This coming Monday we'll see OPBF female Featherweight champion Wakako Fujiwara (8-3-2, 3) return to the ring as she hunts her second defense, and takes on the once beaten Yoshie Wakasa (6-1, 2) at the EDION Arena Osaka. On paper this bout does show the lack of depth in female boxing, but that's not to take away from a bout that should be very entertaining and hotly contested.
The champion is 38 but has proven to be a late bloomer. She was stopped on debut, and was 1-2-1 after 4 bouts, but since then she has gone 7-1-1, with her only loss in that stretch coming to world champion Hyun Mi Choi this past June. Not only has Fujiwara's record turned around but she's go one to avenge one of her losses, stopping Kana Fukuda in 2017 to avenge her debut loss, and has scored two wins over veteran Kimika Miyoshi, a 3 weight OPBF champion. Unfortunately for her she's what we'd describe as a "battler", with a lack of world class power. She can box, but tends to find herself involved in wars on the inside, which are entertaining but she up her lack of boxing IQ. Like many female fighters at this level, skills seem to come second behind work rate, which is fun to watch, but does magnify the difference between the fringe contenders and the truly world class.
Aged 31 Wakasa is no youngster herself, but she is still significantly younger than the champion. She debuted more than 5 years ago and began here career with 6 straight wins, though they were mostly against limited opponents with the best being Asami Jinnari and Tomoko Okuda. last time out she stepped up, massively, to take on Miyo Yoshida and suffered a wide decision loss to Yoshida in a Japanese female Bantamweight title fight. When you consider that she's going up from 118lbs, for that bout, to 126lbs for the bout, that's a big ask for Wakasa, who will be up against her second best opponent so far.
There's a chance that, over the next few years, Wakasa will cement herself as a title level fighter. Here however we see her taking on someone in form. who's, stronger, bigger and more experienced. Fujiwara is unlikely to ever win a world title herself, but we see her taking a very, very comfortable decision over her fellow Japanese fighter here, even if she does end up resorting to using her size to take the win.
Prediction - UD8 Fujiwara
The female boxing scene is a rather weird one right now. We have a lot of really exciting emerging talent around the globe and then we have a big drop off to the domestic type fighters. That's seen quite clearly in the upcoming Japanese Featherweight title fight between Miki Mitsuda (5-5, 4) and Kimika Miyoshi (13-12-1, 5), who are both rather limited fighters. On paper this looks like a 50-50 bout, which is always a good thing, but it certainly doesn't look like a title fight.
Despite it's looks this is going to be a bout for the national title, and that's kinda disrespectful to the belt in some ways.
Despite our complaints however the bout looks like it could be a fun one to watch.
The limited, but relatively hard hitting, Mitsuda enters as the Japan and will be looking to make her first defense of the title. She won the belt this past April, when she stopped Asami Jinnari in their second bout, following a stoppage loss to Jinnari in 2018. She's turned her career around from a 1-4 start, but has yet to impress and has fought pretty much her whole career against low level domestic opposition. On paper she looks like a fearsome puncher, but in reality her record says more about her opposition than herself, and she's never likely to find herself competing on the world scene. She's crude, open and really just proof of why sometimes having a title says more about eligibility than skills.
At 35 years old Miyoshi is probably on the slide, though as we've seen in recent years female fighters do tend to slip a lot slower than their male counterparts. Sadly for Miyoshi she has lost her last 4, though that has included losses to Shannon O'Connell, Hyun Mi Choi and Wakako Fujiwara. At her best Miyoshi is a fringe world class fighter who has claimed OPBF titles over 3 weight classes, Bantamweight, Super Featherweight and Featherweight and has proven to be a durable fighter. Sadly she's certainly slowing down and is not the fighter who upset the likes of Riyo Togo and Chika Mizutani. Instead she's a fighter who is low on confidence and getting older by the fight.
Coming in to this it seems like the fighter on the 4 fight slide should be the under-dog against the champion, who has stopped her last 2 opponents and avenged her most recent loss. We however are picking the experience, toughness and durability of Miyoshi. We feel Miyoshi will simply wear down and Mitsuda, mentally and physically to take the win. Mitsuda will likely start the better of the two, but Miyoshi will come on strong to take the win.
Prediction - UD6 Miyoshi
The female scene in Japan is going through a big transition right now as the older generation appear to be ending their careers whilst a new wave of fighters are breaking through the ranks. The likes of Eri Matsuda and Kasumi Saeki are leading the new charge with Eruka Hiromoto not far behind. Another "novice" professional looking to get themselves a title in just a handful of bouts is former kick boxer Kanako Taniyama (2-0, 1) who returns to the ring this coming Monday to take on 36 year old Tomoko Okuda (5-2-1, 1), in a bout for the Japanese female Bantamweight title.
At 32 Taniyama is no young kid rising through the ranks, but is still a professional novice looking to rise quickly through the ranks. She turned to professional boxing after a leg injury limited her ability in kick boxing and she debuted as a boxer in December 2018, on a stacked female only card from Shinsei Gym. In her debut she beat experienced Thai Sumalee Tongpootorn in 2 rounds before following up with a decision over the limited but tough Phannaluk Kongsang this past March.
As we often see with kick boxers who turn to pro boxing later in life Taniyama hasn't got the greatest of footwork, but she's aggressive, appears to have solid power on her shots and despite being a little bit on the crude side, compared to Matsuda and Saemi, she does look like she understands how to put her weight behind shots. There's limitations, but there's enough to be excited about at this early stage in her career.
Okuda on the other hand is a southpaw who turned professional more than 4 years ago, but hasn't really accomplished much since beginning her career, just weeks before her 32nd birthday. Her best wins are a couple of competitive decision wins over the crude but hard hitting Miki Mitsuda in 2016 whilst her most notable results being her losses, a debut stoppage loss to Wakako Fujiwara and a narrow loss to Yoshie Wakasa last year.
Okuda isn't "bad" as such, but she's not particularly good either, and a bout a bout at this level, despite her experience compared to Taniyama's, is a step up in class. It's a step up that we don't feel she'll be successful with, her lack of power and rather basic fundamentals limiting her against the natural fighting spirit of Taniyama.
Okuda will try, she will always try, but Taniyama will simply be too good in the ring, too experienced as a fighter, and too heavy handed. We don't feel Okuda has the skills to make Taniyama pay for her clumsy footwork or her still rough around the edges style, and instead Taniyama will rack up the points and take a clear win.
Prediction- UD8 Taniyama
In August American fans saw Joshua Franco and Oscar Negrete end their trilogy with their second draw. The two men had next to nothing to separate them over a thrilling 3 fight series, with Franco taking a split decision in the only bout to end with a winner. This coming Thursdays Japanese fans get the end to a similar trilogy, as Saemi Hanagata (15-7-4, 7) and Nao Ikeyama (18-5-4, 5) battle for the third time. Their first two bout have both been split decision draws and both will be hoping to take a victory over their nemesis in what will likely be the final clash between the two.
Interestingly the dynamic entering this third bout is different to their earlier bouts. In their first 2 bouts it was Ikeyama entering as a champion, defending the WBO Atomweight title, with Hanagata being the hungry challenger. This time the tables are turned, with Hanagata entering as the IBF Atomweight queen and the soon to be 50 year old Ikeyama fighting as the challenge. Whether that makes a difference is yet to be seen, though it is an interesting shift in the narrative as we enter the third chapter of rivalry.
Ikeyama is one of the more interesting stories in female boxing, and proof that if you keep trying, keep improving, and don't quit you can achieve notable success. She turned professional way back in 2003, at the very advanced age of 34.
Ikeyama's debut was so long ago the JBC hadn't even began to recognise female boxing in the early stages of her career she would win the WIBA Minimumweight title and the JWBC title, but was still essentially fighting without the JBC backing until 2008. When the JBC recognised female boxing Ikeyama would get a shot at the WBC Atomweight title, facing Momo Koseki in 2009, and lose a clear decision. At that point she was 39 and after just 3 more fights it seemed like her career was over, following a win over Mika Oda in December 2010.
Amazingly Ikeyama resurfaced 3 years after her win over Oda. This come back lead to her biggest success, with a 2014 win over Jessebelle Pagaduan netting her the WBO Atomweight title, at the age of 44! She would would defend the title 6 times, score notable wins over Jujeath Nagaowa and Ayaka Miyaao, as well as two defenses against Hanagata, both coming by way of draws, before losing the belt in 2018 to Mika Iwakawa. She would hint at retirement following her title loss, but then continue on and lose in a third bout with Miyao. Again talk of retirement was ended when Ikeyama returned and earned a draw with Yuko Kuroki, in what was really credible performance and one that showed there was still life left in Ikeyama's career
In the ring Ikeyama is a bundle of energy, despite her age. She's ultra busy in the ring, throws a lot of leather, and whilst she's not light on her feet or a big puncher, she's still a nightmare to fight. Here fitness levels are incredible and she can take a good shot. In recent years she has come un-done against faster, smart fighters, but few will look to go punch for punch with her if they hope to win. It was the movement from Miyao that played a huge factor in their third bout and showed the tactics to beat Ikeyama at this stage.
At 34 years old Hanagata is a relative spring chicken, though she too is a veteran having debuted more than 11 years ago. She has adopted the surname of promoter Susumu Hanagata, and has been one of the biggest success stories of the Hanagata Gym, along with recent Japanese champion Yuta Saito and former world title challenger Go Odaira. She lost on her debut and remained at a lot lower level for around the first 2 years of her career, losing in her first step up against Jujeath Nagaowa. She would get a second step up in class in 2012 and earn a draw against Masae Akitaya before getting a world title fight with the then WBC Momo Koseki, losing a competitive decision.
Having proven she could have with better fighters Hanagata's team started to match her more aggressively. That back fired early, with a loss to future world champion Kumiko Seeser Ikehara, and a win and draw against Yuko Kuroki, but in 2014 she would claim her first title, the OPBF female Minimumweight title. Her reign was short lived, losing the belt just 6 months after winning it. Despite the loss she would move up in weight and get her second world title shot, losing a close a decision to Naoko Shibata. Since the loss to Shibata we've seen Hanagata go on a bit of a tear, whilst dropping back down in weight. She would reclaim the OPBF female Minimumweight title, have her two ultra close bouts with Ikeyama and then, last September, claim the IBF world title, winning the big one in her 5th world title bout.
We've not seen Hanagata in the ring since her title winning performance, so whether she still has that hunger is a big question, though it's clear she will want to pick up a win against Ikeyama after their first 2 bouts were so close and hotly contested. At her best she's a rugged punching machine, with a real will to win. She walks through shots with her pressure and looks to work her hard shots on the inside. Although not an out and out puncher she does have heavy hands, as we saw when she dropped Yuko Kuroki last time out.
As with their first two bout we're expecting a thrill a minute bout. It's not going to be the prettiest of the smoothest fight we'll ever see, but it is going to be a thrilling bout, with both looking to control the pace, both throwing a lot and both engaging in close combat. The big questions are whether Hanagata still has the fire she had before winning the title and whether Ikeyama can still go with her 50th birthday coming up just days after the fight.
We think Hanagata's "youth" will play a part here and will be the difference. Ikeyama has such an amazing gas tank, but it will have to break at some point and we expect that to be here. She's not looked her best recently and is 0-2-2 over the last 2 years, though has fought at a high level. Hanagata on the other hand will not to throw away the biggest achievement of her career and will be desperate to keep the belt, doing just enough, and being that touch busier, to retain the title.
Prediction - SD10 Hanagata
The Atomweight division isn't the most notable in boxing, but given the 102lb limit the fights tend to be action packed, high tempo wars between women who set a hot pace and never slow down. On September 12th we get several notable Atomweight bouts, with one one of those being a WBA title unification bout between Mexican fighter Monserrat Alarcon (12-4-2), the regular champion, and Japan's Ayaka Miyao (23-7-1, 6), the "interim" champion.
These two were meant to fight last year, though Alarcon was injured in the build up, leading to Miyao battling Nao Ikeyama for the interim title. Now the two ladies will fight to unify the split WBA crown.
For fans who have seen these two in action we don't really need to explain just how quick and exciting these two are, but for those who haven't let us just say they are both incredibly quick with their hands and feet and both like to let their shots go.
The 25 year old Alarcon has been a professional for around 7 years, but hasn't had the most active of careers. She would fight once in 2012 before some real activity in 2013 and 104, as he record fell to 5-2-1. On paper that wasn't a good start, but losses to Alondra Garcia and Ana Victoria Polo are certainly nothing to be ashamed by. After having 8 fights in just 25 months Alarcon has gone 7-2-1 in the since the start of 2015, fighting around twice a year. During that 10 fight run she has lost twice, in razor thin decision to Garcia in a rematch and Arely Mucino. Despite those losses she also has a number of notable wins, including victories over Brenda Ramos, Nana Yoshikawa and Nora Cardoza.
Alarcon is a 2-weight world champion, having won her first title at Flyweight, beating Yoshikawa in Japan for the WBA female title, before beating Mayela Perez last year for the WBA Atomweight title. Her keys to victory have been her speed, her aggression and her ability to fight small, using her diminutive stature to avoid shots, come forward and counter. She lacks power, but is does find a way to land clean and is very under-rated, with a slippery side.
Miyao is a true veteran of the female scene having been a professional since 2004, pre-dating the JBC's recognition of female boxing. Her career began in less than stellar fashion, going 4-4-1, but since then she has gone 19-3 and become one of the most significant figures in the Atomweight division, and at 36 is still going strong. In fact not only is Miyao still going strong, but she's doing so following a gruesome leg injury that looked, at the time, to be potentially career ending.
After going 7-5-1 to begin her career Miyao would go unbeaten for over 5 years and score 13 straight wins. That run saw her really establish herself and win the WBA Atomweight title for the first time and scoring 5 defenses, before losing the belt in a unification bout to WBC champion Momo Koseki in 2015. Since then she has gone 3-1, with the loss being the bout where injured her leg, against Nao Ikeyama, which has since been avenged.
In the ring Miyao is a very quick boxer-mover. Despite her previous knee injury she's still very light on her feet, uses her jab well and fighters smartly on the move. Unlike many female fighters in the lower weights her focus isn't on having a war, but is instead on out boxing, out landing, out speeding and out moving her opponent. She's a smart fighter who knows her shots don't have much power on them so boxes to her strength, her speed and movement, rather than fighting her opponents fight.
With Alarcon being an aggressive pressure fighter who brings pressure and Miyao being a smart mover this bout has an interesting style clash. If Miyao is the fighter she used to be, and isn't showing signs of being 36, she'll be strongly favoured for this bout, especially given it's in Tokyo. If she's slowed down however, and has lost even 10% of her speed then this is going to be an incredibly tough fight and Alarcon may have the style and pressure to impress the judges, even away from home.
Prediction - UD10 Miyao
The Atomweight division is the most obscure division in professional boxing. Not only is it the lightest weight classes, at 102lbs, but it's a female only division and has pretty much been dominated by Japanese fighters since it was first created with fighters like Momo Koseki, Ayaka Miyao, Nao Ikeyama having long and notable reigns there. Whilst there is a growing number of people interested in both the lower weights and female boxing, there isn't much of an international interest in the Atomweights.
Despite the low profile the division has been providing some fantastic fights in recent years, and right now has one of the brightest hopes in female boxing. That is Eri Matsuda (3-0), who has adapted to the professional ranks with ease and already won her first 2 titles, the JBC and OPBF Atomweight titles. This coming Thursday she'll be looking to make her first defense of the Japanese belt as she takes on Mont Blanc Miki (4-2-1, 1).
Matsuda was a talented amateur before turning professional last year and instantly showing touches of genius out boxing the rugged and aggressive Sana Hazuki on debut. She then claimed the OPBF title just months later, out pointing Minayo Kei and then unified the OPBF and Japanese titles with a win over Nanae Suzuki. Unlike many female fighters Matsuda is an outside fighter, setting the tempo for the fight at range, behind her jab and her footwork. Unlike many female fighters she's not someone who looks to have an inside war and instead uses a more classic, pure boxing approach.
Whilst Matsuda is a real talent, and has shown it through her short career, there is less to talk about in regards to Miki. She is a 26 year old who made her debut a little over 2 years ago. As a professional she hasn't shone at all. She scored a win in her debut before being stopped in her second bout. Since then she has gone 3-1-1, with her second stoppage loss coming in March to the limited, but hard hitting, Chan Mi Lim. She has proven to vulnerable, light punching and really technically limited. She's popular but not particularly talented.
Whilst Matsuda hasn't shown much power yet she has enough on her shots to get respect of good fighters. Without trying to be harsh Miki has done little to show she's actually a good fighter, and we really wouldn't be surprised if Matsuda got her first stoppage here. Matsuda's clean accurate punching will be the key her, and we suspect that when she moves through the gears she will hurt Miki, and then force the referee to jump in.
Prediction - TKO4 Matsuda
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.