Earlier this year we saw a rare WBA unification bout as WBA female Light Welterweight champion Ana Laura Esteche (now 10-3-2, 2) traveled to Russia and to defend her title against WBA female interim Light Welterweight champion Svetlana Kulakova (now 9-0-1, 1). The bout, which really was a case of little against large, was a fight of two very different halves, though it resulted in a highly controversial split decision draw leaving Esteche as the champion many fans were unhappy at the result.
For fans in attendance they were left annoyed that their fighter, Kulakova, had twice been deducted points that effectively cost her the unified title. As for fans around the world there was questions as to how Esteche didn't get the win, especially considering the point deductions.
The result saw the WBA order a rematch and that's where we are now with less than a week to the fight.
Early on in the first fight it was the Russian who was in charge. She used her longer reach to get her jabs and straights off and managed to establish a clear lead with her pure boxing from range. Unfortunately for Kulakova she was unable to keep that up for the whole of the fight and in the second half Estche came on strong winning the vast majority of the rounds from the second half of the 10 rounder. What made things contentious was that Kulakova was deducted points in rounds 5 and 8. For many those should have been enough for Esteche to secure a clear win with a score of 95-93 being the closest. The judges however returned cards of 95-94 Kulakova, 96-92 Estesche and 94-94 draw.
This time around Kulakova will have to employ the same tactics she did back then. Boxing from range, using her reach and movement and hoping to control the distance and pace of the fight. The one big change she'll need to make isn't her game plan but her preparation and she will need to be able to box and move for at least 8 rounds and rack up the points with out tiring in the way she did last time. She will know that Esteche is like a terrier and will be on her all fight so will need to have trained for that and need to have made sure that she can handle the pressure Esteche will bring.
For the Argentinian she also knows what she needs to do. Apply constant pressure form the opening bell, target the body and take the wind out of Kulakova early on. This time around Esteche is unlikely to see the referee deducted points from the Russian and will likely need to get 7 or 8 rounds to get the win, especially seeing as she's the away fighter. That's not easy against a significantly bigger fighter though Esteche will also know that Kulakova doesn't have the power to keep her honest and that if she can slip the jab, or walk through it, she can really get the chance to drown the Russian fighter in the middle and later rounds.
Aged 24 Esteche is coming into her prime and although Kulakova isn't an old 31 that is still a notable age difference that could help the visiting Argentinian fighter.
We know this won't be easy for either woman though we tend to feel that Esteche has to be given the slight edge. The Russian atmosphere won't be as terrifying this time and the Argentinian will feel she has matured over the last 3 months and that she deserved the win last time. She'll know that she needs to dominate every round to get the win and we suspect she'll attempt to score a whitewash over the tall Russian fighter.
Earlier this year we saw Japanese teenage Mako Yamada claim the WBO female Minimumweight title and create history by becoming the first female Japanese teenager to win a world title. Sadly however her reign was short lived and she retired from the sport prior to making a defence of the title. It was a disappointing way to see Yamada's career come to an end though it did free up the title for those who did want to fight for it.
Since Yamada's retirement however the title has remained vacant and it's only now that we are set to see a new champion crowned as Japan's little known Kumiko Seeser Ikehara (5-1-1, 3) battles against Filipino foe Gretchen Abaniel (15-5, 6).
Of the two it's Abaniel that is the more well known fighter, not just internationally but also by Japanese fans. The 28 year old "Chen Chen" has been a professional since late 2006 and fought several times for world titles, including a very controversial loss to Cho-Rong Son in 2008 and more recently a decision loss to WBA Atomweight champion Ayaka Miyao. Of those bouts it's the Miyao one that many fans will be interested in, especially considering that was her only other fight in Japan.
Against Miyao we saw Abaniel give a good account of herself early on though by the end she was looking exhausted. We think that whilst that was partly due to Miyao's insane work rate it was also partially down to issue making 102lbs. For this fight she'll be allowed another 3 lbs and that, and probably should, help her with stamina, work rate, durability and power.
As for Ikehara we really need to admit she's a bit of a mystery to us. Aged 29 she hasn't faced much competition so far though she does have a single win of note, a decision over Saemi Hanagata. Other than than the win on Hanagata the only other thing of note about her record is a loss and a technical draw to Mika Iwakawa.
Having been a professional for little over 2 years we can accept that Ikehara hasn't stepped up as a though we cant really understand what she's doing taking a leap up from her previous opponents to a fight with the experienced Abaniel. With that in mind we can only assume that the title will go back to the Philippines with Abaniel who is tried and tested at the world level.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Earlier this year Japanese veteran Nao Ikeyama (14-3-1, 4) created history in several ways. She became the inaugural WBO Atomweight champion and, as far as we are aware, she also became the oldest first time champion in history, aged 43. On September 20th she will attempt to make the first defence of that title and become one of the oldest champions to defend a belt as she takes on fellow Japanese fighter Masae Akitaya (9-4-2, 3).
Having turned 44 by fight night Ikeyama will certainly be a fighter who knows her career is coming to an end. Last time out however she really shocked us by dominating the significantly younger Jessebelle Pagaduan, who was just 29 at the time. Strangely that bout seemed to tell us more about Pagaduan than it did about Ikeyama who had struggled in her 2 previous bouts and hadn't "dominated" an opponent in years.
Although skilled and with a surprisingly good engine we really can't ignore the age of Ikeyama who is as determined as they come but really "getting on" and battling mother nature, father time and her opponents. That is a trio that have defeated better fighters than Ikeyama in the past.
As for Akitaya, who herself is 36, her record is also blotchy in recent fights though she has, on the whole, been fighting at a higher level than Ikeyama. Those recent bouts have seen Akitaya suffer 2 losses to WBA Atomweight champion Ayaka Miyao and a draw with Saemi Hanagata as well as wins over some limited Thai visitors where were little more than fodder for Akitaya.
Akitaya is certainly crude though always comes to fight and has given Miyao one of her toughest fights. At 36 and with just 6 rounds in the last 19 months however some would ask just how much rust will be on the challenger.
Interesting there is another sub story to this fight. Not only is Akitaya attempting to claim a world title in her third attempt and Ikeyema looking for her first defence but Akitaya is also looking for revenge for a 2010 loss to Ikeyama in a very close 6 round bout. It may not mean much though it could be that extra incentive needed to bring out the best in the challenger.
With both women having been written off and having serious question marks over them going into this fight it's a very hard one to call. Ikeyama is the more skilled when she's on form though you need to wonder just how much the bout with Pagaduan flattered her. For us that bout really was an aberration and suggested that the Filipino was very poor as opposed to Ikeyama being something special. With that in mind we are going to favour Akitaya with her extra youth to over-come Ikeyama, it's a coin toss given their previous result but we'll be going with the challenger via a narrow decision victory in what we expect could be a surprisingly fun contest.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.