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.
One of the final major bouts of June takes place in Jalisco, Mexico as IBF female Light Flyweight champion Naoko Shibata (14-3, 4) defends her belt on the road for the first time. In fact she fights outside of Japan for he first time in her memorable and successful career. In the opposite corner to the champion will be Mexican veteran Esmeralda Moreno (30-7-1, 10) who looks to end Shibata's reign after 3 successful defenses.
Shibata, 34, is a true veteran of the sport and like many Japanese fighters she has faced some of the very best in and around her weight class. That has included the likes of Ayaka Miyao, Naoko Fujioka, Etsuko Tada and Ibeth Zamora Silva. Although she's lost many of her biggest bouts she has always been competitive, tough and never just takes a loss. She's not the biggest puncher but she's a fighter's fighter with good speed, movement and a real will to win.
Coming in to this fight Shibata is on a 5 fight winning streak. That has included her world title win back in November 2013 against the previously unbeaten Alondra Garcia as well as 3 defenses, including an outstanding TKO win against Ana Arrazola.
As a boxer Shibata isn't the best but there isn't many better than here or gutsier and she has really improved since becoming a world champion, in what was her third shot at a world crown.
With an impressive 38 bouts behind her Moreno is a true veteran, though at just 27 years old she's a young veteran. Her career began a little more than a decade ago and although she was 9-5 after 14 bouts she has really turned turned things around with a 21-2-1 record in the last 6 years. Like Shibata she lost to a lot of really good fighters, such as Ibeth Zamora Silva, Alesia Graf, Ana Maria Torress and Mariana Juarez.
Although Moreno has lost to many of her most notable foes she has scored some really big wins of her own, such as a victory over Jessica Chavez and Naomi Togashi, with the win over Togashi netting Moreno the WBC Flyweight title around 3 years ago. Sadly for Moreno she had to give up the belt after just once defence and is now looking to become a 2-time world champion.
In the ring Moreno can do a bit of everything. She hits hard enough to get get respect, even if she doesn't score many stoppages, she's tough and experienced. Not unbeatable but it takes a very good fighter to beat her.
Unfortunately for Shibata we know fighting in Mexico will make life very difficult for her to keep her title. With out trying to sound too cynical she'll probably need a knockout to get a draw, and that won't be happening.
We're expecting to see a very competitive bout, between two genuinely world class fighters, but we're also expecting to see Shibata lose her belt. Sadly we expect the cards to misrepresent the bout which will be close in reality but made to look one sided by the judges.
The first of 3 female world title bouts on "Hina matsuri" will see IBF Light Flyweight champion Naoka Shibata (11-3, 3) attempt to make the first defense of her title.
Shibata, who won the title late last year with a victory over Alondra Garcia, may not be as good as some world champions in the sport but she is a genuine world level fighter. Her record and performances have proven this as her 3 losses have all been close and all been to top fighters in Naoko Fujioka, Etsuko Tada and Ibeth Zamora Silva. The performance against Garcia may not have been great but Shibata is world class.
Unfortunately for Shibata her first defense comes against a fighter that will not net Shibata any plaudits at all. That's because Shibata's opponent Guadalupe Martinez (6-5, 3) has a record not befitting of world title challenger. In fact if you looked at Martinez's record you'd likely wonder how the 21 year old Mexican even qualified for a world title fight.
The problem with just looking at records is that you don't tend to see who a fighter has actually fought. For Martinez things have't been easy as she's been thrown in with some very talented opponents such as Daniela Romina Bermudez, Ana Arrazola and Debora Anahi Dionicius all of whom are world class. What also helps distort records is the weight class a fighter has been fighting in, in Martinez's case she has been fighting from Light Flyweight all the way up to Super Bantamweight and has fought in two world title fights at Super Flyweight.
If Martinez had only been fighting at Light Flyweight it's undeniable that her record would look better than it does. On paper she's a weak opponent whilst in reality she's a strong opponent who has been able to survive bouts with significantly bigger opponents.
When it comes to Shibata we have a warrior. She's not the most skilled or the most powerful but she's tough, can hold her own in a fight and is a natural Light Flyweight. She can go to war with anyone in the division and give them a real fight, as she did with Tada and Zamora Silva, and she is genuinely tough to beat.
With the experience and home advantage it's hard to pick against Shibata who we do think is better in most areas than Martinez, though we do expect this to be a much tough contest than the records of the fighters indicate and in fact we wouldn't be shocked this is a very hard to call for the first 6 or 7 rounds.
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.