On February 25th we'll see two different generations of Japanese female fighters collide as professional novice Eri Matsuda (4-0-1, 1) takes on veteran Ayaka Miyao (24-9-2, 6), in a bout for the vacant IBF Atomweight title which Saemi Hanagata gave up last year.
For the 27 year old Matsuda this is just her second world title fight, following a draw with Hanagata in 2021, and marks just her 6th professional bout. Miyao on the other hand has more than 10 world title fights to her name, has previously held the WBA and WBA "interim" titles at Atomweight, has more than 30 bouts in total and is now 38 years old with her professional in 2004 debut pre-dating the JBC's recognition of female boxing.
Whilst the fighters are from very different eras of female they are also fighters with very different styles. In fact their styles, in many ways, sum up the two eras of women's boxing.
Miyao has always been a fighter who has used speed, work rate, stamina and determination to win fights. She's never been particularly well polished, but she gets in the ring to our work opponents, out fight them, and out punch them. Not only does she have great output with her hands but she's a little bit like the energiser bunny, with quick footwork, and rarely stands still for more than a second or two. She sets the tempo, and demands others come with her, or lose. Sadly for her however she has aged in recent years, and injuries as well father time have started to take a toll on her, with an injury against Nao Ikeyama in 2016 being something of the start of the end for her, and a brutal TKO loss to Etsuko Tada in 2020 seemed to suggest that retirement was imminent. This shot is too good to turn down, but we do wonder what she has left in the tank.
Matsuda on the other hand is a scientific fighter, with a polished style. She wants to fight long, use her reach, fight at range and make the most of her straight shots, timing, and boxing brain. She can look very uncomfortable when crushed for space, as we saw when she faced Nanae Suzuki and Mont Blanc Miki, but if she can dictate behind her movement and long punches she can make things look very easy for long stretches. Unfortunately in her sole title bout she was held to a majority decision draw with Saemi Hanagata, though she did seem to do enough to deserve a win there, and we suspect the draw will do her more good than harm, showing she can do 10 rounds and she can bite down and fight a fighter's fight when she needs to.
Against a prime Miyao we would see this as a potential loss for Matsuda. The energy and work rate of Miyao would be a nightmare for someone like Matsuda, who is the more polished boxer, but can be a little bit happy to not put her foot on the gas. Against a 38 year old Miyao however we see Matsuda struggling early on, then getting a read on the veteran and doing enough to take a clear, yet hard fought, decision victory. Matsuda's youth, particularly her younger legs, will prove to be the difference maker here.
This coming Friday we'll see an interesting rematch as WBO Atomweight champion Mika Iwakawa (10-5-1, 3) makes her second defense, and takes on Nanae Suzuki (10-4-1, 1), the woman she retained the title against in a brilliantly contested bout in 2020. It's due to how good their first bout was, and how hotly contested it was, that we now see the two facing off again.
For those that missed the first bout between these two, which took place in Kobe on a show promoted by Shinsei Promotions, that bout was a really great one. Through out the bout Suzuki made the fight, pressing the action from the first round and setting a high tempo with a very impressive work rate. She came forward constantly whilst Iwakawa was forced to box and move, and use her feet, looking to create space and work at range. As the bout went on however Iwakawa was forced to fight Suzuki's fight as her legs and movement began to fade and she was forced to hold, wrestle, survive and even run away, making things very close on the cards. After 10 rounds the scores were 97-93 Iwakawa, 97-93 Suzuki and 96-94 to Iwakawa, who took a questionable split decision win.
Sadly the rematch between the women, which really should have taken place in 2021, is taking place almost 18 months after their first bout, and neither fighter has fought since their first clash. Which is genuinely disappointing, but a sign of what 2021 did to the careers of a number of Japanese fighters, who were unable to stay busy.
At her best Iwakawa is a talented technical boxer. She likes using range and distance, countering, and has sharp movement. She's a really solid technical fighter in a division where output, work rate and energy are typically more important than boxing skills. Sadly though she's now 38 and given she's never been the most active fighter in the ring, and does depend on timing and reactions, we do worry about her here. Her inactivity and age will not be doing her favours here, especially given she seemed to run out of steam in the later rounds last time she faced Suzuki.
As for Suzuki she it very much a fighter who's technically limited, she lacks power, and her defense is questionable, but she's a little bundle of energy, who comes forward, lets her hands go, a lot, and looks to make fights into a war. She can be out boxed, as she was against Eri Matsuda in 2019, but few will beat her in a tear up, especially over the longer distances as her aggression, work rate and stamina grinds opponents down and makes her a very tough woman to beat.
Given how the first bout between these two ended, and how long it's been since that bout, we can't help but feel a determined, hungry Suzuki will out work, out fight, out battle and grind out a victory against Iwakawa. Early on Iwakawa will have real success, but by rounds 4 and 5 Suzuki will be coming on hard, and will for Iwakawa into survival mode. This time around we suspect a judge will take a point from Iwakawa as she grapples to survive, and that will seal her fate.
Prediction - UD10 Suzuki
This coming Monday Japanese fight fans at Korakuen hall will see Japanese female Featherweight champion Yoshie Wakasa (7-2, 2) make her first defense, as she takes on veteran Kimika Miyoshi (15-13-1, 6), the woman she beat for the title in 2020. This is an "immediate rematch", in the loosest sense of the word, but still a very important one for both fighters. For the winner a potential world title could be on the line, whilst the loser could end up retiring with really nowhere to go.
The 33 year old Wakasa began her career in good form, winning her first 6 bouts, before back to back losses in 2019, losing to Miyo Yoshida and Wakako Fujiwara, seemed to slow her progress down. Despite those losses she bounced back more than a year later to dethrone Miyoshi in a career best win to claim the title.
Although no world beater Wakasa is a good solid fighter, who lacks power but has a good work rate, a solid jab and and fights to win. She fights like someone who believes in her own toughness and although she's technically limited she's a good honest professional who gets in the ring to fight and brings plenty of pressure along the way.
Aged 38 Miyoshi is a true veteran who has been a professional since 2008. She began her career with losses in her first 2 bouts but has rebuilt brilliantly over the years to win OPBF titles in 3 weight classes and even get a world title fight in 2017, losing a wide decision to Hyun Mi Choi. Given her record it's easy to think she's a terrible fight, but in all honesty she has proven to be much better than her record suggests.
In the ring Miyoshi has had success through sheer hard work and grit. She is technically very, very limited, and has never really shown much polish, but she brings pressure, she constantly marches forward, and she always looks to make things rough, tough and hard for opponents. She has a pretty tight guard, but it's very much used as little more than just something to come behind rather than rather than something to help set up counters. It's very static and basic.
In her prime Miyoshi would have been the favourite against Wakasa, but at 38 and with father time getting to her she's a long way from her prime. And much like their first bout we suspect the slightly more polished boxing, energy and work rate of Wakasa will be the difference maker. It'll be a fun enough bout but not the most competitive or the most high level.
Prediction - UD6 Wakasa
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.