This weekend is a huge one for boxing but it actually starts a little early, and there's a very notable female world title bout this coming Friday, as Japan's first ever 5 weight world champion Naoko Fujioka (17-2, 7) defends the WBA female Flyweight title against interim champion Irma Sanchez (30-7-1, 8).
Aged 43 Fujioka is the queen of Asian boxing. She debuted in 2009 and despite only having 19 career bouts she has managed to win world titles at Minimumweight, Light Flyweight, Flyweight, Super Flyweight and Bantamweight. Not only has she collected titles but also names, scoring notable victories over Naoko Shibata, Anabel Ortiz, Naoko Yamaguchi, Mariana Juarez and Shindo Go. Even her losses actually enhance reputation with one being a competitive decision loss in Germany to Susi Kentikian whilst the other was a controversial decision defeat to Jessica Chavez in Mexico.
At her best Fujioka is a bit of a brawler but is also a very capable boxer-puncher. She's a little slow on her feet at times, and defensively a little open at times, but takes a shot well, closes distance brilliantly and tends to simple grind opponents down with a high work rate. At 43 and having not fought since last December there are question marks about her age and ring rust, but she looked fantastic against Yokasta Valle last time out, and has had relatively long breaks in the past with no ill effects. In fact it could be argued that the breaks between fights actually helps her with longevity and could explain how, at the age of 43, she's in such good shape and able to move between weights with such ease.
Mexican challenger Sanchez is 30 years old, but is already a 12 year veteran having debuted in 2006. Her 38 fight career, twice as long as Fujioka's, has been spent entirely in Mexico though she has regularly mixed with world class fighters, including Mariana Juarez, Katia Guterrez, Jessica Chavez, Ibeth Zamora Silva, and Carina Moreno. Whilst she has lost most of her biggest bouts she did win the WBA “interim” female Flyweight title last time out, setting up this bout, and is certainly a very accomplished, experienced and talented fighter.
Watching Sanchez is looks a little wider, a little slower and clumsier than the Japanese fighter. She is younger, but looks more rough around the edges than Fujioka, who seems to have the edge in size, skills, power and speed. Despite the disadvantages that Sanchez has going against her she hasn't been stopped in almost 11 years and will feel that with her youth and hunger she will be able to walk through Fujioka's shots and win a war of attrition, as she's had to do in the past.
Given the style that Sanchez uses we suspect she's going to have a war with Fujioka, but unfortunately for the Mexican we don't see that paying off well for her, and in fact we suspect that the power and accuracy of Fujioka will be too much for the challenger to survive with, with Sanchez being stopped late in to the contest. We know Sanchez can fight, be here she's up against someone who think is better in every way. There is a risk that Fujioka gets old, but we don't see that happening, and instead we see her simply grinding down Sanchez to either a very wide decision win or a late stoppage, in a fan friendly but one sided contest.
This coming Sunday the attention of boxing fans will be on Malaysia where Manny Pacquiao takes on Lucas Matthysse to headline a quadruple header. The same day there's also a notable show in Korea, headlined by WBA female Super Featherweight champion Hyun Mi Choi (15-0-1, 4), who defends her title against Argentinian challenger Mayra Gomez (18-7, 4).
The 27 year old Choi has long been a fighter that we have spoken highly about. The North Korean born fighter has been one of the few shining lights of Korean boxing over the last decade. She won her first world title, the WBA female Featherweight title, on her debut in 2008 and since then has fought most of her career at world level, with only a few bouts that haven't featured a WBA world title being affiliated with them. Although she has fought at world level through her career she hasn't got the public attention that other female fighters have had in recent years. It's a shame that the boxing world hasn't given her some of the attention it's given the likes of Katie Taylor, Claressa Shields and Christina Hammer, but she certainly belongs in and around the conversation as one of the most significant female boxers in the sport tonight.
In the ring Choi is a joy to watch. She's a pure boxer who likes to fight at distance, using her long arms and height to keep opponents at the end of her jab, and choose when to trade on the inside. Unlike some fighters she's a very good athlete, as well as a good boxer, and she has a genuine boxing brain. On the inside Choi can be given trouble, and we have seen that a few times, but getting inside on Choi is a tough task in it's self as she's smart, quick and rangy.
The Argentinian challenger is much less established than the Korean, despite being the older fighter at 30 years old. She has mostly fought in Argentina, where there is a strong female boxing scene, but has travelled to both Mexico and Finland for fights, losing in world title fights to Jackie Nava and Eva Wahlstrom on the road. Given the fact that Gomez has fought fighters like Nava and Wahlstrom she won't be intimidated by Choi, but but she will clearly be the under-dog and actually comes into this bout with 4 losses in her last 2, including a very worrying defeat to Lilian Dolores Silva last time out.
Footage of Gomez shows her to be a rather slow and wide looking fighter. She looks happy to move around the ring and try to box but she doesn't look great and she also looks very small for a female Super Featherweight, probably due to the fact she has fought much of her career way down at Bantamweight and Super Bantamweight. She's proven to be tough, with her only only stoppage coming to Nava, but that's not going to help her win here against Choi.
We're expecting Choi to box on the move, use her reach and keep the shorter, clumsier, slower Gomez at the end of her straight punch, en route to a clear and wide decision win for the champion. Choi really shouldn't struggle at all here to make an easy defense.
Korean boxing used to be something special, with fighters like Jung Koo Chang, Myung Woo Yuh and Sung Kil Moon being stars of yesteryear. Now a days however the scene is a bit of a shambles, mired in political wrangling and a relative lack of money. There is however one shining beacon in the country for boxing, and that is female star Hyun Mi Choi (14-0-1, 4), a North Korean refugee who has carved out a remarkable career and deserves to, one day, have her life documented on film. This weekend Choi looks to continue her amazing career as she seeks the next defense of her WBA female Super Featherweight title, in a bout against Mexican challenger Jessica Gonzalez (7-3-2-3, 1).
Choi's career began when she was a little girl, being scouted in North Korea ahead of the 2008 Olympics in China. The plan from the North Korean government was to have her, as a teenager, compete in the Games and look to put their country in the limelight. Those plans were thwarted when female boxing missed out on Beijing and not long afterwards Choi and her family would defect, and end up in Seoul.
In Seoul Choi would have to battle with the prejudices of being from Pyongyang, though did so whilst continuing to box, making her mark on the Korean amateur scene before debuting in 2008, aged 17! Not only did Choi debut at the 17 but, remarkably, she also won a world title on her debut, defeating Chunyan Xu for the WBA Featherweight title, creating history with the win. She would hold that title until until 2013, when she decided to move up in weight and quickly win the "interim" WBA Super Featherweight title. She would later be upgraded to full champion, and has subsequently defended the title a number times so far.
In the ring Choi is a well schooled boxer, with some lovely movement, a lot of very nice straight punches and a good boxing brain. She can fight on the inside, though it's clearly the weakest part of her game and she does prefer to hold rather than have an up and close battle of attrition. From range she's really fantastic but a fighter who can get in her face can give her problems, and she has shown some issues with stamina late in bouts. She also doesn't have fight ending power, which has caused a number of her bouts to go the distance, despite being very 1-sided.
Mexican fighter Gonzalez is much less well established than the Korean, but has had an interesting career. She has competed in a reality TV show, which took place way back in 2011 and did score back-to-back wins over Irma Garcia and Yazmin Rivas, to claim the "interim" WBC female Bantamweight title, which she defended once. Sadly since beating Rivas Gonzalez has gone 2-2-2, suffering losses to Liliana Palmera and a rematch with Yazmin Rivas. She has also fought to Estrella Valverde and Melissa St Vil. She has also moved up from Bantamweight to Super Featherweight in recent times.
In the ring Gonzalez can certainly fight. Her technical skills are limited, and her punches are wide slaps, but she seems happy to have a brawl. Often she fights off the back foot, but can be dragged into a slugfest. In many ways it's the slugging it out that could give Choi problems, but it should be noted that Gonzalez really lacks power, with just a single stoppage win so far. She looks tough, and rugged, but lacks power, speed and sharpness, which she would need to compete against Choi.
What we're expecting to see here is Choi boxing at range, using her natural size advantages and her speed to out box Gonzalez, out manoeuvrer the challenger and and take a wide decision without too many issues. Stylistically Gonzalez looks made to order, with her wide offense and her relative lack of power, and although Choi won't be expected to blast her out, it would be a surprise to see the Korean losing more than a round or two.
In recent months we've seen female boxing rise in profile, with Olympics like Katie Taylor, Nicola Adams, Claressa Shields and Marlen Esparza all making waves in the West. It's certainly a good time if you want to become interested in female boxing, and it seems like we're at the start of a new era in term of the professionalism of women's boxing. Despite that none of the top former amateur stars managed to make a debut quite like Hyun Mi Choi (13-0-1, 4), who claimed a world title on her debut back in 2008. This coming week Choi looks to continue her second world title reign and defend the WBA female Super Featherweight title. In the opposite corner to Choi will be Japanese challenger Kimika Miyoshi (13-9-1, 5).
As mentioned Choi won a world title on debut, though that's only a small part of her battle which has seen her escape the North Korean regime, win a world title as a teenager, become a 2-weight world champion and evidence that refugees aren't a bad thing, even when they are escaping your biggest national threat. The talented Choi claimed the WBA female Featherweight title on debut in 2008 and then moved on to become the WBA female Super Featherweight champion when she out grew the smaller weight class.
Although not a major international star Choi has recorded numerous notable wins. They include victories over Tenku Tsubasa, Claudi Andrea Lopez, Sandy Tsagouris, Shannon O'Connell, Fujin Raika and Chika Mizutani. She not only has an impressive record but also solid skills, with an out-side fighter mentality, and the frame to fight to that mind set. She's got under-rated speed, nice combinations and hits hard enough to keep very solid fighters honest, whilst also having proven world class stamina. Also at the age of 26 she's still maturing and still improving, and is likely several years from really reaching her prime.
Aged 33 Miyoshi has been around the block, and although she debuted only 5 months before Choi she has had a much rougher and tougher career. She has suffered a number of losses, including stoppages to Riyo Togo and Tomoko Kawanishi, but after a 3-5-1 start she has found her groove going 10-4 in her last 14 bouts. Those 10 wins include notable victories over Tenku Tsubasa, Riyo Togo, Chika Mizutani, and Kai Johnson. They have seen her become a 3-weight OPBF female champion and dip her toes at world level, with losses to Yazmin Rivas and Shannon O'Connell.
In the ring Miyoshi is the type of fighter who comes to fight. She's not the most skilled, or the most naturally gifted in terms of size, strength or speed, but she is a fighter with a pressure style, a lot of aggression and a real will to win. She can be out boxed, she can be hurt and she can be stopped, but she'll never just turn up and lie down. As a result she'll be coming in to this bout with the attitude of forcing her fight on to Choi and could be a real handful, though a win here would be the biggest and best of her career by some margin.
With Miyoshi being a pressure fighter and Choi being a boxer it's fair to say that Miyoshi will be backing up Choi, a lot, but the Korean is used to that and will look to use her more technically sound boxing skills to good use. What we expect to see is for Miyoshi to come forward, and Choi to out box her on the back foot with her more rounded and natural skills. There will be moments when Miyoshi gets inside and roughs up the champion, but they will be few and far between with Choi taking a clear decision after 10 rounds
Over the last few years we've seen a number of Japanese fights become 3-weight world champions, with Hozumi Hasegawa becoming the latest last year when he claimed the WBC Super Bantamweight title. This coming Monday we see one Japanese fighter attempt to become the first 4-weight champion from the country, and secure their legacy as one of the key female figures in Japanese boxing history. That is the brilliantly talented, exciting and aggressive Naoko Fujioka (15-2, 6), who will look to the add the WBA female Flyweight title to her collection, which includes world titles at Minimumweight, Super Flyweight and Bantamweight. In the opposite corner to the 41 year old Fujioka will be 32 year old Mexican fighter Isabel Millan (18-2-1, 8), with the two women fighting for the vacant title.
Fujioka has been one of the stars of female boxing, particularly in the East. She was a stand out amateur before turning professional in 2009 and quickly raced to a title, claiming the OPBF female Minimumweight title in just her 4th professional title. She would add the WBC female Minimumweight just 2 fights later, beating Anabel Ortiz for the belt. Having out grown the Minimumweight division Fujioka jumped up to Super Flyweight, battered Naoko Yamaguchi for the WBA female Super Flyweight title and then pursued more titles. Unfortunate she has, twice, lost in bouts for Flyweight gold but did claim the WBO female Bantamweight title in 2015 when she beat Hee Jung Yuh.
In the ring Fujioka is an aggressive fighter, who looks for the stoppage but can also box. A bit of a boxer-brawler if you will. She's tough, having take some serious bombs from Shindo Go last year, and determined. Unfortunately she hasn't shown her best outside of Japan, losing 2 of her 3 bouts outside of her homeland. Despite those losses, to Susi Kentikian and Jessica Chavez, Fujioka showed her ability and was competitive with both, and in reality the decision against Chavez was one of the worst in world class female boxing last year.
Whilst Fujioka is a proven fighter, with wins against the likes of Naoko Shibata, Anabel Ortiz, Naoko Yamaguchi, Mariana Juarez and Shindo Go the same cannot be said of Millan. In fact the Mexican has yet to score a major win at genuine world level, though has got some notable ones including a victory last year over Amira Hamzaoui. That win netted Millan the WBF female Flyweight title which she has defended once. When it comes to her most notable bout that was loss, with Millan being stopped by Esmeraldo Moreno in 2014.
Since her loss to Moreno fans have seen Millan go 8-0 (2), though mostly against very limited opposition. She did score a win in France, as mentioned against Hamzaoui, but fighting in Japan against a fighter like Fujioka is a massive step up.
From the footage of Millan she looks like a tall and rangy fighter but one who lacks in terms of skills and ring IQ, rarely setting up her punches and often looking more like a gangly fighter than a trained boxer, throwing looping open shots from outside of range. At the level she's been fighting at that's not been too much of a problem but against a fighter like Fujioka it will be a major issues.
Given what's available of both women it's hard to see anything but a win for Fujioka, in fact we'd be going with Fujioka to stop Millan in the middle rounds with the Japanese fighter simply breaking down Millan with her tenacity and power. If she does that, as we're predicting, then Fujioka will mark her name in the history books as the first Japanese fighter to become a 4-weight world chanmpion.
Earlier this year Japanese fighter Yunoka Furukawa (8-1-2, 6) announced herself on the Oriental scene, claiming the OPBF female Flyweight title with a 7th round stoppage against Christine Latube, and then announced herself on the world scene, claiming the WBA Atomweight title with a 3rd round TKO against Satomi Nishimura. The drop down in weight, of 10lbs, was an impressive feat by it's self but to see how destructive she was at the new weight was a scary thought for the division.
This coming Tuesday Furukawa returns to the ring to make her first defense of her Atomweight title, as she takes on OPBF Female Light Flyweight champion Mika Iwakawa (6-4-1, 2), who drops to Atomweight for her first world title bout.
On paper the bout looks like a mismatch, but in reality it should be a lot more interesting than the records suggest.
Furukawa is a destructive wrecking ball. She's not the smoothest or most skilled boxer but she is a a natural puncher who has stopped her last 4, fighting as high as Flyweight, with notable wins against the likes of Nishimura and Aiko Yamagishi. She's also been in great form, going 7-0 (5) following a 1-1-2 start to her professional career. The early career set backs have all been put behind her and at 22 she looks to be a force for both the present and the future.
Before Furukawa faces some of the more notable fighters at 102lbs, like Momo Koseki, it's clear she needs some more experience and defenses against the likes of Iwakawa will her her develop that experience and build towards the divisional super fights.
The 33 year old Iwakawa has been a professional for around 5 years and although he record is less than stellar she has mixed with some really notable names. That has seen her go 1-0-1 with world chanmpion Kumiko Seeser Ikehara, lose to future champion Mako Yamada and push current champion Nao Ikeyama all the way. She has also lost to brilliant Mexican Brisa Hernandez. Last time out she beat Nonggig Sithjaanart, to claim the OPBF female Light Flyweight title and is looking to build on that win.
Through her career so far Iwakawa has never been stopped, despite facing decent competition, but her lack of power has been an issue and will prove to be on here against Furukawa. She's probably the better “fighter” in terms of skills but the huge disparity in physicality and power is likely to be a real issue for her here.
Whilst Iwakawa is certainly better than her record suggests it's hard to imagine her being able to hang with Furukawa who we suspect will, eventually, stop the challenger, likely in the middle rounds of the bout.
On August 13th Japanese fans get two title bouts, with the more over-looked one being a WBA Atomweight title bout, for the now vacant title belt. The bout will be between 22 year Yunoka Furukawa (7-1-2, 5) and the 33 year old Satomi Nishimura (9-2, 1), and will see the winner picking up a title vacated recently by the brilliant Momo Koseki.
On paper it looks like Furukawa should be the favourite. The younger fighter turned professional in 2012 and fought to a in April that year with Misato Kawaguchi, she then suffered a decision loss to Kei Takenaka but has since gone unbeaten, going 7-0-1. Sadly however when you look through her record there is very little depth to is. Her best win came in February 2015, when she defeated Aiko Yamagishi, with a 4th round TKO. She has also claimed a notable win this year over Christine Latube, however that win is more notable for the fact it was a bout for the OPBF title rather than much about Latube.
Furukawa has won her last 3 by stoppage, though it's really only the win over Yamagishi that actually deserves any attention.
Whilst Furukawa had her record messed up to begin with the same cannot be said of Nishimura who began in 2008 and advanced to 6-0 (1) before taking on her first notable opponent. That opponent was Saemi Hanagata, who stopped Nishimura in the 5th round to claim the OPBF Minimumweight title. Just 7 months later Nishimura would lose again, being stopped by the then WBA Atomweight champion Ayaka Miyao. Since the loss to Miyao she has scored a couple of wins, over-coming Mika Iwakawa and claiming the PABA belt in Thailand against then unbeaten Namphaya Sakpracha.
Although she lacks a big win Nishimura a hasn't embarrassed herself against good opponents, like Hanagata and Miyao, and in fairness to her those losses have proven more than her wins so far.
The bout should be competitive, however we think Nishimura's extra level of competition will help over the finishing line here. Furukawa will likely develop into a better fighter but for now we think Nishimura will simply be that bit too good and that bit too experienced.
Not many fighters win world titles on debut, in fact as far as we're aware only one has, North Korean Hyun Mi Choi (12-0-1, 4) [최현미]. This weekend Choi returns to the ring to defend her WBA female Super Featherweight title as she takes on South African challenger Unathi Myekeni (10-2-1, 4), in a bout that will see the winner also claim the WBF title.
Choi, for those unaware, took part in a massive battle as a teenager, well before she turned professional. That battle was the battle to escape North Korea and since then she has been a South Korean based fighter. Despite battling to have some freedom in her life Choi seemed happy to continue to fight and has made her name as one of the sports most talented female fighters, winning a title on debut and becoming a 2-weight champion in her early 20's.
In the ring Choi is a tall and rangy fighter who uses good technical boxing, a high level of energy and a lot of drive to to out boxing and out work opponents. So far she has come through pretty much every bout with ease, barring a draw in her second professional bout when her team failed to help her even get to the fight on time. She perhaps lacks power but is physically strong, fast and very well schooled.
Whilst we have seen plenty of, and been impressed by, Choi the same cannot be said of Myekeni. The challenger has got some footage out there, albeit much less than there is of Choi, and does look like she could be a handful at the lower weights. Notably however she has typically been fighting at 122lbs, not 130, and has never fought outside of South Africa before.
Whilst the challenger has never fought outside of South Africa she has faced some notable opponents during her 13 fight career. They include Hungarian Renata Szebeledi, who Mykeni beat, and Gabisile Tshabalala, who narrowly beat Myekeni.
From what we have seen of Mykeni she looks “made to order” for Choi. She's a tough and strong fighter but a rather basic one and one that should be easily out boxed by the talented Korean, who we think will be too good, too big and too fast.
Korean boxing is really struggling for traction, and has been for a while. Despite that the country does have some notable fighters and some with really interesting stories. No story matches that of the “Defector Girl Boxer” Hyun Mi Choi (11-0-1, 4) [최현미], the star of the KBA and the current WBA female Super Featherweight champion. In fact Choi's story is one of the best is boxing as a whole and is one of triumphant against adversity as well as the battle for freedom away from an evil dictator. It's a story that perhaps resonates with Cuban fighters but Choi takes it to a new level as she was just a teenager when she, and her family, defected from Pyongyang.
Choi's remarkable story features not only her defection but also her success as a fighter, which includes the amazing achievement of winning a world title on her debut. She's currently a 2-weight world champion, with a 10-0-1 (3) record in world title fights, and will be looking to extend her current reign on March 27th when she faces Colombian puncher Diana Ayala (19-11-4, 13).
The 25 year old Korean is a really talented boxer with a good work rate who likes to keep the fight at range. She's tall, 5'7”, and long for the weight and uses those to her advantage, whilst using using impressive speed. She's technically very solid and although not a big puncher her shots do take a toll on her opponents, who often end up bruised and looking like they have been in a fight.
Whilst Choi does lack massive wins she does have a number of good wins. They include decisions over Tenku Tsubasa, Claudia Andrea Lopez, Shannon O'Connell, Fujin Raika and Chika Mizutani as well as a stoppage over Sandy Tsagouris. Given her lack of experience those wins are very impressive and show the quality of the Korean, who doesn't seem to shirk challenges.
Whilst the champion is unbeaten the challenger has racked up losses, though has been a fighter who has fought on the road before and has acquitted herself well, despite being relatively crude. Like many Colombian's she has a reputation for being a puncher and like many she has racked up wins at home whilst failing to win bouts outside of her homeland. In fact Ayala is 0-10 outside of her homeland.
Although win-less outside of Colombia Ayala has fought the likes of Ogleidis Suarez, Monica Silvina Acosta, Fernanda Soledad Alegre, Jackie Nava, Alejandra Marina Oliveros, Claudia Andrea Lopez and Maria Elena Maderna on her travels. Whilst she has been competitive in some of those bouts it needs to be noted that her 19-1-4 record in Colombia is relatively padded with her last 6 wins, dating back more than 3 years, coming against win-less opposition, and she is now more than 5 years removed from her most notable result, a draw with Liliana Palmera.
Give the crudeness of Ayala there is the probability that she could give Choi some problems, though we suspect that Choi's skills will see her over-come the Colombian en route to a straight forward, and clear, decision. Ayala may have success early but when Choi begins to read her challenger the bout will become very one sided in favour of the champion.
One of the biggest issues with professional boxing is that we don't often get the chance to see unification bouts, especially not between long reigning champions who are regarded as the top 2 in their relevant division.
Although they are rare we are getting one such bout later this month as WBC Atomweight champion Momo Koseki (20-2-1, 7), who has recorded an amazing 15 title defenses, takes on WBA champion Ayaka Miyao (20-5-1, 4), who has recorded 5 defenses of her title. They are two of only 3 champions in the 102 weight division, with the other being WBO champion Nao Ikeyama who was widely beaten by Koseki a number of years ago.
Of the two fighters it is Koseki who is better known. She has essentially dominated the lowest weight in boxing for the past few years, in fact since winning the title back in August 2008 she has often looked unbeatable. We'll not say she's faced the best out there, but she does hold notable wins against the likes of Nao Ikeyama, as mentioned the current WBO champion, Teeraporn Pannimit, Saemi Hanagata, and Eun Young Huh.
In the ring Koseki is a handful, she's a rough and tough fighter who knows the old pro's tricks, including liberally using her head on the inside, and it aggressive enough to put fighters into their shells. Some will question her competition but much of that has to do with the divisions dearth of talent rather than her “ducking” anyone.
Although less well known Miyao is herself a more than capable fighter. She's a busy, fast fighter who really made her name with wins against against Masae Akitaya and Mari Ando, both of whom she beaten twice in just over 16 months. Her WBA reign may not be as long as that of Koseki but she is one of the genuinely elite fighters in the division.
Although known as a light puncher Miyao has developed her spiteful side recently and has 3 stoppages in her last 4 bouts. It's hard to know if that power is due to confidence in her own punch or the level of competition but either way it may be worth noting that she does seem to hit harder than the numbers suggest.
Coming in to this one we're expecting Miyao to take the role of the boxer whilst Koseki will be the brawler. This should see Koseki coming forward and Miyao trying to move and keep her off. The two should combine for some great action though we suspect that the toughness and aggression of Koseki will see her taking the narrow and very competitive win.
(Image courtesy of Ohashi Gym)
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.