Unification bouts in boxing are rare, whether they are bouts to unify world titles, or regional titles they are still rare. Even more so when they involve relative professional novices. With that in mind there's a bout on March 13th to get really excited about, especially if you follow the female boxing scene, as OPBF Atomweight champion Eri Matsuda (2-0) takes on JBC counter part Nanae Suzuki (8-2-1, 1), with the two women looking to join the most notable regional title with the Japanese title.
Of the two it's Matsuda who is the more interesting. She was a former amateur standout who has already impressed, beating a former Japanese title challenger on debut, taking a competitive win over Sana Hazuki, before schooling Minayo Kei over 8 rounds to claim the OPBF title. The 24 year old from Team 10 count is one of the smoothest female boxers on the planet, with really well rounded skills, a very sharp punches and lovely movement. She's a rangy southpaw who knows how to use the ring, though when she needs to bite down and fight she has shown she can do that too.
Despite being a professional novice Matsuda has already fought 14 rounds of professional boxing. She has proven her stamina over 8 rounds already and will not worry about the 8 round distance against Suzuki, have done 8 rounds at a good pace against Kei.
With 11 professional bouts under her belt Suzuki is the much more experienced fighter, and she has already been involved in 4 Japanese title fights, going unbeaten in those 4 bouts. Her first title back, back in December 2017, saw her fight to a draw with the previously mentioned Suzuki, though she would take the title in a rematch 3 months later. Since then she has defended the bout against Akari Arase and Sayaka Aoki. Despite having a couple of losses and a draw on her record already she has actually beaten every one she has fought, avenging losses to Aoki and Yumiko Shimoooka.
Watching Suzuki we see a relatively basic fighter. That's not to say she's bad, but she is basic, with a good work rate, a pretty solid looking right hand and aggressive mentality, coming forward behind her jab. Technically there is a lack of that crispness we see with Matsuda, but she has got a battlers mentality, coming forward and letting her hands go up close.
Suzuki has the type of style we see bothering Matsuda, a come forward style that involves working in the pocket. Thankfully for Matsude the limitations of Suzuki mean that she probably won't actually have too many issues here. If Suzuki was a bit quicker, a bit sharper and a bit lighter on her feet she could be a problem. Instead we see Suzuki being too sharp, too quick and establishing her range, tempo and jab en route to a wide 8 round decision win.
On November 20th fight fans in Tokyo get a very interesting female clash, as form world champions Ayaka Miyao (22-7-1, 6) and Nao Ikeyama (18-4-3, 5) battle for the WBA "Interim" Atomweight title. This will be the third bout between the two women, and one of the very few "interim" world title fights the JBC will actually allow to be held on their soil. In fact the bout was put together at late notice after Miyao's original opponent, Monseratt Alcarron (11-4-2) was injured in the build up. Whilst it's a shame Alcarron suffered an injury we have, in many ways, actually had an upgrade given the fact that Miyao and Ikeyama has some unfinished business.
These two fought first fought in 2006, with Ikeyama stopping a novice Miyao, and then fought in 2016, when Ikeyama was the WBO Atomweight champion and Miyao was challenging her. Sadly Miyao would suffer a genuinely gruesome knee injury, that she tried to fight on with before the bout was stopped and she was stretchered out of the ring in agony. For Miyao this bout gives her a chance to avenge that loss, show what she can do when she's not injured. For Ikeyama this is a chance to prove she's the better fighter, and become a 2-time world champion at the age of 49! Interestingly Ikeyama did suggest she would be retiring, though this bout has certainly dragged her back into action, and we can't blame her given the stakes and the back story.
Miyao is a former WBA Atomweight champion, who had a notable reign from 2012, when she beat Mari Ando for the title, to 2015 when she lost in WBA/WBC unification bout with Momo Koseki. During that reign she would make 6 successful defenses and beat the likes of Masae Akitaya, Mari Ando, Gretchen Abaniel and Satomi Nishimura. Sadly the loss to Koseki seemed to slow her career before suffering the nasty injury against Ikeyama as she attempted to become a 2-weight champion.
At her best Miyao is a fleet footed swarmer. She's never really shown much in terms of power, but has worn opponents down through sheer determinedness and she does have under-rated skills with a fantastic work rate. It also needs noting that the stoppage loss to Ikeyama in 2016 is the only time Miyao has been stopped in the last 10 years, and is one of only 3 stoppage losses on her record.
Ikeyama made her debut in 2003, and came up short in the first world title bout of her career, fighting to a draw in a WBC Minimumweight title fight in 2015. She would come up short again in 2009 when she lost to Momo Koseki in a WBA Atomweight title fight. After a mixed 2010, in which she scored two domestic wins but lost on the road in Korea, she seemed to walk away from the sport. That was until returning 3 years later, at the age of 44. She then began the best run of her career, claiming the WBO Atomweight title in just the second bout of her comeback. Ikeyama would go on to record several defenses of the title, retaining the title against the likes of Masae Akitaya, Jujeath Nagaowa, Saemi Hanagata and Ayaka Miyao, before losing a split decision earlier this year to Mika Iwakawa. That was supposed to end her career, but she's seemingly back for one more fight here.
Despite her age Ikeyama is a hard working and quick fighter. She's got an amazing engine for someone in her 40's, but we do wonder what her body has left given how long and hard her career has been. She's kept herself in great shape, but there's only so long anyone can fight off father time.
We're expecting to see revenge here for Miyao, who we think will pull off the upset win and become a 2-time champion. This is likely to be an action packed and highly skilled brawl, but one where we have to favour the younger woman to just have too much in her, and too much drive to avenge her two losses to the older fighter.
Over the last few weeks we've seen a lot of talk about a potential third bout between Gennady Golovkin and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, after the two men competed in two razor thin bouts. Those two bouts have seen Canelo take a 1-0-1 lead over the Kazakh but the reality that neither man really out did the other during their two fights. This coming Saturday we get to see the end of a very similar trilogy, between two fighters who have had two razor thin bouts, with one resulting in a draw and one being a really narrow win.
The trilogy in question is a trilogy between Yuko Kuroki (18-5-1, 8) and Saemi Hanagata (14-7-4, 7), who fight for the IBF Atomweight title. Their first bout took place in June 2013, with Hanagata taking a hotly contested unanimous decision before the two fought to a draw just 6 months later, with the two women fighting for the OPBF female Minimumweight title.
Since their bouts both fighters have established themselves as genuine class fighters. Kuroki has gone to win the WBC Female Minimumweight title, which she won in 2014 and defended 5 times until losing it to Momo Koseki in late 2017. Hanagata on the other hand has had 3 world title challenges, losing the first by majority decision before twice fighting to split decision draws. Both are world class fighters, both have history with each other and both will be looking to score a win when they face off this coming weekend. The big question however, is what are we expecting?
Of the two it's Kuroki who arguably has more to prove. She's going in having failed to win either of the previous bouts between these two fighters and having been a world champion already. She's the younger woman, the more established fighter and the one who is moving down in weight.
In the ring Kuroki is a pretty technical but busy fighter. She's quick, busy and applies pressure at a tempo of her choosing. She's not the most accurate but is happy to throw a number of shots to land one, whilst handcuffing her opponent. She has good movement, nice quick hands work and very intelligent foot work. Her lack of power is a glaring flaw, but she is technically a good very sharp and sharp shots will get the respect of her opponents, even if she does struggle to score stoppages. Where she perhaps struggles the most is when an opponent can cut the ring off and go to work on the inside, and that will be something she'll look to avoid here against the aggressive Hanagata.
At 33 years old, and in her 5th career world title bout, Hanagata will probably know it's now or never, however she will know that could have had a world title with just a small bit of luck. She was very unlucky against Naoko Shibata in 2015 and against Naok Ikeyama, in 2016 and 2017. She is a world class fighter and an absolute nightmare to fight. Sadly though she is a fighter who has had next to no fortune.
In the ring Hanagata is a fearsome fighter, who fights with a pressure fighter style, getting in her opponents face and really going to work with heavy, hard shots thrown in volume. Despite only having 7 stoppages in 25 bouts she hits hard enough to get the respect of everyone she fights. Her biggest issue is her technical ability, and despite being a busy pressure fighter she's not the most accurate and instead can be made to look wasteful, ineffective and crude. She cuts the ring off well, but can be made to miss up close.
Where expecting to see Hanagata get on the front foot and Kuroki to box and move. It's a fight that is stylistically perfect, with pressure against movement. Over 10 rounds Hanagata's pressure does tend to get to fighters, but Kuroki is a real talent the 27 year old has a great engine. We're expecting some fantastic exchange between the two. We however tip the younger, faster, more technically capable fighter here. We suspect she will be pushed all the way, but will come out on top with a razor decision, the equal the series 1-1-1.
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.
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
The Atomweight division is the most obscure division in boxing, and lacks the depth of many other divisions. Saying that however we do get some interesting fights at the weight, like 2015's unification bout that saw Momo Koseki unify her WBC title with the WBA title then held by Ayaka Miyao. That was the biggest bout in the division's short history and was a thrilling contest with both showing their ability.
This coming Tuesday we see the loser of that bout, Ayaka Miyao (21-6-1, 5) attempt to claim the WBO title to become the division's first 2-time champion. Miyao however isn't the only fighter looking for a slice of history as her opponent, current WBO champion Nao Ikeyama (17-3-2, 4) looks to extend her record as the oldest active world champion and the oldest ever Japanese world champion, with the veteran now being 47 years old!
Ikeyama won the title a little more than 2 years ago, becoming the oldest Japanese world champion at the age of 44. Since then she has recorded 4 defenses of the title, beating Masae Akitaya, Norj Guro and Jujeath Nagaowa whilst fighting to a draw with the vert capable Saemi Hanagata. Not only has she been defending her title but in December 2015 she became the first world champion to defend a world title in Sri Lanka.
Whilst Ikeyama is 47 she is great physical shape, has an excellent engine and solid skills. She's not an amazing boxer in a pure boxing sense but she's the type of fighter who is refusing to give up the title and is seemingly getting better with age, like a fine wine.
Aged 33 Miyao seems to have been around for years, originally one of the stars of the Ohashi gym she has recently transferred to the Watanabe gym and will be getting her first big fight since linking up with Watanabe. Early in her career she struggled for form, beginning 4-4-1, though has subsequently gone 17-2 losing only to Naoko Shibata and the aforementioned Koseki. Against those two losses are wins against the likes of Masae Akitaya, Mari Ando, Gretchen Abaniel and Satomi Nsihimura.
In the ring Miyao has long been seen as a perpetual punching machine, though has calmed that non-stop output in recent years to land some heavier shots and stand her ground more. That change in style has made some of her fights more exciting and although she's not a puncher she has scored 4 stoppages in her last 6 and is showing an increasing amount of physicality to meet her output.
Although on paper it can be easy to back an in form champion it must be said that that this is set to be one of Ikeyama's toughest bouts and with Miyao being so much younger, so much fresher and so much hungrier it's hard to see anything but a title. Ikeyama won't hand over her title but Miyao will do enough to rip it away in a really fun, action bout.
Earlier this year Japanese fighter Yunoka Furukawa (8-1-2, 6) announced herself on the Oriental scene, claiming the OPBF female Flyweight title with a 7th round stoppage against Christine Latube, and then announced herself on the world scene, claiming the WBA Atomweight title with a 3rd round TKO against Satomi Nishimura. The drop down in weight, of 10lbs, was an impressive feat by it's self but to see how destructive she was at the new weight was a scary thought for the division.
This coming Tuesday Furukawa returns to the ring to make her first defense of her Atomweight title, as she takes on OPBF Female Light Flyweight champion Mika Iwakawa (6-4-1, 2), who drops to Atomweight for her first world title bout.
On paper the bout looks like a mismatch, but in reality it should be a lot more interesting than the records suggest.
Furukawa is a destructive wrecking ball. She's not the smoothest or most skilled boxer but she is a a natural puncher who has stopped her last 4, fighting as high as Flyweight, with notable wins against the likes of Nishimura and Aiko Yamagishi. She's also been in great form, going 7-0 (5) following a 1-1-2 start to her professional career. The early career set backs have all been put behind her and at 22 she looks to be a force for both the present and the future.
Before Furukawa faces some of the more notable fighters at 102lbs, like Momo Koseki, it's clear she needs some more experience and defenses against the likes of Iwakawa will her her develop that experience and build towards the divisional super fights.
The 33 year old Iwakawa has been a professional for around 5 years and although he record is less than stellar she has mixed with some really notable names. That has seen her go 1-0-1 with world chanmpion Kumiko Seeser Ikehara, lose to future champion Mako Yamada and push current champion Nao Ikeyama all the way. She has also lost to brilliant Mexican Brisa Hernandez. Last time out she beat Nonggig Sithjaanart, to claim the OPBF female Light Flyweight title and is looking to build on that win.
Through her career so far Iwakawa has never been stopped, despite facing decent competition, but her lack of power has been an issue and will prove to be on here against Furukawa. She's probably the better “fighter” in terms of skills but the huge disparity in physicality and power is likely to be a real issue for her here.
Whilst Iwakawa is certainly better than her record suggests it's hard to imagine her being able to hang with Furukawa who we suspect will, eventually, stop the challenger, likely in the middle rounds of the bout.
On November 11th the longest reigning, active, world champion will return to the ring in search of their 17th world title defense, and look to extend their reign that began way back in August 2008. Sadly that champion is current WBC Atomweight champion Momo Koseki (22-2-1, 8), who hasn't just gone under-the-radar due to being a female but also the fact that she holds a world title in boxing's lowest professional division, which has an upper limit of 102lbs and is only competed in by female fighters.
Whilst Koseki has been the dominant fighter at 102lbs her competition has long been questioned, despite the fact she unified in 2015 and has beaten the current WBO champion. That low level of competition rears it's head again this coming Friday when she takes on little known Chie Higano (6-4, 2), who really isn't expected to give much of a challenge to Koseki.
Before we look at the hopes of the challenger a quick bit of information on the champion, who is the longest reigning champion in the sport at world level. She began her career in 2007, in Thailand, and after starting 3-2, with two controversial losses to Winyu Paradorn Gym and Samson Tor Buamas, she has gone 19-0-1 (8) beating the likes of Winyu, in a rematch, Nao Ikeyama, Jujeath Nagaowam Saemi Hanagata and Ayaka Miyao to distinguish herself as the top fighter the division has ever seen.
In the ring Koseki is a rough and tough fighter who can box or fight and is the type who doesn't mind a street fight in the ring. In recent years she has shown more inclination to boxing but has had a reputation in the past for using her head if needed. She's tough, hits relatively hard for the division and has really impressive stamina forcing opponents to work at her rate through out a bout. At 34 she is certainly on the back end of her career but the southpaw from Tokyo will be inspired by the continued shows of Naoko Fujioka, the other queen of Japanese boxing, who is remaining a top level fighter into her 40's.
Higano is a 32 year old who is taking part in her first title bout, and sadly her record sums up her limitations with 4 losses in her last 7, including defeats to Jun Yabuki, Shione Ogata and Saemi Hanagata. She hasn't beaten an opponent with a record above a 50% winning rate and has never fought in a bout scheduled for more than 6 rounds.
Whilst Higano will know this is the chance of a life time it really is like taking a bloodied mouse and throwing it into a pool of piranha's. She has done nothing to qualify for a world title bout other than being able to make the weight, and although Koseki isn't the type to beat the snot out of an opponent she is the type who will beat an opponent up. For Higano the bout isn't about winning but more about surviving and it's hard to see how she will even do that given her record so far. To her credit she has been fighting at a higher weight than the Atomweight limit but she's never faced anyone resembling Koseki.
The bout keeps the champion active, but maybe, just maybe, it's time for Koseki to move up in weight and begin to look towards a second divisional title as no one at 102lbs is fit to challenge her. Higano isn't the best challenger, but even the best won't be good enough to give Koseki a fight, barring possibly Yunoka Furukawa who is unlikely to be given a bout with Koseki anytime soon anyway.
On August 13th Japanese fans get two title bouts, with the more over-looked one being a WBA Atomweight title bout, for the now vacant title belt. The bout will be between 22 year Yunoka Furukawa (7-1-2, 5) and the 33 year old Satomi Nishimura (9-2, 1), and will see the winner picking up a title vacated recently by the brilliant Momo Koseki.
On paper it looks like Furukawa should be the favourite. The younger fighter turned professional in 2012 and fought to a in April that year with Misato Kawaguchi, she then suffered a decision loss to Kei Takenaka but has since gone unbeaten, going 7-0-1. Sadly however when you look through her record there is very little depth to is. Her best win came in February 2015, when she defeated Aiko Yamagishi, with a 4th round TKO. She has also claimed a notable win this year over Christine Latube, however that win is more notable for the fact it was a bout for the OPBF title rather than much about Latube.
Furukawa has won her last 3 by stoppage, though it's really only the win over Yamagishi that actually deserves any attention.
Whilst Furukawa had her record messed up to begin with the same cannot be said of Nishimura who began in 2008 and advanced to 6-0 (1) before taking on her first notable opponent. That opponent was Saemi Hanagata, who stopped Nishimura in the 5th round to claim the OPBF Minimumweight title. Just 7 months later Nishimura would lose again, being stopped by the then WBA Atomweight champion Ayaka Miyao. Since the loss to Miyao she has scored a couple of wins, over-coming Mika Iwakawa and claiming the PABA belt in Thailand against then unbeaten Namphaya Sakpracha.
Although she lacks a big win Nishimura a hasn't embarrassed herself against good opponents, like Hanagata and Miyao, and in fairness to her those losses have proven more than her wins so far.
The bout should be competitive, however we think Nishimura's extra level of competition will help over the finishing line here. Furukawa will likely develop into a better fighter but for now we think Nishimura will simply be that bit too good and that bit too experienced.
Boxing is full of remarkable stories, ranging from fighters turning their lives around from a criminal past to fighters proving they can fight at the top level at a very advanced age. One such older fighter is WBO Atomweight champion Nao Ikeyama (17-3-1, 4) who returns to the ring next week in an attempt to record her 4th defense, despite being 46 years old. Standing in her way will be the criminally under-rated Saemi Hanagata (12-6-2, 6), who really is a handful despite her record suggesting otherwise.
Ikeyama, who fought in her professional debut way back in 2003, really made a name for herself just over 2 years ago, when she won the inaugural WBO Atomweight title bout, at the age of 44. The win saw her becoming the oldest Japanese world champion and subsequent defenses have seen her extend that record, though she has began to show her age at times, notably in her last two bouts.
Whilst Ikeyama is the champion it's fair to describe Hanagata as a world class fighter herself. In fact Hanagata was very unlucky last year not to claim the IBF female Light Flyweight title and holds a win over current world champion Yuko Kuroki. She has also given Momo Koseki one of her toughest bouts.
At her best Ikeyama was a busy fighter. She wasn't the strongest or most powerful but she was like the duracell bunny and kept unloading shots at an impressive rate. It was that work rate,and speed, that has helped her become a world champion at such a late stage in her career.
Like the champion Hanagata is also a high output fighter, she's a naturally more powerful fighter and one who is significantly lower than the champion. She has been found flagging in the later rounds of bouts but with her youth and fast starting mentality she could be a real problem for Ikeyama.
This bout looks almost certain to be a fast paced war from the off, though unfortunately for Ikeyama she is the naturally smaller, weaker and older fighting, suggesting that she may well be overwhelmed by the challenger, we we suspect will claim the title here.
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.