This coming Monday we'll see OPBF female Featherweight champion Wakako Fujiwara (8-3-2, 3) return to the ring as she hunts her second defense, and takes on the once beaten Yoshie Wakasa (6-1, 2) at the EDION Arena Osaka. On paper this bout does show the lack of depth in female boxing, but that's not to take away from a bout that should be very entertaining and hotly contested.
The champion is 38 but has proven to be a late bloomer. She was stopped on debut, and was 1-2-1 after 4 bouts, but since then she has gone 7-1-1, with her only loss in that stretch coming to world champion Hyun Mi Choi this past June. Not only has Fujiwara's record turned around but she's go one to avenge one of her losses, stopping Kana Fukuda in 2017 to avenge her debut loss, and has scored two wins over veteran Kimika Miyoshi, a 3 weight OPBF champion. Unfortunately for her she's what we'd describe as a "battler", with a lack of world class power. She can box, but tends to find herself involved in wars on the inside, which are entertaining but she up her lack of boxing IQ. Like many female fighters at this level, skills seem to come second behind work rate, which is fun to watch, but does magnify the difference between the fringe contenders and the truly world class.
Aged 31 Wakasa is no youngster herself, but she is still significantly younger than the champion. She debuted more than 5 years ago and began here career with 6 straight wins, though they were mostly against limited opponents with the best being Asami Jinnari and Tomoko Okuda. last time out she stepped up, massively, to take on Miyo Yoshida and suffered a wide decision loss to Yoshida in a Japanese female Bantamweight title fight. When you consider that she's going up from 118lbs, for that bout, to 126lbs for the bout, that's a big ask for Wakasa, who will be up against her second best opponent so far.
There's a chance that, over the next few years, Wakasa will cement herself as a title level fighter. Here however we see her taking on someone in form. who's, stronger, bigger and more experienced. Fujiwara is unlikely to ever win a world title herself, but we see her taking a very, very comfortable decision over her fellow Japanese fighter here, even if she does end up resorting to using her size to take the win.
Prediction - UD8 Fujiwara
Unification bouts in boxing are rare, whether they are bouts to unify world titles, or regional titles they are still rare. Even more so when they involve relative professional novices. With that in mind there's a bout on March 13th to get really excited about, especially if you follow the female boxing scene, as OPBF Atomweight champion Eri Matsuda (2-0) takes on JBC counter part Nanae Suzuki (8-2-1, 1), with the two women looking to join the most notable regional title with the Japanese title.
Of the two it's Matsuda who is the more interesting. She was a former amateur standout who has already impressed, beating a former Japanese title challenger on debut, taking a competitive win over Sana Hazuki, before schooling Minayo Kei over 8 rounds to claim the OPBF title. The 24 year old from Team 10 count is one of the smoothest female boxers on the planet, with really well rounded skills, a very sharp punches and lovely movement. She's a rangy southpaw who knows how to use the ring, though when she needs to bite down and fight she has shown she can do that too.
Despite being a professional novice Matsuda has already fought 14 rounds of professional boxing. She has proven her stamina over 8 rounds already and will not worry about the 8 round distance against Suzuki, have done 8 rounds at a good pace against Kei.
With 11 professional bouts under her belt Suzuki is the much more experienced fighter, and she has already been involved in 4 Japanese title fights, going unbeaten in those 4 bouts. Her first title back, back in December 2017, saw her fight to a draw with the previously mentioned Suzuki, though she would take the title in a rematch 3 months later. Since then she has defended the bout against Akari Arase and Sayaka Aoki. Despite having a couple of losses and a draw on her record already she has actually beaten every one she has fought, avenging losses to Aoki and Yumiko Shimoooka.
Watching Suzuki we see a relatively basic fighter. That's not to say she's bad, but she is basic, with a good work rate, a pretty solid looking right hand and aggressive mentality, coming forward behind her jab. Technically there is a lack of that crispness we see with Matsuda, but she has got a battlers mentality, coming forward and letting her hands go up close.
Suzuki has the type of style we see bothering Matsuda, a come forward style that involves working in the pocket. Thankfully for Matsude the limitations of Suzuki mean that she probably won't actually have too many issues here. If Suzuki was a bit quicker, a bit sharper and a bit lighter on her feet she could be a problem. Instead we see Suzuki being too sharp, too quick and establishing her range, tempo and jab en route to a wide 8 round decision win.
Whilst many boxing fans will be turning their attention to the FujisanMesse to watch Ryuji Hara's OPBF Minimumweight bout with Donny Mabao their is also an OPBF female title bout in the IMP Hall in Osaka. This bout, an over looked one for the OPBF Super Flyweight title, will see the once beaten Tomoko Kawanishi (8-1, 4) fighting against Thailand's Jubjang Lookmakarmwan (3-6).
Kawanishi is the defending champion and will be making the second defense of her title having won it last year by stopping
Although relatively unknown by boxing fans at large Kawanishi is a talented and brave fighter who has already shared the ring with some very credible fighters, including Riyo Togo, the only woman to have beaten her, and the then unbeaten Tamao Ozawa who was stopped inside a round.
With very credible power, good skills and real determination Kawanishi is going to be hard to beat and in fact only Naoko Fujioka would be clearly favoured over her in regards to Asian fighters in and and around the 115lb division.
In Jubjang we have a fighter whose hopes really can be written off before the first bell. The 25 year old Thai has lost her last 6 bouts and is currently without a win since August 2008. This would suggest that Jubjang isn't really suitable for an OPBF title fight, especially not with someone as talented as Kawanishi.
Although we're sure the Thai will put up a good fight we can't help but view this as an easy "gimme" defense for the Japanese fighter who is likely to move into world class in the next year or two.
Professional records rarely tell us the the whole deal about a fighters experience in the ring. A great example of is that Saensak Muangsurin, who took just 3 fights win win a world or Vasyl Lomachenko who came amazingly close to winning a world title in just his second professional bout.
The reason that some elite fighters don't need numerous professional fights before stepping up in class is usually because they have a lot of experience in something similar to professional boxing. In Muangsurin's case if was Muay Thai whilst in Lomachenko's case it was his amateur amateur boxing career.
With that in mind you need to realise that Yoshikawa Nana (2-0), pictured, is no typical 2-0 fighter. She is, instead, a very accomplished amateur stand out who knows that time is against her and that she can't waste time with "developmental fights" to improve her skills. Instead she has had to fight in "live" fights early in her career and hope that she can rely on her amateur schooling to help her through the problematic patches of a fight.
Nana's record of 2-0 as a pro needs to be considered alongside her amateur record, which is a reported to have consisted of 77 fights including 55 victories and appearances at two world amateur championships. Nana may be a professional novice but she's a boxing veteran. Sadly though her amateur experience has come at a cost and she is now 35 years old with no more time to spend developing her skills. She has had 2 bouts and must now get on the fast track to success, or failure.
For Nana her next bout is a sink or swim contest as she moves up from fighting novices to fighting for the OPBF Light Flyweight title, albeit a title vacated by Naoko Shibata.
Nana, the OPBF #2, goes from fighting opponents no wins between them to taking on former world title challenger Krikanok Islandmuaythai (4-3-1, 2) who is, herself, ranked #3 by the OPBF.
Krikanok may not be that well known but she has mixed in great company, much better than that of Nana. After starting her career 4-0-1 she was unfortunate enough to be sent in to a match up she simply wasn't ready for against WBC Atomweight champion Momo Koseki. Koseki showed the gulf in skills and experience between herself and Krikanok by stopping the Thai in just 5 rounds. Since then Krikanok has lost back to back fights to Masae Akitaya and Kanittha Kokietgym. Admittedly though both of those women are world class, unfortunately though Krikanok that is 3 straight losses on her record.
Although more experienced than Nana with 8 bouts under her belt and the experience of a world title fight already under her belt Kirkanok won't be seen as the favourite. Instead it will be Nana, with her amateur background will be expected to win, a view we share with many out there.
Although Nana has a lack of world class power she does have very advanced skills for such a novice and it's those skills that we imagine will take her to the OPBF title. Hopefully, if she wins, she will continue with aggressive match ups and will manage to move on to a world title fight in the next year or two before she is physically on the slide. She has the skills to be a top fighter but father time is certainly against her.
(Picture courtesy of http://www.ynana.jp/)
The Minimumweight division in female boxing seems to be widely dominated by Asian fighters. We recently saw Mako Yamada announce herself on the world stage by winning the WBO female world title, we also saw Mari Ando win the WBC title late last year and in the past fighters like Naoko Fujioka and Etsuka Tada have dominated the division.
With that in mind the division is an important one to Asian fighters, especially those form Japan who appear to have a genuine desire to become the best female fighters at 105lbs.
With that in mind we feel that there is more to the upcoming contest between Saemi Hanagata (8-4-2, 3) and Satomi Nishimura (6-0, 1) than just the OPBF Minimumweight title that both women will be trying to claim. We feel that this bout is more about the winner planting themselves as a top contender in the division and making a claim for being a future world title contender.
Of the two fighters it's Hanagata who probably has more to lose. She has the more damaged record already and will know that one more set back could well send her well back down the rankings and she would likely lose her #5 WBC ranking with a loss, whilst a win would certainly boost her place from #13 with the WBA.
The reason Hanagata has got a somewhat muddied record is down to the fact she has faced several good fighters. These have included former world title challengers such as Jujeath Nagaowa, Masae Akitaya and Yuko Kuroki as well as current world champion Momo Koseki. Those fighters, between them, would mess up anyone's record in the lowest weight divisions.
Whilst Hanagata has lost to the likes of Koseki and drawn with Kuroki and Akitaya she has also experienced what it's like to fight some top fighters. Those fights will have done more good in terms of her development and helping her improve than 14 fights against complete novices who lined up to lose. They will also have instilled a real grit and confidence in her that she will, one day, become a champion herself despite failing in previous title fights.
With an unbeaten record Nishimura looks better on paper than Hanagata though unfortunately when you look beneath the surface of Nishimura's record you see how deceiving it is. Her 6 bouts so far haven't come against anyone of note and in fact 4 of her 6 opponents have been debutants. Between all 6 their combined record has been 11-10-1 with Thai journey woman Nongbua Lookprai-aree accounting for 8 of the wins and 9 of the losses.
Unfortunately for Nishimura she hasn't been given any sort of experience building fights. Instead she's been given record padding fights. That's all well and good when you're young but at 33 years old that lack of development tends to come back and bite you.
With the difference in experience levels it's hard to pick against Hanagata who may have won just 1 of her last 5 but she has been very competitive in those she didn't win, including the Koseki fight, one of Koseki's toughest. Nishimura will likely start well but Hanagata's experience will see her figure out Nishimura early on and beat her down the stretch with Nishimura wondering why Hanagata is hitting her back unlike her previous 6 opponents.
The winner will likely only be a win or two away from a world title fight so we'd keep a serious eye on the result of this one.
So far this year boxing has been relatively disappointing. Sure we've had a few highlights but on the whole it has been pretty poor with very little in terms of notable matches. Thankfully this changes, in a big way, in March as fights start to come thick and fast at every level.
One of the many interesting looking female bouts takes place on March 7th as the hard hitting youngster Honey Mae Bermoy (6-2, 6), AKA Honey Katsumata, attempts to claim the vacant OPBF female Bantamweight title. Unfortunately for Bermoy she'll not be handed the title and will instead have to go through former world champion Tenkai Tsunami (19-9, 8) in a bout that is likely to give Bermoy the toughest test of her career so far.
Bermoy, aged 20, has proven so far to have venom in her hands. Despite turning professional at just 17 years old she managed to record back-to-back stoppages to begin her career in her native Philippines.
In less than 3 months Bermoy had moved her record to 3-1 (3) and had shown a natural fighting mindset even though she lacked boxing knowledge. The lack of boxing fundamentals saw her falling to 3-2 when her power failed to stop the naturally bigger Leslie Domingo at the start of 2013.
Thankfully for Bermoy her style, power and heart caught the eye of Japanese outfit Katsumata gym who have helped her train in recent bouts and helped her turn her 3-2 (3) record into a 6-2 (6) record which has included a very notable stoppage over Saki Yamada, the older sister of current WBO Minimumweight champion Mako Yamada.
Although Saki was inexperienced as a boxer she was a well schooled former kick boxer and Bermoy was supposed to be the next stepping stone in the development of the young Japanese fighter. Bermoy hadn't read the script and managed to score the upset.
Whilst Bermoy is really just a novice with 8 bouts and 25 professional rounds, none of which have been fought in a title fight, Tsunami is a genuine veteran of the ring. She has been in 28 bouts, she has fought in 8 "world" title fights, a total of 196 professional rouds and is a former WBA Super Flyweight champion.
Tsunami made her debut almost a decade ago and fought her way up the rankings before the JBC even recognised female boxing. By the time she had her first bout sanctioned by the JBC, in 2008, she had participated in 15 contests, winning 12 of them.
Since the JBC has recognised female boxing Tsunami has fought a further 13 times with several of those bouts taking place on enemy turf. Unfortunately it's been Tsunami's willingness to fight on the road and to only fight the best which has seen her drop from 12-3 to 19-9. On paper losing 6 of your last 13 bouts is awful but she had been in with a veritable who's who of female boxing and battles Naoko Yamguchi, Janeth Perez, Mariana Juaurez, Zulina Munoz, Jessica Chavez and Arely Mucino losing to all 6 women who have proven themselves as world class.
Although she has 9 losses on her record Tsunami's last 6 losses have come to genuinely elite level fighters. We don't think that Bermoy is anywhere near that level at the moment. The young Filipino may develop into a top level fighter somewhere down the line with the right experience building fights and developmental work in the ring and in the gym, though we don't imagine that's going to happen any time soon. In fact if anything her lack of experience is going to prove to be her major undoing here against Tsunami who will look to establish herself as the boss early before taking Bermoy into deep water and drowning her.
We do think Bermoy has the potential to win a title in the future, but at this moment in time she's jumping up from domestic level to fringe world level and we think she'll find that that jump is far too difficult for her at this particular moment.
Will Honey Mae survive a Tsunami? Our guess, no chance.
(Picture courtesy of http://www.kadoebi.com/, Tsunami and Bermoy feature
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.