The first world title bout to take place in Japan this year is a female one between two former world champions, who can't afford another loss at this stage of their career, if they are to remain relevant as top contenders. Both are heading towards and neither is in their prime, as injuries and age catch up with them. Despite that we are expecting a genuine fantastic fight as Etsuko Tada (19-3-2, 6) and Ayaka Miyao (23-8-1, 6) meet for the WBO female Minimumweight title.
Of the two it's Tada who is the older fighter. The Shinsei promoted 38 year old is a former WBA, IBF and WBO female Minimumweight champion who has fought at world level for a decade or so. She won her first world title in 2009, following an excellent amateur career, and has faced a genuine who's who of female boxing in the lower weights. She took her first title from ChoRong Son and went on to defend it against the likes of Ibeth Zamora Silva, Maria Salinas, Naoko Shibata and Yuko Kuroki before being dethroned by Anabel Ortiz. She would claim the IBF title 2 years later, beating Kareli Lopez, before losing in her first defense to Cai Zong Ju, then claim the WBO title in 2018 beating Kayoko Ebata.
In her prime Tada was fast, aggressive, a solid puncher, highly skilled, tough and a nightmare for anyone. As she's aged he speed has slowed, her combinations don't flow as they once did and she struggles to apply the same pressure she did when she was younger. She's still an excellent fighter, but often needs the right sort of opponent to shine against. Against a mover she struggles, and she's much better against a fighter who stands their ground. Despite that can chase, just not in the way she once could.
At 36 years old Miyao is no youngster herself, and she's no novice either, having made her professional debut in 2004, before the JBC even recognised female boxing. Her early career was tough, and she was 4-4-1 after her first 9 bouts. Since then however she has gone 19-4 and become a major figure in the Atomweight division, where she is a former WBA and WBA interim champion, who also fought in a unification bout with the then WBC champion Momo Koseki. During her long career she has beaten the likes of Mari Ando, Masae Akitaya, Gretchen Abaniel, and Nao Ikeyama.
At her best Miyao was a lighting quick fighter who could fire off lightning quick shots, and move around the ring with very quick footwork. She's been slowing down in recent years, but is still quick, skilled and hard to pressure. Notably she is moving up from Atomweight, 102lbs, to Minimumweight, 105lbs. It's going to be interesting to see how she copes with the extra weight, and the extra weight of her opponent. One other thing to note is that Miyao has previously suffered a nasty knee injury. She has fought twice since then, but it does leave some question marks about her body.
Here we expect to see Tada pressing, coming forward and Miyao boxing and moving on the back foot, using her feet to try and stay away from Tada's pressure. From there it really depends on who controls the distance as to who wins. We suspect that Miyao will have the early success with her foot work, but Tada will come on strong and begin to take control in the second half. This will not make it easy to score, but will make it very, very competitive, and very close.
Prediction - Draw (Split)
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
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.
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.
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)
At one point earlier this year Ohashi Gym had 3 world champions. They had Akira Yaegashi, who at the time held the WBC Flyweight title, Naoya Inoue, the WBC Light Flyweight champion, and Ayaka Miyao, the WBA Atomweight champion. On paper they could end the year with out a single world title. We already know Yaegashi has lost his belt to Roman Gonzalez in a thrilling contest earlier this year and we also know that Naoya Inoue is set to vacate his world title. That means the world title hopes of the gym now lie, at least for now, on the tiny shoulders of Miyao.
Miyao (18-5-1, 3) will be defending her title for the 5th time this coming Saturday as she takes on fellow Japanese fighter Satomi Nishimura (7-1, 1), a fighter who will be challenging for a title for the second time in her career having previously fallen short in an OPBF title fight earlier this year. The story of the bout however is that this will be Miyao's first title bout in Nagano, the city in which she was born.
The challenger, as mentioned, has fought in 1 prior title bout. In that bout she fought against the recently usurped Saemi Hanagata for the vacant OPBF female Minimumweight title and was stopped in 5 rounds. That bout however was fought at Minimumweight, 105lbs, whilst this coming bout will be at Atomweight, or 102lbs. It might not seem like a lot but to the fighters at these weights that can be a big difference between winning and losing.
Prior to the loss to Hanagata the challenger had won 6 straight, though against limited foes whilst since the loss she has score a single win, again at a very low level.
Whilst the challenger is lacking wins of any note the champion is a well established top tier fighter at 102lbs. In her brilliant career the 31 year old has beaten the likes of Masae Akitaya, Mari Ando and Gretchen Abaniel whilst coming up short against the likes of Nao Ikeyama, Samson Tor Buamas, Tenkai Tsunami and Naoko Shibata all world champions and very, very good fighters.
For those who haven't seen Miyao she's a whirlwind of energy in the ring throwing relentlessly in a manner similar to stable Yaegashi. Although diminutive in stature she has a huge engine that powers he insane work rate. She may not have the power to go with that work rate but she does grind opponents mentally and physically, whether she stops them or not is beside the point.
We suspect the class and work rate of Miyao will be the telling factor here with the experienced champion having a bit too much of everything for the challenger. That's not to say Nishimura wasn't put up a fight but we don't think she'll put up enough of one to make the bout competitive, especially not with Miyao looking to impress fans in her return to Nagano. The challenger will try but this is a domestic contender fighting a world champion and the levels of the fighters will be apparent in the ring.
(Image courtesy of Ohashi Gym)
Although WBC Atomweight champion Momo Koseki is the most dominant fighter in the history of the 102lb division she isn't the only world champion there. She is joined by WBA champion, and fellow Japanese fighter, Ayaka Miyao (16-5-1, 1) a fighter who has arguably faced better competition than Koseki in recent contests.
Miyao, who fought in Japan several times before the JBC recognised female boxing, has had an outstanding career after a wobbly start between. She debuted way back in 2004 and although she lost 4 of her first 9 contests she has since become one of the real forces in Japanese female boxing, especially in the last 3 or 4 years.
Over the last 6 and a half years Miyao has gone 12-1 (1) and generated some real name value for herself under the guidance of Hideyuki Ohashi and the Ohashi gym. It's been under the Ohashi banner than she has claimed the WBA Atomweight title, defeating the rugged Mari Ando and defended it 3 times.
In her defenses Miyao has over come a trio of accomplished and talented fighters. They have included Ando, for the second time, Masae Akitaya and most recently Filipino Gretchen Abaniel. This trio is probably better than what Koseki has been beating in recent defenses.
On March 3rd we get to see Koseki and Miyao on the same card together. Although not fighting each other we do know that comparisons will be made. Koseki, defending her title for the 13th time, will be fighting against the unbeaten Angor Onesongchaigym whilst Miyao will be taking on Angor's stable mate Buangern OnesongchaiGym (10-4-1, 1) in what we think is the more competitive match up.
Miyao is a busy fighter. She lacks power, as do most Atomweights, but her work rate is incredible and when she gets going she is really like a whirlwind inside the ring. As well her work rate she is tough, experienced and having been in the Ohashi gym she is well schooled and knows how to fight. That's not to say she's perfect, far from it, but she is very hard to beat and may well prove, one day, to be the best 102lb fighter on the planet.
In Buangern we have a fighter who is just 20 years old and so young and hungry. Sadly however Buangern is also limited and came unstuck in 5 rounds against Su-Yun Hong in her only previous world title fight. Whilst that bout was a Minimumweight and this is at Atomweight we don't think the slight size difference will really help the Thai challenger.
What we expect to happen here is that Buangern will start with confidence though she will quickly be swamped in the work of Miyao which will see the Japanese champion retaining via a clear decision. It'll be competitive for a few rounds but by rounds 4 or 5 the action will have swung almost entirely in the direction of Miyao.
Whilst we thing Miyao v Buangern is more competitive than Koseki v Angor that's more down to the fact so little is known about Angor and it's always impossible to favour a complete unknown fighting against a dominant champion like Koseki.
This bout will be part of "G Legends 6" a show on "Doll's Day" which features only female fighters.
Having seen Momo Koseki recently defend her WBC Atomweight title against Nora Cardoza it now seems we have just one stumbling block before a possible all-Japanese WBA-WBC Atomweight title unification.
That stumbling block is Filipino Gretchen Abaniel (13-4, 4) who challenges Japan's WBA champion Ayaka Miyao (15-5-1, 1) for the WBA title on November 28th.
Abaniel, who comes in to this bout highly regarded and with the reputation of hitting harder than her record indicates, is a real banana skin for someone like Miyao.
Aged 28 and stood at 5'1" the Filipino challenger is younger, taller and rangier than the champion. As well as those physical advantages she has proven to be a credible world level fighter having previously shared a ring with Cho-Rong Son, Samson Tor Buamas, Katia Gutierrez and Teeraporn Pannimit.
Whilst Abaniel is 0-3 is world title fights recognised by "the big four" she has previously won a secondary title, the WIBA Minimumweight title, suggesting she has the ability to be a world champion in the future and in all honesty "on her day" she could possibly beat anyone at 102lbs.
Japan's Ayaka Miyao is, at 30 years old, probably coming into the later years of her prime physically. Whilst some female fighters have managed to find success in their later years, such as Naoko Fujioka who is almost 40 yet looks to still be improving, it's fair to say most are beginning to slow by their 30's, especially in in the smaller divisions.
Although not a big puncher Miyao has proven to be tough, talented and a fighter who has improved massively since she began her career. Saying that it is worth noting that Miyao began her career 4-4-1 before going 11-1 in her following 12 as she went from talented but inexperienced fighter to world champion.
Those 12 fights that Miyao has fought in since her poor start have included 8 straight victories. These have seen her claiming the WBA Atomweight title and subsequently defending it twice and she's become another notable member of the Ohashi stable which also over-sees the careers of Naoya Inoue and Akira Yaegashi.
For us this bout comes down to two things. Can Miyao get the respect of Abaniel with her light punching? If she can't, does she have the skills to out boxing Abaniel?
We feel that Miyao won't be able to get Abaniel's respect but will have the skills to win enough rounds to win a decision. It won't be decisive and dominant but the right woman will win for use. Thankfully for Abaniel we don't think this will be her last chance.
Of course no matter who wins we would love to see the winner fighting Koseki in a major unification bout. It would, of course, be bigger if it was an All-Japanese bout though even if it wasn't it would still be a major bout and the most important in the Atomweight division's history.
Note-This bout is the headline contest from Ohashi gym's "47th Battle Phoenix" which also features a contest between Kayoko Ebata and Nancy Franco.
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.