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.
Professional boxing has spread to almost every country out there as the search for global stars and a new market of fans continues to go on. This coming Sunday we see another country added to the long list of others that have hosted world title bouts, that country is Sri Lanka.
The bout in question will see Japanese veteran Nao Ikeyama (16-3-1, 4) defending her WBO Atomweight title against experienced Filipino Jujeath Nagaowa (13-15-1, 8). The bout is, obviously, an historic one given the host nation of the bout, and is one that is likely to receive more attention due to it's historical status than anything regarding it, such as the fighters involved.
The champion is a 46 year old who is really enjoying an Indian summer in her career. She turned pro back in 2003, as a 34 year old “whippersnapper”, fighting outside of the remit of the JBC, who at the time didn't sanction female boxing. Despite struggling to get recognition early in her career she did manage to claim the JWBC 102lb title and the WIBA Minimumweight title.
After running up a 10-1-1 (4) record Ikeyama faced her biggest test, the then WBC Atomweight champion Momo Koseki. Koseki showed the difference in ability dominating the then 39 year old Ikeyama, who struggled to win a round. That was following by 3 more fights in around 19 months, including another loss to talented Korean fighter Ji Hyun Park, in a fight for an IFBA title.
Having moved to 12-3-1 (4) by the end of 2010 Ikeyama then vanished from the boxing for 3 years before resurfacing in 2013 and beginning a remarkable rise which has seen her claim the WBO world title, courtesy of a victory over Jessebelle Pagaduan, and secure two defences.
Despite her age the champion is a talented fighter with good timing, good stamina, a wonderful will to win and a steely toughness. She's not a big puncher but her work rate seems to make up for that and unlike many older fighters it doesn't seem that father time has taken too much from her, yet. Saying that however there is always a chance that she could “get old over-night” and suddenly look like a shot fighter.
At 28 years older the challenger has a significant age advantage, however looking at her record she does look like a very limited title challenger, in fact she has one of the worst records of any recent title challenger. Saying that however records only tell part of the story, especially with Filipino fighters like Nagaowa.
Nagaowa has been a professional boxer since 2006 and has faced a veritable who's who. Included in those that she has fought are the likes of Shindo Go, Samson Tor Buamas, Saemi Hanagata, Ju Hee Kim, Teeraporn Pannimit, Naomi Togashi, Momo Koseku, Ji Hyun Park, Mari Ando and Louisa Hawton. Whilst the only one of those that she beat was Hanagata she was also unlucky against Kim and gave both Hawton and Ando problems.
In the ring Nagaowa is aggressive and tough. She's not the most skilled, and often depends on will as opposed to skill, but can be a real handful, as Kim found out. Her style can be neutralised by real world class fighters but those outside of that top level will always struggle with her, and importantly she has been improving through her career, even if the results don't show it.
For Ikeyama a win is expected, but, as mentioned, she is giving up a lot of age to the challenger who could force the pace and action and really force the champion to dig deep. If Ikeyama can control the pace she wins this comfortably, however if Nagaowa can close the distance and force the fight then this will be a brilliant way to begin professional boxing in Sri Lanka.
One of the biggest issues with professional boxing is that we don't often get the chance to see unification bouts, especially not between long reigning champions who are regarded as the top 2 in their relevant division.
Although they are rare we are getting one such bout later this month as WBC Atomweight champion Momo Koseki (20-2-1, 7), who has recorded an amazing 15 title defenses, takes on WBA champion Ayaka Miyao (20-5-1, 4), who has recorded 5 defenses of her title. They are two of only 3 champions in the 102 weight division, with the other being WBO champion Nao Ikeyama who was widely beaten by Koseki a number of years ago.
Of the two fighters it is Koseki who is better known. She has essentially dominated the lowest weight in boxing for the past few years, in fact since winning the title back in August 2008 she has often looked unbeatable. We'll not say she's faced the best out there, but she does hold notable wins against the likes of Nao Ikeyama, as mentioned the current WBO champion, Teeraporn Pannimit, Saemi Hanagata, and Eun Young Huh.
In the ring Koseki is a handful, she's a rough and tough fighter who knows the old pro's tricks, including liberally using her head on the inside, and it aggressive enough to put fighters into their shells. Some will question her competition but much of that has to do with the divisions dearth of talent rather than her “ducking” anyone.
Although less well known Miyao is herself a more than capable fighter. She's a busy, fast fighter who really made her name with wins against against Masae Akitaya and Mari Ando, both of whom she beaten twice in just over 16 months. Her WBA reign may not be as long as that of Koseki but she is one of the genuinely elite fighters in the division.
Although known as a light puncher Miyao has developed her spiteful side recently and has 3 stoppages in her last 4 bouts. It's hard to know if that power is due to confidence in her own punch or the level of competition but either way it may be worth noting that she does seem to hit harder than the numbers suggest.
Coming in to this one we're expecting Miyao to take the role of the boxer whilst Koseki will be the brawler. This should see Koseki coming forward and Miyao trying to move and keep her off. The two should combine for some great action though we suspect that the toughness and aggression of Koseki will see her taking the narrow and very competitive win.
(Image courtesy of Ohashi Gym)
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.