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.
With Naoko Shibata eventually claiming a world title with her decision victory over Alondra Garcia back on November 14th, it's probably fair to hand the title of "the almost champion" of Japanese female boxing over to Kayoko Ebata (7-4, 4).
Ebata, like Shibata, has come heart wrenching close in previous bouts. These have included fighting to a majority decision in Thailand against Samson Tor Buamas in a WBC title fight and fighting in a competitive but clear loss to Tenkai Tsunami.
The 37 year old Ebata now fights in her third world title bout as she fights Mexican Nancy Franco (11-5-2, 4) for the vacant IBF female Minimumweight title. A title that has only been held by Katia Gutierrez.
Franco, fighting outside of Mexico for the first time, is a fighter who at just 24 years old is young and fresh. Despite having suffered 5 losses and being stopped twice in her career she is youthful and fresh faced.
Part of the reason for Franco having so many losses so early in her career has been the match making involved in her career. She has been sharing the ring with talented fighters such as Arely Mucino, Ibeth Zamora Silva and Ana Arrazola. This has seen her winning some and losing some though on the most part she has been competitive.
Although still young Franco has got world level experience thanks to her fights with the likes of Arrazola, Mucino and Zamora Silva, which were all scheduled for 10 rounds. Despite that she hasn't faced a crowd like the one she will be fighting in front of when she faces Ebata.
When it comes to Ebata we have a talented, tough fighter who hits with hurtful shots. Like Franco, Ebata picked up a number of early losses and actually started her professional career 3-4 with her losses coming to Samson, Tsunami, Naoko Shibata and Nanako Kikuchi, all of whom where, are or have been world champions.
Since the "poor start" to Ebata's career she has turned things around with 4 straight victories, including one over Cho-Rong Son for the OPBF title.
This level of competition and being at home, should be what sees Ebata defeating Franco, though of course at 37 it's hard to know what she has left in the tank and Franco may have the speed to make Ebata look all of her 37 years.
We favour Ebata to make the show a 2-0 for Japan with Ayaka Miyao fighting Gretchen Abaniel on the same show, though we'd refuse to write Franco off due to her youthfulness, especially considering what George Groves did in Britain against Carl Froch this past week end.
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.