One of the top, if not the top, female fighter in Japan has long been the sensationally talented Naoko Fujioka (16-2, 7), who became Japan's first ever 4 weight champion earlier this year. The 42 year old Japanese veteran has claimed titles at Minimumweight, Super Flyweight, Bantamweight and Flyweight. To end 2017 Fujioka drops down to Light Flyweight, to face Yokasta Valle (13-0, 5) in a bout for the WBO female Light Flyweight title. Interestingly Fujioka is dropping down from Flyweight for this bout, whilst Valle is a former IBF Atomweight champion, having claimed that title last year.
Fujioka has had a genuinely remarkable career and is regarded by some as one of the top 10 female fighters, pound-for-pound, in the sport. She debuted at the age of 34 and after just a year in the sport claimed the OPBF Minimumweight title. The following year she claimed the WBC title, stopping Anabel Ortiz. In 2013 Fujioka claimed the WBA Super Flyweight title, she added the WBO Bantamweight title in 2015 and then the WBA Flyweight title earlier this year. Whilst Fujioka has obviously been collecting titles she has also been facing stiff competition, with bouts against the likes of Naoko Shibata, Anabel Ortiz, Victoria Argueta, Naoko Yamaguchi, Susi Kentikian, Mariana Juarez, Shindo Go and Jessica Chavez.
In the ring Fujioka can fight, box or brawl. She's the type of fight who can adapt, and when she needs to make things rough she can, as she did in the final stages against Mariana Juarez. Although she has two defeats against her name both were close and controversial, and more importantly on the road with the loss against Chavez being one of the most questionable decisions of recent years. At 42 there is some question marks about how many more top performances she has in the tank, but she's not yet showing signs of slipping.
Aged 25 Valle is one of the stars of Costa Rican boxing, and has ben a professional since mid 2014. Much of her career has been spent at home, in Costa Rica, though she did venture to El Salvador for a bout last year. It was at home last year that she defeated Ana Victoria Polo to claim the IBF title at 102lbs, though since then she has moved up to 105lbs, where she beat journey woman Yadita Perez. Sadly the key thing to note about Valle is her level of competition, and it has been dire, with none of her opponents having any name value, and very few having any sort of a record.
Although Valle's best win has been down at 102lbs she is actually a big fighter for the lower weights and shouldn't have any issues making 108lbs and being a fully fledged fighter at the weight, in fact she may be stronger than she has been whilst draining herself down. The problem for her however is that she's not really shown herself to be world class. There is some ability there, and it's clear that a really top level trainer could take her quite far, but the fact she's so untested and stepping up in such a huge way that it's hard to see he she can win here.
We don't think Fujioka is a huge puncher,but she certainly holds solid power in both hands, and we suspect that power will have telling effects late on, with a stoppage for the Japanese in the later rounds.
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.
Last year Japanese fighter Yunoka Furukawa (9-1-2, 6) claimed the WBA Atomweight title, stopping Satomi Nishimura. That win saw the Watanabe fighter get some attention in Japanese boxing, but really she is seen as being a bit of an unknown. This coming Friday she looks to break out further and claim her second world title, as she takes on unbeaten Argentinian Leonela Paola Yudica (12-0-3), the current IBF female Flyweight champion.
In her title win Furukawa looked like an aggressive and heavy handed monster. Since then she has made one defense of her title, narrowly beating Mika Ishikawa with a majority decision. That bout seemed to show that Furukawa wasn't a monster puncher, which she had seemed, but also suggested that the 102lb Atomweight division was too low for her, and that she really needed to leave the division and head north. Something she is doing this weekend.
As her best Furukawa is an aggressive fighter, with heavy hands. She's not the monster puncher she once seemed, but she's an exciting young fighter who has the potential to become one of Japanese boxing's most notable female stars. She is however a long way from that will need to develop more than just her power to reach those heady heights.
Although talented Furukawa has shown issues with her stamina, and has looked rather crude and limited at times. It does seem like a she's a fighter can be out boxed, and that her aggression can be used against her very easily. She appears to take a good shot, but leaves herself open to shots, and looks likely to be a fighter who will always have to take some leather during her bouts.
Coming into the bout as the unbeaten champion Yudica will be very confident, and will be cheered on by her local fans. Aged 29 the champion is in her physical prime, is a highly skilled and fleet fighter. She lacks power, thought that is partly down to her style, but has the skills, speed and stamina to be a real handful. Especially if she can establish her pace and be able to stay at range.
As the champion Yudica will know that she all the advantages, and the biggest of those is her style. Her speed, and accuracy should be a stylistic nightmare for Furukawa and her poor defense. Saying that however the champion will have to keep her defenses on point to avoid the power of Furukawa, and to stay in control of the contest. If Yudica is drawn into a brawl it could be a very tough bout for the champion.
If Furukawa can cut the range she can make this very interesting, and potentially a war, but we suspect that Yudica's back foot boxing will make the Japanese challenger look like a made to order opponent, and one for her to look good against.
This coming Saturday fight fans in China will be able to see IBF female Minimumweight champion Zong Ju Cai (9-1, 1) defending her title against Filipino foe Gretchen Abaniel (17-8, 6). The bout will be Cai's first as a champion whilst Abaniel will be looking to claim a major world title in her 5th, following reigns as a minor champion with WIBA level titles. The bout might not be anything massive to fans in the West, but to fight fans in China this is potentially a massive showdown and a chance for Cai to prove herself as a world class female.
In the ring Cai is a really skilled boxer-mover. She's not heavy handed and doesn't ever try to fight like a fighter with power. Instead she fights with energy, uses the ring and tries to always stay in control of the pace and action of the fight. Unlike many smaller fighters she doesn't fight like type of fighter who wants a high octane brawl, instead she wants to use her skill, potentially hiding a questionable energy tank.
With the Chinese crowd cheering her on it's going to be hard to beat Cai, but she isn't unbeatable. At times in her title win, which came back in January against Etsuko Tada, she seemed to flag late on and looked like she was running out of steam. If a fighter can force the pressure on her quickly then she could struggle later in the bout. If Cai can dictate the pace and tempo however, she will be very tricky to beat, and not many will have the skills to beat a comfortable Cai.
Aged 31 Abaniel is a true veteran, and one who has fought almost everywhere. She made her debut in China and has fought not only in the Philippines but also South Korea, Thailand, Mexico, Japan, Australia and Germany. Whilst she has had mixed success in the ring she has proven to be a world class fighter with only a single stoppage against her, back in 2011 to Katia Gutierrez, and competitive losses to a number of world class fighters like Ayaka Miyao. She's talented, experienced and tough, and a real handful for those on the verges of world class.
Although a talented fighter we can't help but think that Abaniel lacks the style to really compete with Cai. The two fought back in 2015 and Cai won with ease and we suspect that will happen again here. Abaniel will try, she always try, but we can't see her coming out on top here against the Chinese fighter, who is continually improving and is just coming into her prime.
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
This coming weekend we get the chance to see female boxing come to the fore for Asian fight fans as Japan's Terumi Nuki (9-1, 6) takes on legendary Mexican Mariana Juarez (45-9-4, 17), in a bout for Jaurez's WBC female Bantamweight title. For Nuki it's the biggest bout of her career, and a chance to define her career, whilst Juarez looks to further enhance her legacy as one of the modern greats of female boxing.
Although it can be hard to call any female fighter a legend the phrase certainly does apply to Juarez, who draws a huge audience and a lot of attention in Mexico and has done for years. She has managed to cross over, beyond boxing, thanks in part to her sexy looks, which has seen her feature in Playboy, but has also continued to have huge success in the ring.
Debuting back in 1998, as an 18 year old, Juarez struggled early in her career losing 2 of her first 3. In fact after 22 bouts she was still struggling to really make a name for herself, with a 14-5-3 (8) record. From then however she has gone 31-4-1 defining herself as a boxing legend in Mexico. Not only are the numbers impressive but so to are the opponents with Juarez notching up wins against Esmeralda Moreno, Simona Galassi, Gabriela Bouvier, Arely Mucino, Shindo, Tenkai Tsunami and Irma Garcia whilst claiming world titles at Flyweight and Bantamweight.
At her best Juarez is a talented boxer who can box brawl, she has a great engine and can do pretty much everything other than really bang. At 37 however and with a 5-2-1 record in her last 8 there is signs that she is coming to the end of her long career and that she could get old over-night, as we recently saw with Manny Pacquiao.
The 28 year old Nuki is a real boxing baby with just 37 rounds since making her debut just over 4 years ago. To date she has fought just two title bouts, both at Oriental level, and has gone 1-1 (1) in those bouts. To date her best win has been at Oriental level, with that being a 3rd round stoppage over Thai foe Nongbua Lookpraiaree, and she has never scored a win of note at Bantamweight.
Although a fighter with plenty of promise this is a massive step up for Nuki, who has never shown the ability to really impress at world level. There is potential for her to develop into a world class fighter, but she has never shown enough of that potential to think that she is ready for a world title bout, and in fact she would probably have been best served with a few Oriental title defenses first. She hasn't had to cope with a true all-rounder like Juarez, and she has never been beyond 8 rounds, giving her a lot of firsts here.
Juarez could get old, as mentioned above, but the reality is that she still looks fresh enough and hungry enough in recent bouts to easily over-come someone like Nuki, who is simply stepping up too much too fast. We think Nuki will have moments, and will be able to survive the 10 rounds, but will come up short against the Mexican fighting icon.
This coming Friday Japanese fight fans at the Korakuen Hall get an all Japanese world title fight as between veteran Kayoko Ebata (10-7, 6) battles novice professional Erika Hanawa (7-0, 2) for the vacant WBO female Minimumweight title, which was vacated by former champion Kumiko Seeser Ikehara.
Of the two fighters it's clear that Ebata is the more experienced. She has as many losses as Hanawa has total fights, but she is far from a professional loser. In fact she's a genuine world class fighter who has continually competed at the world level, but unfortunately has come up short every time she has faced a world class fighter.
Ebata debuted back in 2007, as a 31 year old, and in just her second bout she challenged Samson Tor Buamas for the WBC female Light Flyweight title. That was one of 5 world title bouts that Ebata has come up short in, along with 2 losses in OPBF title bouts. Whilst that sounds horrific for Ebata she has been in with not only Samson but also Tenkai Tsunami, Naoko Shibata, Nancy Franco and former champion Ikehara, twice.
Aged 41 now Ebata is almost certainly in last chance saloon, and will know that another loss will probably be the end. She has flirted with retirement a number of times but seems to be determined to hold a world title before retiring, adding it to a short reign as an OPBF Flyweight champion. That determination has been seen through her career, and despite her age she has a great engine, but sadly determination doesn't always equal titles, and she does have a lot of rough edges and can be out fought and out boxed.
Aged 26 Hanawa really is a novice to professional boxing, and only made her professional debut in July 2015. Her early bouts were are against fellow novices, before she beat professional loser Christine Latube for the WBC ABC Continental female Minimumweight title in June 2016. The win over Latube hasn't been followed by anything too major, but she did defeat Norj Guro back in March, in what is her best win to date.
Little is really known about how good Hanawa is, something that is almost impossible to judge given her level of competition so far. What has been seen of Hanawa suggests there is real skill there, but we're very much unsure of just how much skill she really has. What is very clear however is that this is a huge step up in class for her, as she takes on her first foe coming to win, and one who has fought at world level.
Given her age it's clear that Hanawa will have youthful exuberance and energy on her side, she's also never tasted defeat and will have the confidence of being an unbeaten fighter. That youth and confidence might help Hanawa here, or could hinder her against a fighter with the experience and toughness of Ebata.
Although Hanawa is the unbeaten youngster it's hard to favour her here against the talented, though unlucky, Ebata. There is a chance Hanawa is really class, but this is a huge step up and we suspect Ebata, at long last, will win the big one and finally become a world champion, ending her long and hard wait for a major title.
On May 14th fans in Kyoto get the chance to see two female fighters trading blows as they battle for the WBO female Light Flyweight title. In one corner will be local hopeful Tamao Ozawa (12-3, 4) whilst the other corner will have Korean visitor Su Yun Hong (14-1-1, 7), who looks to become a 2-weight world champion.
Of the two fighters the 30 year old Hong is the more well known. She debuted back in 2010 and become one of the more notable Korean's of recent years. She's a talented southpaw based in Hwaseong City and has been known on the world stage for around 5 years. Her first title was the WIBA Light Flyweight title but she really made her mark by winning the WBO female Minimumweight title in June 2012, when she beat Teeraporn Pannimit in Macau.
As the WBO female Minimumweight champion Hong was one of the faces of Korean boxing and made 2 defenses of the belt, including a split decision win over Mari Ando, before losing the belt to teenager Mako Yamada in 2014. Following the loss to Yamada Hong moved up in weight, and reclaimed the WIBA title which she has held since October 2014, defending it 4 times.
Although not well known by Western fight fans Hong does hold some decent wins, but her loss to Yamada showed her limitations, with Yamada ripping the title from the Korean. Also needs to be noted that her opponents since the Yamada bout haven't been great and she hasn't fought in over a year, since beating Filipino veteran Jujeath Nagaowa.
Aged 31 Ozawa is the slightly older fighter, and the one with the less impressive looking record. Despite that she probably starts the bout as a fighter full of hunger and as someone who will see this as their chance to win a world title, adding it to an OPBF title. Talking about that OPBF title that belt was up at Super Flyweight, where she beat Terumi Nuki for the belt, and it's worth noting that Ozawa has fought much of her career at 115lbs, where she has suffered all 3 of her losses.
Although Ozawa has been stopped 2 times during her career, including a blow out to Tomoko Kawanishi and a 2nd round loss to Kai Johnson, she did recently prove her toughness by going 10 rounds with Mariana Juarez in Mexico last May.
Ozawa hasn't proven herself at world class, yet, but moving down in weight to Light Flyweight might well help her do so, and her last two bouts where at Flyweight where she does look like a more imposing fighter than she had at Super Flyweight. If she can make Light Flyweight comfortably she could end up being a very imposing fighter at the weight class.
On paper Hong should be favoured, she has the better record and is the more proven fighter, but we suspect that the move down in weight by Ozawa will really help her here and we're predicting a win for the Japanese fighter, who will be strongly supported by the fans in Kyoto. Hong may be the more naturally talented fighter, but we're expecting to see the local take home the decision here.
In recent times we've seen a number of top former female amateur fighters turn professional, with almost all of them coming to the professional game with notable success as the Olympics. Prior to the current of female stars we did have a number of lower key female fighters who had made their mark on the amateur scene. One of those was Nana Yoshikawa (7-1, 4), who was a 3-weight Amateur champion with an impressive 55 wins in the unpaid ranks. As a professional she claimed her first world title last year, narrowly beating Eun Hye Lee for the WBO female Flyweight title.
This coming Sunday Yoshikawa looks to make her first defense of that title as she takes on Mexican challenger Monserrat Alarcon (8-3-2), who has proven tricky to find much footage of, but has proven to be popular for images. That's because the young Mexican is very photogenic, and it does appear her looks have gotten her some notable attention, perhaps more than her boxing so far.
Although that sounds like we're being harsh “Raya” has proven to be a tough competitor so far, suffering 2 narrow losses to current world champion Alondra Garcia and she holds two good wins over Branda Ramos, to become the Mexican Female Minimumweight champion.
Although there is very limited footage of the Mexican it does look like she is well skilled and moves around the ring well. There is a certain wildness to her punches, but there is plenty to like about her too, and she does look very quick and seems to strike with good counters, though they aren't the sharpest. It's possibly her lack of sharpness which has lead her to never having scored a stoppage, but by that same token she has never been stopped and she does look sturdy in the footage out there.
As with many former amateur standouts Yoshikawa is very well schooled. She might be heading towards her 39th birthday but she's in great shape, with good boxing form and a style that has developed since her 2015 loss, a wide decision defeat to Anabel Ortiz in a bout at 105lbs. She has a filled out frame at Flyweight and can hit hard enough to hurt opponents. It should be said that she was look to over-come Eun Hye Lee last year, but Lee is a world class fighter herself and would be a handful for many Flyweights out there.
On paper Yoshikawa is the more proven fighter here, winning OPBF and world titles, and she's also a fighter with the deep amateur background. She is however a fighter who has been in wars with Ortiz and Lee and could well be on the slide, despite being such a “professional novice”. She has got nice skills, but with age comes the slowing process and she could struggle with stamina and timing as the bout goes on.
Although we think Yoshikawa is heading to the end of her career she does look like a fighter with a few more good fights left in her, and we think that'll show here with her superior skills being too much for the younger, but less talented Alarcon. As Alarcon looks tough we suspect she will go the distance, but we think she'll lose a pretty wide decision here.
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
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.