On February 19th Japanese fans get to see two of their female world champions defending their titles. One of those bouts is a revolting mismatch for the WBC Atomweight title as the brilliant Momo Koseki defends her belt against Aisah Alico. Thankfully however the other bout is a much more interesting contest as IBF female Light Flyweight champion Naoko Shibata (13-3, 4) defends her belt for the 3rd time and battles against fellow Japanese fighter Saemi Hanagata (9-5-2, 4). We won't pretend this is an amazing match up however it's an intriguing one against a weak but improving champion and an under-rated challenger who is much better than her records suggests.
The 33 year old Shibata has been mixing with top fighters for much of her career. Early on she beat both Yuko Kuroki and Ayaka Miyao, both current world champion, and although she did collect some losses they all came to top tier fighter in the form of Naoko Fujioka, Etsuko Tada and Ibeth Zamora Silva.
Despite being in her 30's Shibata has gotten better as she's gotten older and right now she seems to be in her prime as she's developed not only her boxing but also her confidence. That's really all come together since she won the IBF world title back in November 2013 when she beat Alondra Garcia in a very competitive test. In her first defence she easily over-came the tough but limited Guadalupe Martinez and most recent she stopped Ana Arrazola in a genuinely outstanding result.
Aged 30 Hanagata will be fighting in her first world title bout however she is better than her record indicates and has faced top tied competition thus far. Among her former opponents are Momo Koseki, the current WBC Atomweight champion, Kumiko Seeser Ikehara, the WBA female Minimumweight champion and Yuko Kuroki, the current WBC Minimumweight champion.
As well as her tough match ups Hanagata is also a former OPBF Minimumweight champion and a fighter moving up in weight, shaking off the shackles of the 105lb division in the hope of becoming a better 3lbs north of where she has been competing so far. It could well be that that additional 3lbs allows Hanagata to hit harder or to fight at a higher pace.
Coming into the bout Shibata has to be the favourite. She has the edge in experience, level of experience and also the champions advantage which bring her into the bout full of confidence. Hanagata however will not be a walk over. She will feel this is her big opportunity, her chance to shine and her chance to become a world champion.
With that said we're expecting a battle of wills here with a lot of leather being exchanged. The differences between two women however are stylistic and Shibata is certainly the better pure boxer which we suspect will allow her to disrupt and and eventually out point Hanagata, who we think will start fast but fall away down the stretch to lose a very competitive decision.
(Image courtesy of http://boxmob.jp)
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.