sunday Ikeyama looks to stretch her reign to 7 defenses and make sure she continues to be recognised as a world champion beyond her 49th birthday. Trying to prevent her form that is former foe Mika Iwakawa (7-5-1, 3), herself a 35 year old fighting in her second world title shot.
These two women fought first back in 2013, when they clashed in a 6 rounder. That bout saw Ikeyama end a 3 year break from the ring to face off with Iwakawa, and with the win Ikeyama moved onto a world title bout for the then newly created WBO Atomweight title, defeating Jessebelle Pagaduan for the title. Sadly for Iwakawa the loss, by majority decision, seem to cause her career to stall, with Iwakawa spending well over a year away from the ring. Since returning Iwakawa had since gone 4-2 and despite claiming the OPBF female Light Flyweight title has never really managed to generate much career moment.
Despite being almost 50 Ikeyama is well known for her incredible stamina. She has gone 10 rounds in 6 of her last 7 bouts and has done so at a fantastic tempo. Not only that but she's been able to raise the tempo in the second half of fights when she's had to, against much younger fighters. As a champion she has defended the title against some weak challengers, like Norj Guro for example, but also twice against Saemi Hanagata and once against the aforementioned Miyao. She's not a puncher, but she's such an energetic fighter that few will hang with her, especially in the later rounds.
As for Iwakawa her only previous world title bout was arguably her best performance, a losing effort to the heavy handed Yunoka Furukawa in December 2016. Like Ikeyama it's fair to saw that Iwakawa is also a fighter who relies on her work rate and stamina as opposed to her power or defensive work. Given that she likes to let her hands go we're expecting he to go toe-to-toe with Ikeyama in what should make for an all action bout.
This bout will end up being a back and forth slugfest. With neither fighter having much in terms of power we can't see an early finish, but we can see a potential female fight of the year contender with intense action, getting better round by round. We do however favour the veteran to come out on top, with her added experience, especially over the 10 round distance. It'll be frantic and close, but we suspect Ikeyama will be the winner and extend her title reign a little longer.
One of many notable bouts this coming Sunday will see Japan's Tenkai Tsunami (25-12, 14) defending her WBO female Light Flyweight title against Filipino challenger Gretchen Abaniel (18-9, 6). For the champion the bout will be her first defense, following her title win in March against Chaoz Minowa, whilst Abaniel will be looking to finally win a big one and become a world champion, after having come up short in a number of title challenges.
The Japanese fighter is a true veteran, having made her debut back in 2005, and since then she has faced a real who's who whilst becoming a 2-weight champion. Her first reign, as the WBA female Super Flyweight champion, began in 2009 and saw he hold the title until 2012. She would then attempt to become a 2-time champion but failed in title bouts against the likes of Janeth Perez, Mariana Juarez, Zulina Munoz and Jessica Chavez. Given that level of competition there is little wonder why Tsunami began to collect losses but she always put up a good effort, fighting hard for the 10 rounds. Although she was gritty and determined she just kept coming up short to elite level opponents.
In March it seemed like Tsunami was getting her last shot as she took on Minowa for the WBO female Light Flyweight title. At the age of 30, and having had a hard career, it was unclear what Tsunami had left until she out worked and broke down the former amateur standout in 8 rounds, with Minowa being saved by her corner whilst looking completely exhausted by the time they saved her.
The 32 year old Abaniel has been a true servant to Filipino boxing since making her debut back in 2006. Since then she has regularly competed with world champions, fighting the likes of Cho Rong Son, Samson Tor Buamas, Katia Gutierrez, Teeraporn Pannimit, Ayaka Miyao, Kumiko Seeser Ikehara and Cai Zong Ju. Like Tsunami she has often come up short against the best opponents she's faced, but has regularly given good value as a valiant loser.
Abaniel is technically capable, though lacks power and physicality especially given that she's someone who has fought much of her career at Atomweight and Minimumweight. For this bout she's going up to be up at Light Flyweight, against someone who has been a world champion at Super Flyweight. Whilst she's technically very good we see the strength and power difference here being huge and we suspect it will be too much for Abaniel.
We're expecting to see Abaniel start quick, and have moments in the early rounds, but be worn down by the pressure and aggression of Tsunami, who we believe will stop the challenger in the second half of he bout.
This coming Sunday the attention of boxing fans will be on Malaysia where Manny Pacquiao takes on Lucas Matthysse to headline a quadruple header. The same day there's also a notable show in Korea, headlined by WBA female Super Featherweight champion Hyun Mi Choi (15-0-1, 4), who defends her title against Argentinian challenger Mayra Gomez (18-7, 4).
The 27 year old Choi has long been a fighter that we have spoken highly about. The North Korean born fighter has been one of the few shining lights of Korean boxing over the last decade. She won her first world title, the WBA female Featherweight title, on her debut in 2008 and since then has fought most of her career at world level, with only a few bouts that haven't featured a WBA world title being affiliated with them. Although she has fought at world level through her career she hasn't got the public attention that other female fighters have had in recent years. It's a shame that the boxing world hasn't given her some of the attention it's given the likes of Katie Taylor, Claressa Shields and Christina Hammer, but she certainly belongs in and around the conversation as one of the most significant female boxers in the sport tonight.
In the ring Choi is a joy to watch. She's a pure boxer who likes to fight at distance, using her long arms and height to keep opponents at the end of her jab, and choose when to trade on the inside. Unlike some fighters she's a very good athlete, as well as a good boxer, and she has a genuine boxing brain. On the inside Choi can be given trouble, and we have seen that a few times, but getting inside on Choi is a tough task in it's self as she's smart, quick and rangy.
The Argentinian challenger is much less established than the Korean, despite being the older fighter at 30 years old. She has mostly fought in Argentina, where there is a strong female boxing scene, but has travelled to both Mexico and Finland for fights, losing in world title fights to Jackie Nava and Eva Wahlstrom on the road. Given the fact that Gomez has fought fighters like Nava and Wahlstrom she won't be intimidated by Choi, but but she will clearly be the under-dog and actually comes into this bout with 4 losses in her last 2, including a very worrying defeat to Lilian Dolores Silva last time out.
Footage of Gomez shows her to be a rather slow and wide looking fighter. She looks happy to move around the ring and try to box but she doesn't look great and she also looks very small for a female Super Featherweight, probably due to the fact she has fought much of her career way down at Bantamweight and Super Bantamweight. She's proven to be tough, with her only only stoppage coming to Nava, but that's not going to help her win here against Choi.
We're expecting Choi to box on the move, use her reach and keep the shorter, clumsier, slower Gomez at the end of her straight punch, en route to a clear and wide decision win for the champion. Choi really shouldn't struggle at all here to make an easy defense.
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.