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.
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.
We know that some fight fans really look down on female boxing though we'll admit that a bout between two highly skilled female fighters genuinely excites us. Sadly many female fights are mismatches with one fighter a clear favourite over the other and very few female world title fights can be described as a "super fight". This coming weekend however we get a sensational female bout which really does deserve the tag of being a "super fight".
The bout in question will see Japan's sensational Naoko Fujioka (12-0, 6), one of the best pound-for-pound female fighters on the planet and the current WBA Super Flyweight champion, travelling to Germany to take on the European queen of the lower weights Susi Kentikian (33-2-0-1, 17), the current WBA Flyweight champion. It's a clash of cultures, a clash of two elite fighters, a clash of champions and chance for both fighters to score a genuinely career defining victory. It's as close to to a perfect bout as can be made in female boxing.
Fujioka is, to us, the most naturally talented and technically proficient female boxer on the planet. If you're a boxing fan Fujioka is a joy to watch and despite being 39 years old she still appears to be fresh as a daisy. She's a sharp and accurate fighter who has all the tools to impress any fan watching.
It was in the amateur ranks that Fujioka first made her name though since turning professional in 2009 she has really been nigh on unbeatable, in fact nobody has even run her close in what has been a sensational career. She claimed her first title, the OPBF Minimumweight title, in just her 4th bout, her first world title, the WBC Minimumweight just 2 fights later and, last year, she jumped from Minimumweight to Super Flyweight to win a second divisional world title. The most impressive thing about Fujioka however isn't her title achievements but her opposition. In just 12 fights she has beaten several world class fighters such as Naoko Shibata, Anabel Ortiz, Victoria Argueta and Naoko Yamaguchi, a phenomenal foursome.
The big question for Fujioka isn't her talent, and in fact it's not even her age, it's how she will fight on the road. This will be her first fight outside of Japan and just her second bout outside of the Korakuen Hall. How she will fight in Germany is a really big issue given that German judging has been often been questioned over the years with many suggesting it's the worst in the world. Will Fujioka fight like she'll need a stoppage or will she fight like her usual and box intelligently? More importantly she'll know this is her chance to impress a whole new audience to become a 3-weight world champions, just the second in Japanese history, those may well drive her on and neutralise the crowd.
For those who haven't seen Fujioka we have managed to track down the footage of her sensational performance against Yamaguchi, a fight that shows just how talented the Japanese fighter is
Germany's popular Kentikian, popularly known as the "Killer Queen" has long been one of the figureheads of German female boxing and is one of the most popular female fighters in Europe. Not only is she popular but she's also talented, hard working and a fighter who often fights at a hectic and exciting pace. She lacks power but more than makes up for it in sheer determination and limitless energy.
Aged 27 it does seem like Kentikian has been around for years and in fact she has been. She won her first world title, the WBA female Flyweight title, way back in 2007 and would later unify it with WBO title as she racked up defense after defense after defense. Some of those defenses were genuinely class and came against the likes of Nadia Raoui whilst others were little more than stay busy fights, such as her defense against Nadia Hokmi. Sadly for Kentikian she came a cropper in 2012 losing back to back decisions to Melissa McMorro and Carina Moreno. Since 2013 however she has run 4 successive wins and reclaimed the WBA Flyweight title whilst scoring a revenge victory over Carima Moreno and notable victories over Simona Galassi and Dan Bi Kim. That performance against Kim can be seen in full here for those who haven't got around to see the German in action.
In the ring Kentikian is popular, fights like a whirlwind but is diminutive, light hitting and has a lot of miles on the tank for a 27 year old. She's also not the most technically skilled preferring work rate over accuracy and accumulation over sitting on her shots. It's worked for her on the whole but her two losses do stand out to suggest that she's not unbeatable and that she's not the untouchable fighter she once looked.
Going in we're viewing this as a boxer against a swarmer. Typically those stylistic matches favour the swarmer, but the boxer here is the bigger fighter, the naturally stronger fighter and the one with more to gain in terms of reputation. On the other hand the swarmer, Kentikian, will be the fan favourite, will have home comforts and will possibly even get the edge with the judges. With those things in mind we are expecting something a little bit special with both looking break down the other fighter in a potential female FOTY.
Usually we'd favour a German champion at home but we really think Fujioka is on a different level to Kentikian and we suspect she'll show that class late to wear down a tiring Kentikian in the later rounds of a genuine thriller. If you're a boxing fan we need to advise you not miss this one.
This coming weekend is one of the craziest we've known since we first started this site last year. There are so many big fights, so many big shows and so much action that it's easy to forget at least 1 or 2 fights, it's inevitable that when you get too many fights one slips through the net.
One fight that almost slipped through was this weekend's WBA female Flyweight title fight between Korea's Dan Bi Kim (9-2-1, 2) and the defending champion Susi Kentikian (32-2-0-1, 16), AKA "The Killer Queen", one of the truly sensational female fighters and one of the most popular in Europe.
It's surprising that Kim could ever slip through the net due to her memorable 2009 contest with Nongmuay Kokietgym for the WBC interim female Light Flyweight title. That bout was everything detractors of female boxing point to when trying to make their point. Kim, who looked little more than a street fighter, had 5 points deducted for fouls that included biting her opponent in a contest that was less "boxing" and more a no holds barred fight.
In that fight Kim rushed with her head, wrestled, used head locks and every dirty trick in the book. In fact Kim could well have taught the likes of Bernard Hopkins a few new tricks which aren't in the book.
Since the first fight between Kim and Nongmuay the two women did fight again, this time in a more orthodox contest which saw an improved Kim giving a decent account of herself, especially compared to her first fight with her first fight against the Thai. Unfortunately though there is nothing to suggest that Kim has become world class, despite the fact she did win the very lightly regarded IFBA Minimumweight title earlier this year with a decisive decision win over Dorkmaipah Kiatpompetch, herself a total novice in the ring.
Kim's best opponent so far is Nongmuay, the woman who holds both defeats on Kim's record. To call Nongmuay world class however is really stretching the definition of "world class" and she's not much better than the Korean.
Unfortunately for Kim she is going from fighting the likes of Nongmuay and Dorkmaipah to fighting the truly world class Kentikian, a fighter who is on the fringes of being one of the elite female pound-for-pound fighters.
Although not a big puncher Kentikian has all the other tools a fighter could wish for. She is fast, intelligent in the ring, has great stamina, fantastic movement, always has a plan B and can box either going forward or going backwards. She's not flawless but she is very, very talented as shown by her very impressive record which includes wins over a notable who's who of female boxing such as Simona Galassi, Carina Moreno, Teeraporn Pannimit, Nadia Raoui and Ana Arrazola.
Whilst Kim's style is a nightmare for anyone due to her unpredictability and flat out roughness she's unlikely to be able to intimidate Kentikian who will likely use her accurate punches and movement to great effect as Kim rushes in only to get tagged repeatedly.
We'd love to see Kim with a good trainer as she has the toughness to match the likes of Momo Koseki though at this point in her career a good trainer likely doesn't want her and another loss here could see no one in boxing wanting her. She's a real handful for all the wrong reasons and will likely give Kentikian a headache despite losing clearly.
(Picture, of Kim, courtesy of http://www.koreaboxing.co.kr/)
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.