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.
This coming Saturday fight fans in Argentina will see local favourite Debora Anahi Dionicius (26-0, 6) defending her IBF female Super Flyweight title against Japanese challenger Terumi Nuki (9-2, 4). For the champion the bout will be her 11th defense whilst the Japanese fighter will be hoping to claim a world title in her second title challenger, and score a rare Japanese win in Latin America.
The unbeaten champion is regarded as one of the elite female fighters at 115lbs. Not only does she have one of the longest unbeaten records of any active female out there right now but also one of the longest reigns. She won the title way back in November 2012 and has been busy as a champion, fighting both frequent defenses and non-title bouts and staying very busy. Whilst her activity has been very impressive she hasn't often faced notable challengers, with her best wins coming against the likes of Simona Galassi, Neisi Torres and Olga Julio.
Footage of the champion shows a busy fighter, who uses uses her jab well, has good timing on her power shots and can set the pace early on thanks to her sharp and accurate jab. She might not have much in terms of power but she great stamina and seems to come on stronger the later fights go. Sge often pushes fighters back in the later stages as they feel the pace and the accumulation of jabs and body shots. The way she connects with combination is also very impressive and she seems to feed really well off the fans, who really do get behind their fighters in Argentina.
Whilst Dionicius is a long reigning champion Nuki is a fighter taking part in her second world title bout. Prior to her first shot at world level she had claimed the OPBF female Super Flyweight title, though that win aside there was nothing of any real note on her record. In her sole world title fight she was widely beaten by WBC female Bantamweight champion Mariana Juarez, but did give Juarez some questions and took a couple of rounds from the Mexican. Not only did she take some rounds off Juarez but proved to be tough, and have a good work rate.
Sadly for Nuki she is very limited. She's slow of foot, defensively open and although she has an impressive will to win she isn't skilled enough to really compete in a boxing contest at world level. In a fight, a true brawl, she could potentially holder her own but in a boxing contest she lacks the nuances to hold her own at the top level.
We expect Nuki to have her moments here, but the reality is that Dionicius will out box her and take a clear and wide decision win over the Japanese challenger. The champion will be too busy, too skilled and too quick for the challenger here.
Last year Japanese fighter Yunoka Furukawa (9-1-2, 6) claimed the WBA Atomweight title, stopping Satomi Nishimura. That win saw the Watanabe fighter get some attention in Japanese boxing, but really she is seen as being a bit of an unknown. This coming Friday she looks to break out further and claim her second world title, as she takes on unbeaten Argentinian Leonela Paola Yudica (12-0-3), the current IBF female Flyweight champion.
In her title win Furukawa looked like an aggressive and heavy handed monster. Since then she has made one defense of her title, narrowly beating Mika Ishikawa with a majority decision. That bout seemed to show that Furukawa wasn't a monster puncher, which she had seemed, but also suggested that the 102lb Atomweight division was too low for her, and that she really needed to leave the division and head north. Something she is doing this weekend.
As her best Furukawa is an aggressive fighter, with heavy hands. She's not the monster puncher she once seemed, but she's an exciting young fighter who has the potential to become one of Japanese boxing's most notable female stars. She is however a long way from that will need to develop more than just her power to reach those heady heights.
Although talented Furukawa has shown issues with her stamina, and has looked rather crude and limited at times. It does seem like a she's a fighter can be out boxed, and that her aggression can be used against her very easily. She appears to take a good shot, but leaves herself open to shots, and looks likely to be a fighter who will always have to take some leather during her bouts.
Coming into the bout as the unbeaten champion Yudica will be very confident, and will be cheered on by her local fans. Aged 29 the champion is in her physical prime, is a highly skilled and fleet fighter. She lacks power, thought that is partly down to her style, but has the skills, speed and stamina to be a real handful. Especially if she can establish her pace and be able to stay at range.
As the champion Yudica will know that she all the advantages, and the biggest of those is her style. Her speed, and accuracy should be a stylistic nightmare for Furukawa and her poor defense. Saying that however the champion will have to keep her defenses on point to avoid the power of Furukawa, and to stay in control of the contest. If Yudica is drawn into a brawl it could be a very tough bout for the champion.
If Furukawa can cut the range she can make this very interesting, and potentially a war, but we suspect that Yudica's back foot boxing will make the Japanese challenger look like a made to order opponent, and one for her to look good against.
This coming Saturday fight fans in China will be able to see IBF female Minimumweight champion Zong Ju Cai (9-1, 1) defending her title against Filipino foe Gretchen Abaniel (17-8, 6). The bout will be Cai's first as a champion whilst Abaniel will be looking to claim a major world title in her 5th, following reigns as a minor champion with WIBA level titles. The bout might not be anything massive to fans in the West, but to fight fans in China this is potentially a massive showdown and a chance for Cai to prove herself as a world class female.
In the ring Cai is a really skilled boxer-mover. She's not heavy handed and doesn't ever try to fight like a fighter with power. Instead she fights with energy, uses the ring and tries to always stay in control of the pace and action of the fight. Unlike many smaller fighters she doesn't fight like type of fighter who wants a high octane brawl, instead she wants to use her skill, potentially hiding a questionable energy tank.
With the Chinese crowd cheering her on it's going to be hard to beat Cai, but she isn't unbeatable. At times in her title win, which came back in January against Etsuko Tada, she seemed to flag late on and looked like she was running out of steam. If a fighter can force the pressure on her quickly then she could struggle later in the bout. If Cai can dictate the pace and tempo however, she will be very tricky to beat, and not many will have the skills to beat a comfortable Cai.
Aged 31 Abaniel is a true veteran, and one who has fought almost everywhere. She made her debut in China and has fought not only in the Philippines but also South Korea, Thailand, Mexico, Japan, Australia and Germany. Whilst she has had mixed success in the ring she has proven to be a world class fighter with only a single stoppage against her, back in 2011 to Katia Gutierrez, and competitive losses to a number of world class fighters like Ayaka Miyao. She's talented, experienced and tough, and a real handful for those on the verges of world class.
Although a talented fighter we can't help but think that Abaniel lacks the style to really compete with Cai. The two fought back in 2015 and Cai won with ease and we suspect that will happen again here. Abaniel will try, she always try, but we can't see her coming out on top here against the Chinese fighter, who is continually improving and is just coming into her prime.
On March 4th we have a hectic day with a Japanese title fight in Tokyo and then a world title fight, featuring a Japanese fighter, in action in Jalisco. For Japanese fight fans it's going to be a long 24 hours, but will it be worth staying up for, and will their fighter manage to come out on top in the world title bout?
The world title bout in question will see IBF female Light Flyweight champion Naoko Shibata (16-3-1, 5) travelling to Mexico to take on Alondra Garcia (16-3-1, 1), the woman she originally beat for the title back in November 2013. In their first bout it was a then unbeaten Garcia getting on a plan to face Shibata for the vacant title, in what many though was going to be Shibata's final world title shot. This time around however the Japanese champion will be on the road whilst seeking her 6th defense of the title whilst Garcia will be fighting to get her career back on track after a number of recent set backs.
At her best Shibata is a real nightmare to fight. She's tough, hard working, well experienced and seems to get better as fight go on. She's certainly not the most skilled fighter in the sport but with her stamina and determination she has become of the toughest fighters to actually beat. In fact it's around 4 years since her last loss, to Ibeth Zamora Silva, and her only other losses have come to world class fighters in the form of Etsuko Tada and Naoko Fujioka. Whilst it's true that Shibata has been run close in recent bouts, narrowly over-coming Saemi Hanagata and Maria Salinas, as well as fighting to a draw with Salina, she has managed to grit her teeth and continue to retain her title.
Although a veteran with an 8 year career, 20 bouts and 7 contests at world level, this will actually be Shibata's first contest outside of Japan. More tellingly she has only fought 4 times outside of Tokyo, with this being her 5th contest outside of the Japanese capital. The travel to a new country here could well be a major problem for the 35 year old, who is showing signs of coming to the end of her career at the top.
As mentioned Garcia was unbeaten ahead of her first bout with Shibata, which was a clear loss on the cards. Since that defeat the Mexican has gone 7-2-1, losing to Victoria Argueta in a title bout at Minimumweight and Sabrina Maribel Perez in a Bantamweight title bout. More notable than those two defeats is a draw to the then debuting Eloisa Martinez. In the ring Garcia lacks power, and hasn't scored a stoppage since her second bout, when she scored a 2nd round TKO win over Norma Ojeda, despite that she is quick and comes to fight.
With the crowd behind her, we know that Garcia will get cheers every time she does anything. With that in mind we suspect we'll see Garcia pick moments to strike, and with the crowd cheering her work she'll get into the mind of the judges, who we don't imagine will make life easy for Shibata. Whilst we're not expecting a robbery, or a bout that leaves a nasty after taste like last year's Chavez Vs Fujioka bout, we do think Garcia will get the nod thanks on the score cards.
Although Macau once looked like being the Asian hub of boxing, with Top Rank putting on a number of high profile cards. Sadly the local economy took a downturn and the idea of Macau being a focal point of Asian boxing looks like a distant dream, unlikely to really happen.
Despite not living up to it's early promise Macau hasn't faded away from boxing altogether and this coming weekend it hosts two world title fights, including an IBF female Minimumweight title fight, as Etsuko Tada (16-2-2, 5) looks to defend her title against China's Cai Zong Ju (8-1, 1). For Tada the bout sees her defending the title for the first time, despite winning the belt more than a year ago, whilst Ju will be looking to claim her first world title.
Tada first made her name as an amateur, winning 46 of her 50 bouts in the unpaid ranks, before turning professional in 2008. In just her 5th bout she claimed the WBA fmelae Minimumweight title, and defended it from 2009 until 2013. During her reign she recorded 9 defended and fought in two unification bouts, drawing in both. Whilst her reign didn't set the boxing world on fire she did score notable results with draws against Naomi Togashi and Ria Ramnarine as well as wins over Ibeth Zamora Silva, Maria Salinas, Naoko Shibata and Yuko Kuroki.
Tada's reign finally came to an end in 2013, when she lost a narrow decision to Anabel Ortiz and the following year Tada would again come up short to Ortiz. In 2015 however Tada would become a 2-time champion as she claimed the IBF title. Sadly since winning that belt in December 2015 she hasn't been the most active of fighters, fighting in just a single stay busy bout since December 2015.
At her best Tada is a nightmare for fighters. She's tough, rough, skilled and full of energy. She's not a big puncher but is an energetic fighter who fights at a high pace and is very well established as a top fighter. Sadly at the age of 35 she is likely to be on the way down and may not have quite the energy at the top level as she had a few years ago.
Cai turned professional in 2014, just weeks before her 23rd birthday,. She won her debut but came up short just weeks later when she took on teenager Nampetch Kwanjaisrikod in Laos. Since that loss however Cai has gone from strength to strength and run her last 7. That winning run has seen her over-come the likes of Gretchen Abaniel, Mari Ando and Samson Tor Buamas, legitimising her as a genuine contender.
At her best Cai is a talented outside boxer. She lacks power but can fight when she needs to, though seems happier using her speed and boxing skills. Although under-rated Cai will see this as her opportunity to move from being a regional champion, who has held a variety of secondary titles, to a world champion and will have trained her heart out for this one.
Although Cai is on a good run, significantly younger than the champion and will have home advantage this bout really is a huge step up for her and it's hard to favour her against such an accomplished fighter as Tada. There is a chance, that at 35 Tada's engine will falter, but the reality is that Tada should have too much in the locker at this point in time for Cai. Cai may have the skills to see out the distance but we suspect she'll struggle to be competitive with the Shinsei managed champion.
Last November fans at the Korakuen Hall saw female IBF Light Flyweight champion Naoko Shibata (15-3-1, 5) [柴田 直子] retain her title with her 4th defence, a very hotly disputed draw against Mexican based American Maria Salinas (11-4-3, 4). This coming Saturday the two women go at it again in a really interesting rematch being held in Saitama.
Since their first bout the 27 year challenger hasn't fought. She has been out of the ring for 9 months exactly and has only actually fought 20 rounds in the last 24 months, suggesting their could be some serious ring rust. At her best however she's a very capable fighter. She came close to over-coming Shibata last year, she also fought to a draw with the talented Arely Valente in 2014 and managed to be competitive with the likes of Etsuko Tada and Esmeralda Moreno.
Not blessed with big power Salinas is a busy but talented boxer who knows how to look after herself in the ring and often does enough to be competitive. Sadly she sometimes fails to go that extra bit to be more than just competitive, and has come up short in close decisions numerous times during her career.
Aged 35 Shibata is a veteran of the ring and has fought with some of the best in the world during her career. She holds notable early career wins over Yuko Kuroki and Ayaka Miyao whilst more recently she has claimed the IBF title and made 4 defenses, including an impressive stoppage of Ana Arrazola. She's not a puncher but she is a busy fighter who has shown her experience in recent bouts.
Although experienced Shibata does look like a fighter coming to the end of her career and her last two defenses were both razor thin wins. She started slowly against Saemi Hanagata in February 2015 before just doing enough for the decision whilst her first bout with Salinas saw her holding on to the title with a draw. There are some question marks about her stamina, given her age, he speed and her strategy with the fighter perhaps getting her gameplans wrong in recent fights. She has however been retaining the title and showing that she won't just roll over and take the belt from her.
Here we have a battle of a ring rusty against a possibly aged fighter. Sadly for Shibata however her performance have regressed since scoring her defining stoppage against Arrazola and we think that regression will continue here with Salinas taking a very close points decision over the 10 rounds.
We know that many boxing fans tend to over-look female boxing but there are some brilliant fighters out there and the lower weights are full of them. One such fighter is in action on December 11th as she looks to become a 2-time world champion. That fighter is former WBA female Minimumweight champion Etsuko Tada (14-2-2, 4) who faces Mexican fighter Kareli Lopez (8-5-3, 2), who has come in to the bout to replace the more established Victoria Argueta (13-2, 4), in a bout for the IBF female Minimumweight title.
Tada took up boxing after having been a street fight as a youngster. The boxing allowed her to develop her fighting and get paid for it as she began a very successful career. In just her 5th professional she became a world champion, dethroning the then unbeaten Cho-Rong Son to claim the WBA female Minimumweight title. Two fights later she tried to unify titles before being held to back-to-back draws.
As a champion Tada's reign only ended in her 10th defense, as she lost a close decision to Anabel Ortiz. By then she had notched notable wins over Ibeth Zamora Silva, Maria Salinas, Naoko Shibata and Yuko Kuroki, all of whom have since become staples on the world scene. Sadly for Tada she has since suffered another loss, in a rematch to Ortiz who holds the only two professional victories over Tada.
Aged 34 Tada is no longer a spring chicken however she still has a fantastic engine, a great will to win, impressive speed and a desire to climb back to the top of the sport. She's aggressive, talented, exciting and tough and will refuse to just accept a loss. Not only does she have that desire to be the best but she has the ability to go with it, and her long career as a fighter has seen her rack up an incredible amount of experience, including a brilliant 47-3 record.
Mexican fighter Lopez is a much less well known fighter than Tada, and as mentioned she has filled in for the very talented Victoria Argueta. She debuted back in 2009 and got off to a troubling start as she went 5-5-3, including a run of 0-4-2 over a 28 month win-less period. Since then however she has strung together some confidence building wins, including a brilliant victory over Brenda Flores for a Mexican title and a pair of wins over Carol Castro Madrid, with the second win seeing her claim the WBF title.
Although Lopez lacks a stand out win she has mixed with very talented fighters, including Jessica Nery Plata, Katia Gutierrez and Kenia Enriquez. She has lost to all 3 of those women, but did show her competitiveness in her bout with Plata, losing a split decision. Sadly however this will be her first world title bout and her first bout outside of Mexico, suggesting that she will be found wanting at the highest level and may well find herself feeling pout of place in the Lion(esses) den.
Whilst we think Lopez will try her heart out, this does seem to be too much of a step up for her and we can't see her really testing someone as good as Tada.
It's seemingly ladies week in Japanese boxing with 3 female world title fights in just 3 days, the final of which is an IBF female Light Flyweight title defense by Japanese veteran Naoko Shibata (14-3, 4), who faces Mexican southpaw Maria Salinas (11-4-2, 4). The bout will be Shibata's 4th defense whilst Salinas is challenging for a world title for the second time, incidentally her first world title bout was also in Japan where she was out pointed by Etsuko Tada.
Aged 34 Shibata is one of the “elder-stateswomen” of Japanese boxing. Like a fine wine however Shibata has gotten better with age and has turned a faltering 9-3 record into her current 14-3 record, winning a world title in her third attempt, out pointing Alondra Garcia in November 2013, and keeping that title one way or another.
It's fair to say that Shibata hasn't been a sensational fighter, though wins over Garcia, Guadalupe Martinez, Ana Arrazola and Saemi Hanagata are certainly wins that deserve respect. Those wins have shown Shibata to be a fighter who has improved with the title around her waist. She has shown her heart and determination, her improving skills and her will to win, gutting out some real problems, especially against Hanagata, to retain her title.
Although not the best, or hardest hitting, or most skilful fighter out there Shibata is a good, solid all rounder who, as mentioned, has that real will to win. In fact it sometimes seems that she would be willing to go through anything to retain her title and continue being a world champion.
In Salinas we have a hungry young challenger. She's 26 and has been mixing with top tier competitive for the last 4 years. That run has seen her going 4-3-1 though has featured bouts with the likes of Esmeralda Moreno, Etsuko Tada, Jessica Nery Plata and Arely Valente. Although she's mostly lost to those top names she will have improved just by being in that type of company and she'll have improved so much from being the fighter that she once was,
In the ring Salinas isn't a puncher but is a good solid southpaw who has shown bravery on the road, especially in the loss to Tada. Sadly though she hasn't shown world class ability and her best achievement so far is becoming a 2-weight WBC Youth champion, claiming the title at 105lbs and 115lbs. Notably she has fought across all the lower weights, apart from Atomweight, and although she's growing it does seem like she could make anything from 105lbs to115lbs with no real issue.
Whilst Salinas has been up against some very capable fighters it does need to be said that sh has usually lost to the better ones. We suspect that will be the case again here with Shibata who we suspect will just refuse to lose in a bout that will be full of action but see the champion just out hustling the challenger over the scheduled 10 rounds.
Japanese fighters are often accused of “failing to perform” when they fight away from home. Recent examples have shown some truth to that with notable losses for Ryosuke Iwasa and Tomoki Kameda. If you looked at the record of Tenkai Tsunami (21-10, 10) you probably accuse her of under-performing on the road, where she has gone 4-8. The truth however is that she's lost some very tight ones, to some of the very best female fighters on the planet.
On August 22nd we see Tsunami again take to a foreign land as she makes her Chilean debut, and takes on current IBF female Bantamweight champion Carolina Rodriguez (14-0, 1), the first ever Chilean to claim a “world title” in boxing.
Although her record doesn't suggest it Tsunami is a world class fighter. Over her 31 fight career, dating back to 2005, she has shared the ring with a who's who of female boxing. She's scored notable wins over the likes of Ayaka Miyao, Zhang Xi Yan and Kayoko Ebata, whilst suffering losses to the likes of Naoko Yamaguchi, Janeth Perez, Mariana Juarez, Zulina Munoz, Jessica Chavez and Arely Mucino.
Some of those losses have been clear defeats, such as the one to Juarez, others however have been unfortunate, such as the ones last year to Jessica Chavez and Arely Mucino, both of which could easily have gone Tsunami's way.
In the ring Tsunami is an aggressively minded fighter who comes forward relentlessly, she's not an out-and-out pressure fight but she's an intelligent aggressive fighter who comes to fight every time she's in the ring. She can be out boxed, and she can be out fought but very fighters will ever get in the ring with her and have an easy time with her. Sadly where she is flawed is that she lacks killer power, she's not the quickest and she isn't the most accurate, however given that she's got a great engine, and aggressive mentality few will enjoy sharing a ring with her.
Whilst Tsunami fights like her name suggests, always coming forward, the Chilean champion is a very different type of fighter. She has a forward gear but also a backwards gear and whilst she can come out swinging she often seems to prefer to box and move, using her legs, great timing and counter shows. She's very slick and has solid ring IQ even if she does, completely, lack power.
Sadly for Tsunami we can't see any way in which the judges will give her a decision in Rodriguez homeland. She may give the Chilean fight a real nightmare in the ring but the only way the Japanese fighter will win is with a knockout. Given the ability and style of Rodriguez we can't see than ever coming close to happening. As a result we suspect that Rodriguez will retain her title with a decision win, albeit one she has to work very hard to get.
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.