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
On February 19th Japanese fans get to see two of their female world champions defending their titles. One of those bouts is a revolting mismatch for the WBC Atomweight title as the brilliant Momo Koseki defends her belt against Aisah Alico. Thankfully however the other bout is a much more interesting contest as IBF female Light Flyweight champion Naoko Shibata (13-3, 4) defends her belt for the 3rd time and battles against fellow Japanese fighter Saemi Hanagata (9-5-2, 4). We won't pretend this is an amazing match up however it's an intriguing one against a weak but improving champion and an under-rated challenger who is much better than her records suggests.
The 33 year old Shibata has been mixing with top fighters for much of her career. Early on she beat both Yuko Kuroki and Ayaka Miyao, both current world champion, and although she did collect some losses they all came to top tier fighter in the form of Naoko Fujioka, Etsuko Tada and Ibeth Zamora Silva.
Despite being in her 30's Shibata has gotten better as she's gotten older and right now she seems to be in her prime as she's developed not only her boxing but also her confidence. That's really all come together since she won the IBF world title back in November 2013 when she beat Alondra Garcia in a very competitive test. In her first defence she easily over-came the tough but limited Guadalupe Martinez and most recent she stopped Ana Arrazola in a genuinely outstanding result.
Aged 30 Hanagata will be fighting in her first world title bout however she is better than her record indicates and has faced top tied competition thus far. Among her former opponents are Momo Koseki, the current WBC Atomweight champion, Kumiko Seeser Ikehara, the WBA female Minimumweight champion and Yuko Kuroki, the current WBC Minimumweight champion.
As well as her tough match ups Hanagata is also a former OPBF Minimumweight champion and a fighter moving up in weight, shaking off the shackles of the 105lb division in the hope of becoming a better 3lbs north of where she has been competing so far. It could well be that that additional 3lbs allows Hanagata to hit harder or to fight at a higher pace.
Coming into the bout Shibata has to be the favourite. She has the edge in experience, level of experience and also the champions advantage which bring her into the bout full of confidence. Hanagata however will not be a walk over. She will feel this is her big opportunity, her chance to shine and her chance to become a world champion.
With that said we're expecting a battle of wills here with a lot of leather being exchanged. The differences between two women however are stylistic and Shibata is certainly the better pure boxer which we suspect will allow her to disrupt and and eventually out point Hanagata, who we think will start fast but fall away down the stretch to lose a very competitive decision.
(Image courtesy of http://boxmob.jp)
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.