In May 2014 Japanese youngster Yuko Kuroki (16-4-1, 8) made good on her early career promise by defeating Mari Ando (13-9, 6) to claim the WBC female Minimumweight title. That win put Kuroki on the proverbial map an opened doors for her to grow into a genuinely notable fighter. Since that title win she has made the most of her opportunity and scored notable wins over Katia Gutierrez, Masae Akitaya and Nancy Franco, whilst recording 4 defenses of the title whilst Ando has struggled.
This coming Sunday the two women will face off again with Kuroki looking to record her 5th defense of the title and Ando looking to revive a career that is now struggling, in fact Ando has gone 2-2 since the first bout and is now very much in last chance saloon.
Kuroki really has gone from strength to strength since winning the title. She was always a fighter with a lot of potential, as early career performances against the likes of Naoko Shibata, Mika Oda and Etsuko Tada showed, but it wasn't until she became the champion that we really got the chance to see how good she was. Since becoming the champion she really has looked like a truly brilliant fighter with under-rated skills, great work rate, hurtful power and the sort of building confidence that could make her a real nightmare against other world class fighters in the years to come.
Whilst Kuroki isn't one of the stars of female boxing, and she's not one of the truly elite among the Japanese female fighters, like Momo Koseki or Naoko Fujioka, she is a top class fighter who is showing all the signs of becoming a top fighter for the years to come.
With Ando the best looks to be behind her. The 29 year old struggled to get going, losing her first 2 bouts, before defeating Amara Kokietgym in September 2011 to claim the WBA Atomweight title and became a world champion. Her reign however was a short one, losing the belt in her second defense to Ayaka Miyao. Despite losing the WBA title to Miyao we did see Ando continue to compete at the world level, losing in title challengers against both Miyao and Su Yun Hong, before claiming the WBC female Minimumweight title with a win against Jasseth Noriega in 2013, lsoing that title in her first defense to Kuroki.
Since losing the title to Kuroki we've seen Ando come up short against Zai ong Ju and Ibeth Zamora Silva, with Silva stopping Ando in the 6th round of a horribly one-sided contest. That loss to Silva seemed to suggest that the hard career of Ando was taking it's toll, though may well have said more about how good Silva is, with many regarding her as one of the truly elite female fighters.
With Kuroki claiming a win in the first fight, and improving whilst Ando has seemingly regressed, the winner her will almost certainly be Kuroki again. The question however will be whether the champion scores a stoppage or another decision. We think Kuroki will go on to stop Ando here, with Ando likely to retire afterwards.
The Atomweight division is the most obscure division in boxing, and lacks the depth of many other divisions. Saying that however we do get some interesting fights at the weight, like 2015's unification bout that saw Momo Koseki unify her WBC title with the WBA title then held by Ayaka Miyao. That was the biggest bout in the division's short history and was a thrilling contest with both showing their ability.
This coming Tuesday we see the loser of that bout, Ayaka Miyao (21-6-1, 5) attempt to claim the WBO title to become the division's first 2-time champion. Miyao however isn't the only fighter looking for a slice of history as her opponent, current WBO champion Nao Ikeyama (17-3-2, 4) looks to extend her record as the oldest active world champion and the oldest ever Japanese world champion, with the veteran now being 47 years old!
Ikeyama won the title a little more than 2 years ago, becoming the oldest Japanese world champion at the age of 44. Since then she has recorded 4 defenses of the title, beating Masae Akitaya, Norj Guro and Jujeath Nagaowa whilst fighting to a draw with the vert capable Saemi Hanagata. Not only has she been defending her title but in December 2015 she became the first world champion to defend a world title in Sri Lanka.
Whilst Ikeyama is 47 she is great physical shape, has an excellent engine and solid skills. She's not an amazing boxer in a pure boxing sense but she's the type of fighter who is refusing to give up the title and is seemingly getting better with age, like a fine wine.
Aged 33 Miyao seems to have been around for years, originally one of the stars of the Ohashi gym she has recently transferred to the Watanabe gym and will be getting her first big fight since linking up with Watanabe. Early in her career she struggled for form, beginning 4-4-1, though has subsequently gone 17-2 losing only to Naoko Shibata and the aforementioned Koseki. Against those two losses are wins against the likes of Masae Akitaya, Mari Ando, Gretchen Abaniel and Satomi Nsihimura.
In the ring Miyao has long been seen as a perpetual punching machine, though has calmed that non-stop output in recent years to land some heavier shots and stand her ground more. That change in style has made some of her fights more exciting and although she's not a puncher she has scored 4 stoppages in her last 6 and is showing an increasing amount of physicality to meet her output.
Although on paper it can be easy to back an in form champion it must be said that that this is set to be one of Ikeyama's toughest bouts and with Miyao being so much younger, so much fresher and so much hungrier it's hard to see anything but a title. Ikeyama won't hand over her title but Miyao will do enough to rip it away in a really fun, action bout.
Earlier this year Japanese fighter Yunoka Furukawa (8-1-2, 6) announced herself on the Oriental scene, claiming the OPBF female Flyweight title with a 7th round stoppage against Christine Latube, and then announced herself on the world scene, claiming the WBA Atomweight title with a 3rd round TKO against Satomi Nishimura. The drop down in weight, of 10lbs, was an impressive feat by it's self but to see how destructive she was at the new weight was a scary thought for the division.
This coming Tuesday Furukawa returns to the ring to make her first defense of her Atomweight title, as she takes on OPBF Female Light Flyweight champion Mika Iwakawa (6-4-1, 2), who drops to Atomweight for her first world title bout.
On paper the bout looks like a mismatch, but in reality it should be a lot more interesting than the records suggest.
Furukawa is a destructive wrecking ball. She's not the smoothest or most skilled boxer but she is a a natural puncher who has stopped her last 4, fighting as high as Flyweight, with notable wins against the likes of Nishimura and Aiko Yamagishi. She's also been in great form, going 7-0 (5) following a 1-1-2 start to her professional career. The early career set backs have all been put behind her and at 22 she looks to be a force for both the present and the future.
Before Furukawa faces some of the more notable fighters at 102lbs, like Momo Koseki, it's clear she needs some more experience and defenses against the likes of Iwakawa will her her develop that experience and build towards the divisional super fights.
The 33 year old Iwakawa has been a professional for around 5 years and although he record is less than stellar she has mixed with some really notable names. That has seen her go 1-0-1 with world chanmpion Kumiko Seeser Ikehara, lose to future champion Mako Yamada and push current champion Nao Ikeyama all the way. She has also lost to brilliant Mexican Brisa Hernandez. Last time out she beat Nonggig Sithjaanart, to claim the OPBF female Light Flyweight title and is looking to build on that win.
Through her career so far Iwakawa has never been stopped, despite facing decent competition, but her lack of power has been an issue and will prove to be on here against Furukawa. She's probably the better “fighter” in terms of skills but the huge disparity in physicality and power is likely to be a real issue for her here.
Whilst Iwakawa is certainly better than her record suggests it's hard to imagine her being able to hang with Furukawa who we suspect will, eventually, stop the challenger, likely in the middle rounds of the bout.
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.