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.
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.