True must win bouts are rare in boxing, but on April 14th we get a real must win, as former WBC female Minimumweight champion Yuko Kuroki (17-6-1, 8) [黒木優子] takes on former WBO Atomweight champion Nao Ikeyama (18-5-3, 5) [森脇恵子], with neither able to afford another loss if they are to remain relevant.
At 49 years old Ikeyama has been a testament to looking after yourself, hard work, dedication and doing everything a fighter can to prolong their career. She has however began to lose the battle to father time. Since the started of 2016 she has gone 1-2-2, with her sole win coming due to an horrific knee injury suffered by Ayaka Miyao, who would avenge the loss last year. She would lose the WBO Atomweight title to Mika Iwakawa last year and has shown signs of slow down, something that one would have expected to see from her much earlier in her career.
Ikeyama has been a bit of a low key legend of female boxing, beginning her career in 2003 but making a real name for herself in her 40's. She has been competing with world class opponents long after most fighters are retired. Even in her advanced age she hasn't been backing away from stiff competition, twice facing Miyao and twice fighting Saemi Hanagata in recent years. She has always been a busy fighter, her stamina is incredible even compared to younger women, but her lack of power has been an issue and she has certainly slowed down over the last few years.
Kuroki is the much younger fighter, at the age of 27, but she is also in the need of a notable win after losses to Momo Koseki and Saemi Hanagata in her last 3 bouts. At one point she was seen as one of the top female Minimumweights, with solid wins over the likes of Mari Ando, Katia Gutierrez, Masae Akitaya and Nancy Franco. Those wins however look to be in the rear view mirror and her last win of note was a second bout with Ando at the end of 2016. She's certainly not looking shot, or old, but there is a need for a win here if she's to remain in the mix, whilst Ikeyama likely needs a win to keep her career alive.
At her best Kuroki is a talent, quick fighter, with a high work rate, good technical skills and exciting style. She is fan friendly, and a strong fighter at 105lbs, without being a powerful puncher. She has faced a real who's who and since her debut in 2008 she has lost to top fighters like Koseki, Hanagata, Naoko Shibata and Etsuko Tada. She is clearly a fantastic fighter, but one who is possibly low on confidence and this could be the perfect time to fight her.
We love Ikeyama's late success, and her career story deserves a lot more attention than it has has. Here however we see her coming up short against a younger, fresh, hungrier fighter. Yes Ikeyama is fighting for her career, but Kuroki can't afford a loss either, and she is the naturally bigger, stronger fighter as well as the younger woman. We see this being exciting, action packed, and with a lot of leather being exchanged, but we also see a clear win for Kuroki over 10 rounds. Potentially leading to another world title bout for the fighter from Fukuoka.
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, 102lbs, is the lowest weight in professional boxing and is a weight unique to female boxing. It's not had the greatest of reputations, with the lack of depth being a major issues, but it has given us some notable fighters, like the great Momo Koseki and the often fun to watch Ayaka Miyao. It's also responsible for Japan's oldest ever champion, current WBO Atomweight champion Nao Ikeyama (18-3-3, 5) who holds her title at the age of 48. In fact not only is Ikeyama an old champion but she was 44 when she actually won the belt.
This coming Sunday Ikeyama looks to stretch her reign to 7 defenses and make sure she continues to be recognised as a world champion beyond her 49th birthday. Trying to prevent her form that is former foe Mika Iwakawa (7-5-1, 3), herself a 35 year old fighting in her second world title shot.
These two women fought first back in 2013, when they clashed in a 6 rounder. That bout saw Ikeyama end a 3 year break from the ring to face off with Iwakawa, and with the win Ikeyama moved onto a world title bout for the then newly created WBO Atomweight title, defeating Jessebelle Pagaduan for the title. Sadly for Iwakawa the loss, by majority decision, seem to cause her career to stall, with Iwakawa spending well over a year away from the ring. Since returning Iwakawa had since gone 4-2 and despite claiming the OPBF female Light Flyweight title has never really managed to generate much career moment.
Despite being almost 50 Ikeyama is well known for her incredible stamina. She has gone 10 rounds in 6 of her last 7 bouts and has done so at a fantastic tempo. Not only that but she's been able to raise the tempo in the second half of fights when she's had to, against much younger fighters. As a champion she has defended the title against some weak challengers, like Norj Guro for example, but also twice against Saemi Hanagata and once against the aforementioned Miyao. She's not a puncher, but she's such an energetic fighter that few will hang with her, especially in the later rounds.
As for Iwakawa her only previous world title bout was arguably her best performance, a losing effort to the heavy handed Yunoka Furukawa in December 2016. Like Ikeyama it's fair to saw that Iwakawa is also a fighter who relies on her work rate and stamina as opposed to her power or defensive work. Given that she likes to let her hands go we're expecting he to go toe-to-toe with Ikeyama in what should make for an all action bout.
This bout will end up being a back and forth slugfest. With neither fighter having much in terms of power we can't see an early finish, but we can see a potential female fight of the year contender with intense action, getting better round by round. We do however favour the veteran to come out on top, with her added experience, especially over the 10 round distance. It'll be frantic and close, but we suspect Ikeyama will be the winner and extend her title reign a little longer.
Recently we saw the legendary Manny Pacquiao show his age as he came up short against Jeff Horn. Whether you agreed with the decision or not it was clear that Pacquiao wasn't the fighter he used to be, in fact it was obvious that father time had well and truly caught up with the fantastic Filipino icon. This coming Tuesday we see another veteran attempt to continue their fight, not just against opponents but also against father time.
That fighter is the 47, soon to be 48, year old Nao Ikeyama (18-3-2, 5) who looks to extend her reign as the WBO Atomweight champion and continue being the oldest active world champion in the sport. In the opposite corner to Ikeyama will be former foe Saemi Hanagata (13-6-3, 7), who fought to a draw with Ikeyama last year in a real thriller.
At her best Ikeyama has proven to be a truly fantastic veteran. She might not be the best Atomweight on the planet but she's managed to make a real career for herself, having won the WBO title back in 2014, becoming the inaugural champion at the time. Since winning the title she has impressively run up 5 defense, scoring notable wins over Masae Akitaya, Hanagata and Ayaka Miyao.
In the ring Ikeyama has shown a lack of power, but a great engine, a real will to win an has gone almost 7 years without a loss, showing how great she has become in recent years, following real struggles early in her career. At one point Ikeyama was 11-3-1 (4) but has gone 7-0-1 in recent times as her career has had a brilliant Indian summer. She probably would come off second best, by some margin, against Momo Koseki, but against anyone else at 102lbs she's certainly got more than half a chance against.
Although relatively unknown outside of Japan Hanagata is a real warrior with a great engine and aggressive style and a real gritty determination. She's a rough around the edges fighter, with aggression being her key to victory and her toughness being genuinely impressive. Whilst she's certainly not an incredible fighter she's a real handful for most, and gave hell to Naoko Shibata in 2015 and hell to Ikeyama last year, with plenty of fans feeling that Hanagata deserved both wins.
Coming in to this bout Hanagata has gone 4-0-1 (3) and at the moment she is looking the best she has ever looked. Not only is she in great form but at 32, and with a record of 0-2-1 in world title fights she will know that this could, potentially, be her last shot at a world title crown, and she cannot another set back at this level. With that in mind it's clear she will have put everything in this bout.
Although Ikeyama is the better fighter, we can't help but think she has been caught by father time and that Hanagata will be too hungry for her this time, taking a narrow, but very well earned, decision...and the title
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.
Boxing is full of remarkable stories, ranging from fighters turning their lives around from a criminal past to fighters proving they can fight at the top level at a very advanced age. One such older fighter is WBO Atomweight champion Nao Ikeyama (17-3-1, 4) who returns to the ring next week in an attempt to record her 4th defense, despite being 46 years old. Standing in her way will be the criminally under-rated Saemi Hanagata (12-6-2, 6), who really is a handful despite her record suggesting otherwise.
Ikeyama, who fought in her professional debut way back in 2003, really made a name for herself just over 2 years ago, when she won the inaugural WBO Atomweight title bout, at the age of 44. The win saw her becoming the oldest Japanese world champion and subsequent defenses have seen her extend that record, though she has began to show her age at times, notably in her last two bouts.
Whilst Ikeyama is the champion it's fair to describe Hanagata as a world class fighter herself. In fact Hanagata was very unlucky last year not to claim the IBF female Light Flyweight title and holds a win over current world champion Yuko Kuroki. She has also given Momo Koseki one of her toughest bouts.
At her best Ikeyama was a busy fighter. She wasn't the strongest or most powerful but she was like the duracell bunny and kept unloading shots at an impressive rate. It was that work rate,and speed, that has helped her become a world champion at such a late stage in her career.
Like the champion Hanagata is also a high output fighter, she's a naturally more powerful fighter and one who is significantly lower than the champion. She has been found flagging in the later rounds of bouts but with her youth and fast starting mentality she could be a real problem for Ikeyama.
This bout looks almost certain to be a fast paced war from the off, though unfortunately for Ikeyama she is the naturally smaller, weaker and older fighting, suggesting that she may well be overwhelmed by the challenger, we we suspect will claim the title here.
Professional boxing has spread to almost every country out there as the search for global stars and a new market of fans continues to go on. This coming Sunday we see another country added to the long list of others that have hosted world title bouts, that country is Sri Lanka.
The bout in question will see Japanese veteran Nao Ikeyama (16-3-1, 4) defending her WBO Atomweight title against experienced Filipino Jujeath Nagaowa (13-15-1, 8). The bout is, obviously, an historic one given the host nation of the bout, and is one that is likely to receive more attention due to it's historical status than anything regarding it, such as the fighters involved.
The champion is a 46 year old who is really enjoying an Indian summer in her career. She turned pro back in 2003, as a 34 year old “whippersnapper”, fighting outside of the remit of the JBC, who at the time didn't sanction female boxing. Despite struggling to get recognition early in her career she did manage to claim the JWBC 102lb title and the WIBA Minimumweight title.
After running up a 10-1-1 (4) record Ikeyama faced her biggest test, the then WBC Atomweight champion Momo Koseki. Koseki showed the difference in ability dominating the then 39 year old Ikeyama, who struggled to win a round. That was following by 3 more fights in around 19 months, including another loss to talented Korean fighter Ji Hyun Park, in a fight for an IFBA title.
Having moved to 12-3-1 (4) by the end of 2010 Ikeyama then vanished from the boxing for 3 years before resurfacing in 2013 and beginning a remarkable rise which has seen her claim the WBO world title, courtesy of a victory over Jessebelle Pagaduan, and secure two defences.
Despite her age the champion is a talented fighter with good timing, good stamina, a wonderful will to win and a steely toughness. She's not a big puncher but her work rate seems to make up for that and unlike many older fighters it doesn't seem that father time has taken too much from her, yet. Saying that however there is always a chance that she could “get old over-night” and suddenly look like a shot fighter.
At 28 years older the challenger has a significant age advantage, however looking at her record she does look like a very limited title challenger, in fact she has one of the worst records of any recent title challenger. Saying that however records only tell part of the story, especially with Filipino fighters like Nagaowa.
Nagaowa has been a professional boxer since 2006 and has faced a veritable who's who. Included in those that she has fought are the likes of Shindo Go, Samson Tor Buamas, Saemi Hanagata, Ju Hee Kim, Teeraporn Pannimit, Naomi Togashi, Momo Koseku, Ji Hyun Park, Mari Ando and Louisa Hawton. Whilst the only one of those that she beat was Hanagata she was also unlucky against Kim and gave both Hawton and Ando problems.
In the ring Nagaowa is aggressive and tough. She's not the most skilled, and often depends on will as opposed to skill, but can be a real handful, as Kim found out. Her style can be neutralised by real world class fighters but those outside of that top level will always struggle with her, and importantly she has been improving through her career, even if the results don't show it.
For Ikeyama a win is expected, but, as mentioned, she is giving up a lot of age to the challenger who could force the pace and action and really force the champion to dig deep. If Ikeyama can control the pace she wins this comfortably, however if Nagaowa can close the distance and force the fight then this will be a brilliant way to begin professional boxing in Sri Lanka.
In 2014 we saw veteran fighter Nao Ikeyama (15-3-1, 4) become the inaugural WBO Atomweight champion at the advanced age of 44. To win the title Ikeyama easily out worked, out fought, out boxed and out battled Filipino Jessebelle Pagaduan, despite the fact Pagaduan was more than a decade younger than Ikeyama. Last September Ikeyama recorded the first defence of her title, just days after she 45, by narrowly but clearly beating Mase Akitaya. On February 28th she will hope to bag her second defence as she again takes on a much younger foe and attempts to battle back against father time and mother nature.
The much younger foe will be 24 year old Filipino challenger Norj Guro (7-3-1, 4) who will be fighting in her first “Big 4” world title bout and although she is much younger than the champion she is still viewed as the notable under-dog.
Although the champion is 45 she is full of desire and energy that belie her years. As well as her brilliant engine she is also tough and has shared the ring with several notable fighters, including Nanako Kikuchi, Ayaka Miya, Krisztina Belinszky and Momo Koseki, and has a career dating back to 2003. The desire to be a world champion drove her to winning her title and that same desire will see her doing all she can to keep it for as long as possible.
It's hard to say too much about Guro in terms of what she's like as a fighter due to next to no footage of her being available however we can get a read of her from her opposition and her record.
The Filipino started her career 5-0 (4) though all 5 of those bouts came against debutants. Her running came to an end when she faced her first notable opponent, Japan's Riyo Togo, who stopped her in 4 rounds. Since then Guro has gone 3-2-1 with her wins coming against a debutant and a 0-1 fighter whilst her losses have come to the only fighters with more than a single bout of experience.
Going on what we know of the two fighters it's hard to see anything but a clear win for Ikeyama who should retain her title with out too many worries. The only worry we have for Ikeyama is her age and there is a chance she could “get old over-night”. There is a chance of that but it's slim and even if that happens we still suspect she'll know enough trick to over-come Guro.
Earlier this year Japanese veteran Nao Ikeyama (14-3-1, 4) created history in several ways. She became the inaugural WBO Atomweight champion and, as far as we are aware, she also became the oldest first time champion in history, aged 43. On September 20th she will attempt to make the first defence of that title and become one of the oldest champions to defend a belt as she takes on fellow Japanese fighter Masae Akitaya (9-4-2, 3).
Having turned 44 by fight night Ikeyama will certainly be a fighter who knows her career is coming to an end. Last time out however she really shocked us by dominating the significantly younger Jessebelle Pagaduan, who was just 29 at the time. Strangely that bout seemed to tell us more about Pagaduan than it did about Ikeyama who had struggled in her 2 previous bouts and hadn't "dominated" an opponent in years.
Although skilled and with a surprisingly good engine we really can't ignore the age of Ikeyama who is as determined as they come but really "getting on" and battling mother nature, father time and her opponents. That is a trio that have defeated better fighters than Ikeyama in the past.
As for Akitaya, who herself is 36, her record is also blotchy in recent fights though she has, on the whole, been fighting at a higher level than Ikeyama. Those recent bouts have seen Akitaya suffer 2 losses to WBA Atomweight champion Ayaka Miyao and a draw with Saemi Hanagata as well as wins over some limited Thai visitors where were little more than fodder for Akitaya.
Akitaya is certainly crude though always comes to fight and has given Miyao one of her toughest fights. At 36 and with just 6 rounds in the last 19 months however some would ask just how much rust will be on the challenger.
Interesting there is another sub story to this fight. Not only is Akitaya attempting to claim a world title in her third attempt and Ikeyema looking for her first defence but Akitaya is also looking for revenge for a 2010 loss to Ikeyama in a very close 6 round bout. It may not mean much though it could be that extra incentive needed to bring out the best in the challenger.
With both women having been written off and having serious question marks over them going into this fight it's a very hard one to call. Ikeyama is the more skilled when she's on form though you need to wonder just how much the bout with Pagaduan flattered her. For us that bout really was an aberration and suggested that the Filipino was very poor as opposed to Ikeyama being something special. With that in mind we are going to favour Akitaya with her extra youth to over-come Ikeyama, it's a coin toss given their previous result but we'll be going with the challenger via a narrow decision victory in what we expect could be a surprisingly fun contest.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
When we talk about history we can split it in to two things. Those things that are remembered and spoken about as something great or memorable, and those things that only a hardcore fan has any interest in. We imagine this Saturdays WBO Atomweight title fight will belong in that second column, despite being the first ever WBO Atomweight title fight.
The WBO, following in the footsteps of the WBA and the WBC, have now started to recognise the 102lb Atomweight division. It's a division which has given us champions like Momo Koseki, Ayaka Miyao and Mari Ando and this weekend we see Jessebelle Pagaduan (6-0, 4) and Nao Ikeyama (13-3-1, 4) attempting to become the latest Atomweight world title holder.
The unbeaten Pagaduan,from the Philippines is an ambitious 29 year old looking to win a world title in just her 7th professional bout. Sure that's not a record for female boxing it's still ambitious and a sign that she knows she has to make up for lost time, especially considering that she's not the most active of fighters with just 6 bouts in 2 years from her debut.
Fighting from the southpaw stance Pagaduan is naturally heavy handed. Sure her competition, so far, has been poor but she's far from a poor fighter and in fact he biggest problem so far has been with the with the 102lb weight division as opposed to any of her opponents thus far.
Whilst the Filipino is unbeaten and in her physical prime the same cannot possibly be said of Ikeyama who 44 years old, has fought just once in the last 3 years and last scored a win of note 4 years ago when she defeated Masae Akitaya. Sure she has the more proven record and the more notable victories but she's certainly a fighter a long way removed from any of those big wins.
At her best Ikeyama was world class and her opponents read like a who's who of the Atomweight division. Momo Koseki, Ayaka Miyao, Akitaya, Ji Hyun Park. Unfortunately we can't possibly think she's even a shadow of the fighter she once was. In fact if anything she's probably "even older" in terms of boxing years than her 44 actual years, especially considering she has to make 102lbs, an incredibly low weight for this fight.
Ikeyama has always been tough, and she'll need to be tough again here to see out the distance though unfortunately for her we don't see her legs holding out for 10 rounds against a younger, bigger more energetic fighter in the form of Pagaduan who we think will either take a wide decision or a very late stoppage with father time being too much for Ikeyama.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.