All female shows aren't a regular thing, but they have been seen a few times recently in Japan. The next of those will take place on March 8th at the Korakuen Hall, where the main event will be a WBO female Minimumweight title bout between defending champion Kayoko Ebata (11-7, 6) and Korean challenger Ji Hyun Park (22-2, 6). On paper this looks like a mismatch in favour of the challenger, but the reality is that things aren't quite that simple, and Ebata's career has never been quite as straight forward as her record may suggest.
The 42 year old champion has seemingly fought by the mantra “if at first you don't succeed try, try again”. She won an OPBF title in her third attempt, over-coming Cho Rong Son for the OPBF Female Flyweight title in 2013, 4 years after her first shot at the title, and a world title in 6th world title fight, winning the WBO female Minimumweight title last year more than 9 years after her first world title bout. Not only did she have multiple shots at the titles, but her world title win didn't come until she was 41 years old, out pointing the much younger Erika Hanawa for the title last May.
On paper it's easy to rag on Ebata, who has lost more than 33% of her career bouts. Those numbers however don't reflect the fact she has come up short against fighters like Samson Tor Buamas, Tenkai Tsunami, Naoko Shibata, Nancy Franco and Kumiko Seeser Ikehara, twice. They also don't reflect the fact she could have had wins in 3 of those bouts, at least, and was fighting well above her natural weight.
Ebata is a grizzled veteran, she's flawed, limited, but a tough, hard working, experienced fighter who is much better than her record suggests, and had she been able to get regular fights at 105lbs there is a good chance that her record would better reflect her ability. Instead she is saddled with a misleading record and a tough career full of hard luck.
As for the Korean she's the much younger fighter, at 32, but has had a weird career herself. She lost in 2 of her first 8 bouts, losing a Korean Flyweight title bout to Hwa Won Lee in 2005, with Hwa Won Lee later claiming a world title at Featherweight, and would also lose in North Korea in 2007 to Hye Sung Kim, in what is recorded as Kim's debut. Following those losses she has gone 16-0 and is unbeaten in over a decade! Not only that but she was a long term IFBA Minimumweight champion, and she defended that title against accomplished fighters like Hollie Dunaway, Nao Ikeyama, Krisztina Belinszky, Ana Arrazola, Jujeath Nagaowa and Anahi Torres and has a non-title win against Gretchen Abaniel.
Sadly for Park she hasn't actually fought since August 2015, when she beat Abaniel. That sort of lay off can be career ending for some fighters, and it's going to be very interesting to see what she has left here. At her best, she would probably be a little bit too good for Ebata, but she's certainly not going to be her best with so much ring rust, and her timing, speed and sharpness might be a little bit off. For a boxer like Park, who doesn't have much in terms of fire power, the ring rust will likely play a major part in the bout.
At the primes the bout would be a close one, where Park would be favoured. Now however with Ebata beyond her prime and Park inactive we'd go with the active champion, especially at home. We don't see Park being stopped, but we do see her being out worked and Ebata earning her first defense.
On December 17th fight fans at the Kyuden Gym in Fukuoka get the chance to see a really intriguing female title fight, as two champions collide in what could be a passing of the torch bout or further proof of one fighter's legendary status in female boxing. The bout will see Yuko Kuroki (17-4-1, 8) defending her WBC female Minimumweight, for the 6th time, taking on the legendary Momo Koseki (23-2-1, 9), with Koseki looking to add a divisional world title to her collection.
The 26 year old won the title back in May of 2014 and her 3 year reign has seen her defeating the likes of Katia Gutierrez, Masae Akitaya, Nancy Franco and Mari Ando and really showing that she is a world class fighter. Although her record is less than perfect she has gone unbeaten for more than 4 years, and is 8-0-1 (3) since her last loss, which came when she was just 22. Kuroki has really matured in that time to become a good boxer-mover and she has shown her toughness, her ability and almost a new found confidence and self belief.
Despite being on an impressive run Kuroki perhaps lacks a real defining win. She has good wins, Franco and Gutierrez are very good wins in fact, but there is no monster win on her record and nothing that really has gone and told the division “I am the queen”, a win over Koseki would do that, and would really allow Kuroki to make a statement.
Whilst Kuroki is looking for a defining win the same can't be said of Koseki who has had an incredible career. The 35 year old from Tokyo is riding a 24 fight unbeaten run which has seen her record 17 world title defense, unify the WBC and WBA title and holds wins over almost every notable fighter in the division, such as Ayaka Miyao, Nao Ikeyama and Saemi Hanagata. She has been a staple of the 102lb division almost a decade and both of her losses came in very close bouts in Thailand.
In the ring Koseki is a tough as old boots fighter with a brawling action style. She comes to fight and presses the bout, with a combination of rough tactics, under-rated boxing skills, great energy and fantastic use of being big and strong. Although she's moving up in weight here, by 3lbs, she is a very big Atomweight and she has looked bigger than former Light Flyweight champion Naoya Shibata, in fact she looks like she would be very competitive fighting at Flyweight, if not Super Flyweight.
To date Kuroki has had things mostly her own way, at least in the last few years. Here however she's in with a fighter who will be coming with a point to prove, and a statement to make, a fighter given a chance to become a 2 weight champion. Kuroki will be the home fighter, the fighter who is naturally bigger and the fighter who will be defending her title, she will however be up against an elite level fighter, and we suspect Koseki's aggression and world class energy and toughness will simply be too much for the champion. Koruoki will have moments will her skills, but will be out worked, and out pointed.
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.
This coming Friday Japanese fight fans at the Korakuen Hall get an all Japanese world title fight as between veteran Kayoko Ebata (10-7, 6) battles novice professional Erika Hanawa (7-0, 2) for the vacant WBO female Minimumweight title, which was vacated by former champion Kumiko Seeser Ikehara.
Of the two fighters it's clear that Ebata is the more experienced. She has as many losses as Hanawa has total fights, but she is far from a professional loser. In fact she's a genuine world class fighter who has continually competed at the world level, but unfortunately has come up short every time she has faced a world class fighter.
Ebata debuted back in 2007, as a 31 year old, and in just her second bout she challenged Samson Tor Buamas for the WBC female Light Flyweight title. That was one of 5 world title bouts that Ebata has come up short in, along with 2 losses in OPBF title bouts. Whilst that sounds horrific for Ebata she has been in with not only Samson but also Tenkai Tsunami, Naoko Shibata, Nancy Franco and former champion Ikehara, twice.
Aged 41 now Ebata is almost certainly in last chance saloon, and will know that another loss will probably be the end. She has flirted with retirement a number of times but seems to be determined to hold a world title before retiring, adding it to a short reign as an OPBF Flyweight champion. That determination has been seen through her career, and despite her age she has a great engine, but sadly determination doesn't always equal titles, and she does have a lot of rough edges and can be out fought and out boxed.
Aged 26 Hanawa really is a novice to professional boxing, and only made her professional debut in July 2015. Her early bouts were are against fellow novices, before she beat professional loser Christine Latube for the WBC ABC Continental female Minimumweight title in June 2016. The win over Latube hasn't been followed by anything too major, but she did defeat Norj Guro back in March, in what is her best win to date.
Little is really known about how good Hanawa is, something that is almost impossible to judge given her level of competition so far. What has been seen of Hanawa suggests there is real skill there, but we're very much unsure of just how much skill she really has. What is very clear however is that this is a huge step up in class for her, as she takes on her first foe coming to win, and one who has fought at world level.
Given her age it's clear that Hanawa will have youthful exuberance and energy on her side, she's also never tasted defeat and will have the confidence of being an unbeaten fighter. That youth and confidence might help Hanawa here, or could hinder her against a fighter with the experience and toughness of Ebata.
Although Hanawa is the unbeaten youngster it's hard to favour her here against the talented, though unlucky, Ebata. There is a chance Hanawa is really class, but this is a huge step up and we suspect Ebata, at long last, will win the big one and finally become a world champion, ending her long and hard wait for a major title.
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.
In May 2014 Japanese youngster Yuko Kuroki (16-4-1, 8) made good on her early career promise by defeating Mari Ando (13-9, 6) to claim the WBC female Minimumweight title. That win put Kuroki on the proverbial map an opened doors for her to grow into a genuinely notable fighter. Since that title win she has made the most of her opportunity and scored notable wins over Katia Gutierrez, Masae Akitaya and Nancy Franco, whilst recording 4 defenses of the title whilst Ando has struggled.
This coming Sunday the two women will face off again with Kuroki looking to record her 5th defense of the title and Ando looking to revive a career that is now struggling, in fact Ando has gone 2-2 since the first bout and is now very much in last chance saloon.
Kuroki really has gone from strength to strength since winning the title. She was always a fighter with a lot of potential, as early career performances against the likes of Naoko Shibata, Mika Oda and Etsuko Tada showed, but it wasn't until she became the champion that we really got the chance to see how good she was. Since becoming the champion she really has looked like a truly brilliant fighter with under-rated skills, great work rate, hurtful power and the sort of building confidence that could make her a real nightmare against other world class fighters in the years to come.
Whilst Kuroki isn't one of the stars of female boxing, and she's not one of the truly elite among the Japanese female fighters, like Momo Koseki or Naoko Fujioka, she is a top class fighter who is showing all the signs of becoming a top fighter for the years to come.
With Ando the best looks to be behind her. The 29 year old struggled to get going, losing her first 2 bouts, before defeating Amara Kokietgym in September 2011 to claim the WBA Atomweight title and became a world champion. Her reign however was a short one, losing the belt in her second defense to Ayaka Miyao. Despite losing the WBA title to Miyao we did see Ando continue to compete at the world level, losing in title challengers against both Miyao and Su Yun Hong, before claiming the WBC female Minimumweight title with a win against Jasseth Noriega in 2013, lsoing that title in her first defense to Kuroki.
Since losing the title to Kuroki we've seen Ando come up short against Zai ong Ju and Ibeth Zamora Silva, with Silva stopping Ando in the 6th round of a horribly one-sided contest. That loss to Silva seemed to suggest that the hard career of Ando was taking it's toll, though may well have said more about how good Silva is, with many regarding her as one of the truly elite female fighters.
With Kuroki claiming a win in the first fight, and improving whilst Ando has seemingly regressed, the winner her will almost certainly be Kuroki again. The question however will be whether the champion scores a stoppage or another decision. We think Kuroki will go on to stop Ando here, with Ando likely to retire afterwards.
This coming Wednesday we see female world title action return to Japan as WBO female Minimumweight champion Kumiko Seeser Ikehara (8-1-2, 3) battles against 40 year old veteran Kayoko Ebata (9-6, 5), in a rematch of a hotly contested bout from May 2015.
Last year these two met with Ikehara taking a 7 round split technical decision over Ebata, with all the cards reading 67-66 one way or the other. The bout was very hotly contested before being stopped, 28 seconds into round 7, following a head clash.
Since their first bout both ladies have been rather inactive with just a single bout each. For Ebata her bout was a 5th round TKO win over Thai novice Sornsawan Sarakarngym, back in March, whilst Ikehara defended her title last November against the limited Momoko Kanda, claiming a 10 round decision.
At her best Ebata was typically a handful for most. Early in her career she pushed Samson Tor Buamas incredibly close in a bout for the WBC female Light Flyweight title. She would later give a competitive effort at Super Flyweight against Tenkai Tsunami in 2010 and a solid effort against Nancy Franco in 2013. It's worth noting however she is now 40, past her best and very inactive with just 2 bouts, combined for 12 rounds, in the last 2 years.
Although a warrior, and tough as old boots, Ebata is still at a very advanced age and has come up short in 4 previous world title bouts, and 2 other OPBF title fights. In fact she is amazingly 1-6 in title bouts.
Aged 31 Ikehara is no spring chicken however she's only been a professional for 4 years and has only featured in 50 professional rounds. Despite her inexperience she is 3-0-1 in world title bouts and has made 3 defenses of her title. That's not to say we don't question her ability, we do doubt she'll be a long reigning champion and her defenses so far lack much in terms of quality, but she's found a win to every bout she's had since September 2009, when she lost to Mika Iwakawa.
Ikehara is less of a battler than her foe but seems to find herself into a war quite regularly. That's resulted in 3 technical decisions, include a pair of opening round technical draws.
Given the fact that Ebata is at the very end of her career we're expecting a shock here and we think she'll just manage to out battle Ikehara and take a narrow decision, likely leading to a third bout in the near future. Maybe we just want to see the fairytale of Ebata winning a title but we'll stick by out prediction, Ebata by decision.
Over the last 2 years or so we've seen several fighters emerge, improve and become credible fighters at various levels in the sport. One of the most remarkable developments during that time has been that of Japanese fighter Yuko Kuroki (15-4-1, 7). Back in April 2014 Kuroki was 10-4-1 and had gone 1-2-1 in her previous 4 bouts, in fact it seemed like she was going to toil on the fringes of the OPBF title scene. Since then however she has gone 5-0, claimed the WBC female Minimumweight title and scored notable wins over Mari Ando, Katia Gutierrerz, Masae Akitaya and Nancy Franco.
This coming Monday Kuroki looks to continue her reign as a world champion as she takes on Filipino title challenger Norj Guro (7-5-1, 4), who is challenging for a world title for the second time.
The champion is a fighter who has improved significantly. She's skilled, hard working, tough and knows that every fight can be a stepping stone towards becoming a better fighter. Although she has got losses on her record they have typically come to good fighters, like Naoko Shibata, Saemi Hanagata and Etsuko Tada. Those losses were set backs but they were also developmental fights allowing her to work on things, push herself and gain valuable experience in her young boxing career.
The challenger hasn't yet proven herself as being a fringe world class fighter, despite this being her second world title bout. Going through her record we see no wins of note, in fact 6 of her 7 wins have been against debutants. Notably she has been fighting at higher weights than Minimumweight but has lost to every opponent with any value, such as Riyo Togo, Hee Jung Yuh, Buakaew OnesongchaiGym, Nao Ikeyama and Jessica Chavez. Although Guro has lost every time she's fought someone with a win, she has shown her toughness and has only been stopped once, by the big punching Riyo Togo.
Coming into this one it's impossible to think that the title will be changing hands, this is a huge step backwards for the champion but should work as a launch pad to bigger and better fights. What will be interesting however will be the manner of the win. Kuroki could take a shut out win without any problems, but if she's looking to a chase a stoppage she could make a statement, doing what the brilliant Jessica Chavez couldn't do. That really has to be the target for the champion.
The final Asian world title bout before Christmas comes on December 20th with fans in Fukuoka being the lucky ones who get the chance to watch it. Not only is it the final title bout before Christmas but it is also a very well matched one, between two world class fighters looking to ensure their place among the top in their division for the start of 2016.
If there is something to hold against the bout it is a female bout, but it really a brilliant one as WBC female Minimumweight champion Yuko Kuroki (14-4-1, 7) defends her title against former IBF champion Nancy Franco (14-6-2, 4). For Kuroki this will be her third defense, as she looks to continue her reign that began in May 2014, whilst Franco will be looking to become a 3-time world champion.
The champion, who is regarded as one of the few fighters who really combines looks with ability, turned pro back in 2008 and surprisingly lost 2 of her first 3 bouts, albeit one of those did come to future champion Naoko Shibata. Since the less than great start Kuroki has improved, going 13-2, losing to the world class Etsuko Tada and the fringe world class Saemi Hanagata.
Since those losses Kuroki has shown yet more improvement, winning 5 in a row. That 5 fight run has seen her claim the WBC title, beating Mari Ando for the title, and defending it against Katia Gutierrez and Masae Akitaya.
Aged 24 the champion is still a very young fighter. Despite that she has been in 4 world title bouts, racked up 19 career bouts and 106 rounds. She is very experienced and has been fighting at the top level for the past few years, those bouts with top opponents will have helped her develop her skills significantly. She is however lacking in power and still a flawed fighter, she is also rather short at just over 5'0”. Despite not being a puncher she is a busy and tough southpaw, a real night mare to fight.
Mexican fighter Franco is interesting fighter who has, much like Kuroki, come through the hard way. The 26 year old “Chatita” debuted in 2008 and in her third bout took on Arely Mucino, who stopped Franco inside a round. After just 8 bouts Franco was 3-3-2, having also been stopped by the fantastic Ibeth Zamora Silva. Since hen however Franco has been excellent going 13-3, becoming a 2-time world champion and spending the last few years mixing with top class competition.
Among those that Franco has fought recently are Ana Arrazola, Kayoko Ebata, and Victoria Argueta. Of those opponents she has beaten Ebata in Japan, out pointe Arrazola and went 1-1 with Argueta. In those bouts she has proven her ability, her will to win and her desire. She's not the most technically impressive
Last time out Franco won the IBF female Minimumweight title, she was however stripped of that belt meaning this isn't a unification bout. That however shouldn't take away from the fact the she is among the elite fighters in the division and is a fighter who has given up her title, travelled around the world and chosen to face another champion, when she could have chosen a much easier match up instead.
Given the ability of both fighters we're expecting something very special here. An all action, high skilled, 10 round battle. Generally however those bouts go to the home fighter and we suspect that will be the case again here with Kuroki claiming a very narrow, and likely debatable, decision.
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.
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.