On April 16th we'll see Japanese female Bantamweight champion Kanako Taniyama (4-1-1, 1) make her first defense, as she battles against Miki Mitsuda (5-7, 4) at the EDION Arena Osaka. For Taniyama the bout is a must win if she's to progress above domestic title level whilst for Mitsuda the bout serves as a chance to become a 2-weight national champion and avenge her most recent defeat, which came in late 2020.
The now 35 year old Taniyama turned to professional boxing in 2018, following a successful career as a kick boxer, and a background that also involved karate. Due to her previous combat sport career she was moved quickly, and in just her third professional bout she challenged for both the OPBF and Japanese Bantamweight titles. She ended up drawing in that bout, and coming up short in a second shot at the titles, before finally winning the Japanese title in her third shot, last June. Sadly for Taniyama and her team, she hasn't managed to make a mark in the professional ranks like she and her team would have hoped. She's not bad, by any stretch, but she's also not as good as hoped, and at 35 she'll be on the slide sooner rather than later.
In the ring Taniyama is a strong looking fighter, who does have some genuine ability. She moves nicely around the ring, creates angles, has a crisp jab and does a lot of things right. She looks like a natural fighter in the ring and is athletic, well trained and understands the concepts of boxing. Sadly though she does seem to run out of steam a lot, and puts a lot of effort into creating space to box early on in bouts. Intense pressure against her can have success, and she also struggles to get respect from opponents, due to the fact she doesn't really sit on her shots and get full purchase on them. Her footwork is nice, but it does stop her sitting down on shots and really getting weight behind things, and this can be a problem against fighters taking the fight to her.
Aged 30 Mitsuda is still a fighter in, or at least around, her prime years. Sadly for her, her career hasn't every really flourished or have much sustained success. She lost 4 of her first 5 bouts and was 3-5 after 8 bouts but in 2019 had a major breakthrough win, winning the Japanese Featherweight title with a TKO win over Asami Jinnari, in what is a career defining win for Matsuda. Sadly though her reign was short lived, and she lost the title in her first defense, before then then losing to Taniyama. On thing that is interesting about Mitsuda's record is that whilst she has suffered 7 losses, 5 of them have been by Split or Majority decision, and with some luck she could have had a very, very different looking record.
Between the ropes Mitsuda is very dangerous, strong, imposing and not someone to mess with. It's rare for women to have high stoppage rates, but Mitsuda has scored 4 of her 5 wins inside the distance and the reason for that is simple. Her right hand is thrown with really nasty intent. She's not the best boxer out there, in fact her boxing skills are quite basic, but her right hand is scary powerful and like someone playing a video game, she really likes to load up that right hand and spam it at times. To go with her dangerous right hand is some nice upper body movement, and a willingness to take one to land one. When she lands clean she hurts fighters, and that will be her focus again here.
Of the two Taniyama is the much more polished fighter, and has all the technical advantages. That however won't change the fact that Mitsuda will know she needs get inside, and she needs to land that powerful right hand, a lot. If she can do that, to both head and body, she could end up breaking down Taniyama, and impressing the judges. She will need to walk through a lot of jabs and some straight shots from the champion but the challenger certainly has a chance here.
Whilst Mitsuda has a chance, we expect to see her mostly chasing shadows. The movement of Taniyama will be a major difference between the two and will be enough, over the first 4 rounds, for her to take some sting out of Mitsuda, and impress the judges. We see this being competitive, compelling, close but the good start from Taniayama will be enough for her to take the win.
Prediction - SD6 Taniyama
This coming Saturday we see attention turns to Osaka for an interesting Shinsei promoted female only card, featuring three title bouts.
One of those title bouts will see veteran Yuko Henzan (8-11-4, 2) take on professional novice Aka Ringo (2-0, 1), with the two women battling for the vacant WBO Asia Pacific Female Bantamweight title.
Aged 27 years old Ringo is very much a professional boxing novice, having only debuted last year. Her opponents so far were both debutants, and she is taking a huge step up in class for this bout. Amazingly in total she has just 9 rounds of professional boxing experience to her name, a worry as she heads into this bout which is scheduled for 8 rounds it's self. Notably however she isn't a combat sports novice and has come from a Mixed Martial Arts background, and is very comfortable in the ring.
Footage of Ringo as a boxer isn't too widely available, though that shouldn't be a surprise given her short career in the sport, however it is possible to find her second professional bout in full on YouTube, and in that she looks very relaxed and comfortable in the ring. She's not the sharpest fighter, or the best defensively, but she looks tough, strong, powerful, and is willing to take one to land one when she needs to. She likes to apply intelligent pressure, backing opponents up and trying to our work them and out land them. She is open to counter shots, and her defense looks like it could be a major issue for her in the coming years, but it's clear she believes in her chin and her own power and physicality. We do question not just her defense, but her work rate, and although she applies pressure, she doesn't really let her hands go all that much, and that will be an issue when she begins to face solid competition.
As for Yuko Henzan she's a 34 year old veteran of the ring, with 23 professional bouts and 118 rounds to her name, in a career that dates back to 2010. Her career hasn't been littered with success, but she has turned things around since a very poor start to her career. She failed to win any of her first 4 bouts and was 1-5-2 in her first 8 bouts. She actually managed to go on a good enough run at one point to have a record that read 8-7-4 (2), though things have gone down hill since, with 4 straight losses. The biggest success of her career was a short run as the OPBF Bantamweight champion, she vacated the title rather than defending it.
Henzan is very much a battle tested warrior. She comes forward behind a tight high guard and looks to make boxing contests into up close fights. She's aggressive, fun to watch and incredibly flawed. Her issues are numerous. She's got slow feet, she's small at Bantamweight and Super Bantamweight, her shots don't have much snap on them, and she often falls short with her punches. Despite that she does have a style that could be a real issue for Ringo here, just based on her work rate. If she's willing to take one to land one, and presses to get into the reach of the more naturally skilled Ringo she could make this rough, tough and a bit ugly.
Over 8 rounds we expect to see Ringo doing enough. But certainly being made to answer some real questions, thanks to Henzan's pressure, toughness and willingness to come forward in bursts of activity. Ringo should be too big, too fluid and too strong to lose, but her inexperience will allow Henzan to have moments and maybe take a couple of rounds from the younger fighter.
Prediction - UD8 Ringo
This coming Saturday we'll see a new Japanese female Atomweight champion being crowned as Kaoru Iga (5-2-1) and Natsuki Tarui (4-8-2) battle for the currently vacant title. The bout isn't a mouth watering one, but these lower level female bouts in Japan do tend to be rather fun to watch, with a lot of leather being thrown and the winner will know they will only be a fight or two from a potential world title fight.
Of the two it's fair to say Iga will be the favourite. The 29 year old is the younger, taller fighter and the one with the more impressive looking record. She is less experienced than Tarui, but neither is exactly a veteran of the sport, or has bucked of top tier experience to their name.
Iga debuted in 2019, fighting to a draw on debut, and she lost her second professional bout, but since then she has gone 5-1, with her most notable bout to date being a loss in an OPBF female Light Flyweight bout in 2021. That bout showed she was flawed, but had been improving, and was a fighter who was still very much in the developmental stage of her career. For this bout she is moving down in weight and should, if she doesn't take much out of herself with the cut, be a pretty strong and powerful fighter at 102lbs.
In the ring Iga is, sadly, a bit all of the place and looks very much like a woman from the previous era of boxing. She looks nervous under pressure, over-reaches, and sets her feet heavy on the ring. There is very little polish and finesse about her, and she often looks very, very right hand happy. If it was a crisp, clean, sharp right hand that would be a good weapon, but instead it's a predictable, somewhat slow right hand, with little behind it. There is no real weight on any of her shots, and a lot of that is down to her form, which is poor, from her footwork to her punching technical. Thankfully she has been improving, but a lot of errors are still in her game and she is still defensively very open.
Aged 30 Tarui is only a little bit older than Iga, but has been a professional for much longer, having debuted back in 2014, with 14 bouts and 63 professional rounds under her belt. Tarui is a diminutive fighter, standing at under 4'11", and a natural Atomweight, getting her second shot at the Atomweight title. Her career has seen her getting very mixed results, but she has really turned things around since the start of her career. She began her career with 4 straight losses, including 2 by stoppage, and just a single win in her first 7 bouts. Since then she has gone 3-3-1, with all 3 of those losses being incredibly close, and with only a bit of luck she could easily have had a 10-4 record.
Although Tarui is small she is also a bundle of energy and her 2021 loss to Sumire Yamanaka showed she is much, much better than her record suggests. She's quick, sharp, relaxed in the ring and does through plenty of leather. Sadly for her she does seem to lack confidence in the ring, but has got plenty of tools in her arsenal with under-rated footwork, nice hand speed, and good counters. She makes her lack of size work in her favour, being a small target, and although it looks like a good jab could keep at range, there isn't too many female fighters at 102lbs with really good jabs, meaning she can have success against most out there.
Although Iga will be the favourite, as she should be, we genuinely wouldn't be surprised by an upset here. Tarui is the more naturally talented boxer, the more rounded fighter and the one who seems to have a lot more going for her. Iga will certainly have moments with her right hand, but we expect the work rate, aggression and footwork of Tarui to be the difference in a genuinely notable upset at this level.
Prediction - SD6 Tarui
This coming Saturday we get a lot of action to look forward to, with big names in action and some massive bouts. Given there are set to be so many big bouts this weekend it can be easy to over-look some bouts, including a potential female fight of the year between Naoko Fujioka (19-2-1, 7) and Marlen Esparza (11-1, 1), who look to unify the WBA and WBC female Flyweight titles. The bout hasn't had the huge fanfare that several other bouts have had, but could end up delivering incredible action and continue the string of thrilling female title bouts we've been having in recent years.
The 46 year old Fujioka, the current WBA female Flyweight champion, is a female fighter who should be destined for a hall of fame induction when she retires. She has been the star of Japanese female boxing for much of her career and done things that really weren't being done, especially not by Japanese fighters. She turned professional in 2009, following a successful amateur career, and despite being 34 when he debuted she has gone on to win world title from Minimumweight to Bantamweight, becoming Japan's only ever 5 weight world champion. Along the way to collecting a trophy cabinet full of belts she has beaten the likes of Naoko Shibata, Anabel Ortiz, Naoko Yamaguchi, Mariana Juarez, Shindo Go, Isabel Millan, Irma Sanchez and Sulem Urbina. She has also been able to travel for fights, with bouts in Germany, Mexico and the US.
In the ring Fujioka is a veteran, with bucket loads of experience, heavy hands, an aggressive style, a great chin and although she's not the tidiest fighter she is a rough, tough handful with decent boxing skills added to a fighters mentality. Even in her mid 40's she has proven to have impressive stamina, and actually gets better as fights go on, starting slowly before getting her engine going and simply out working, out battling and out fighting fighters. Despite a busy style, she's accurate, and lands shots that catch the eye, whilst also keeping opponents too busy to really fight back. Sadly in recent years she began slowing down, in part due to age and inactivity, but she's still one of the best female fighters on the planet, despite being the wrong side of 40.
Aged just 32 Marlen Esparza is something of a spring chicken compared to Fujioka and is part of the new wave of female fighters who turned professional after the 2012 Olympics, like so many of the other top current female fighters out there. As an amateur Esparza won bronze at the Olympics and a Gold at the 2014 World Amateur Championships, before finally turning her attention on the professional ranks in 2017. Sadly her career was somewhat slow to get going, though she did notable fighter in some of the few female bouts to have 3 minute rounds. After winning her first 7 bouts she then came up short against the sensational Seniesa Estrada ina bout for the WBA "interim" Female Flyweight title. In that bout she was out worked, out fought, out boxed and just out-everythinged by Estrada, before the bout was stopped due to a cut, leading to Estrada winning a technical decision. Since that bout Esparza has bounced back big time, and scored her 3 most notable wins, taking decisions over Sulem Urbina, Ibeth Zamora Silva and Anabel Ortiz.
In the ring Esparza is a well schooled boxer, and her amateur pedigree does show through. She's a clean, accurate boxer, who likes to have some space to work with, throws lovely straight shots, and has really good timing, especially on her left jab and short right hands. Sadly though she really struggles on the inside and lacks the power to maintain space, or get the respect of fighters, who will feel comfortable pressuring her and trying to out work her. She's quick and sharp, but is very much a fighter who needs to use her speed, and needs to avoid a tear up at all costs.
Given her youth, speed and style Esparza does have some advantages over Fujioka, and she will need to capitalise on them to beat the Japanese boxing Queen. Sadly though we feel the style of Esparza will be her own downfall. The pressure, tenacity, work rate, strength and stubbornness of Fujioka will almost certainly be too much for her. We expect Esparza to start well, taking the first few rounds with her movement and boxing. But as the rounds go on Fujioka will get closer and closer, before taking control of the bout in the middle rounds and dominating the final rounds.
There could be some suspect scoring to help save Esparza, but we don't see that being enough to deny Fujioka here. Instead we see the judges having it closer than they should, but being unable to deny the Japanese visitor.
Prediction - MD10 Fujioka
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.