On September 26th at we'll get the first world title fight in Japan since the restart of boxing in the country, with the bout taking place in Kobe. Sadly it's not a huge bout, but it is an interesting one, as WBO Atomweight champion Mika Iwakawa (9-5-1, 3) makes her first defense, around 26 months after first winning the title back in July 2018. In the opposite corner to the world champion will be former Japanese national champion Nanae Suzuki (10-3-1, 1). On paper this doesn't look amazing, but should still be a pretty interesting bout for the Atomweight division, and could shake things up, or take us a step towards a potential unification.
The 37 year old Iwakawa made her debut in 2011, though found her career on the rocks early on following an injury to her eye, and a bad run of form. At the end of 2013 it seemed her career was done. She was 3-3-1 (1), the wrong side of 30 and had lost gone win less in 2013, losing Mako Yamada and Nao Ikeyama and drawing with Kumiko Seeser Ikehara, all of whom went on to win world titles. She returned in 2015 and despite losing on her return she began to build some moment and moved her record to 6-5 (2), claimed the OPBF title and got her first world title fight. She lost in that world title fight, to Yunoka Furukawa, but less than 2 years later she beat Nao Ikeyama to claim the WBO Atomweight title.
Sadly since winning the title in July 2018 Iwakawa has taken a leaf out of Gary Russell Jr's playbook, fighting just once in 2019, in what was a none title fight against Momoko Kanda.
Sadly there isn't a lot of footage of Iwakawa out there, but what there is shows a tough, aggressive fight. She likes to let hooks go, but she has some awful footwork, squaring up a lot and looking to have a fire fight. Against Furukawa that had some real success, but in the end the youth and energy of Furukawa was the difference maker at times.
Aged 28 Suzuki is the much younger fighter and actually only turned professional in 2016. Like Iwakawa she struggled early on, and lost 2 of her first 3, but since than has gone 9-1-1, with her only loss coming to the excellent Eri Matsuda. Her wins haven't been at a mega high level, but they have included victories over Chie Higano, Sana Hazuki and Kanyarat Yoohanngoh, and she has claimed the Japanese national title.
Although Suzuki is an aggressive fighter as well, her style is very different to that of Iwakawa. Instead of squaring up and firing hooks, Suzuki boxes aggressively. She does still square up sometimes, but throws far more straight shows, and looks to wear opponents down with volume, rather than huge power swings. She takes risks, with 2 handed assaults being a common thing, but she also moves around the ring well and seems like she has a lot of energy to burn.
Although Iwakawa is the champion, and before the bout was talking about seeking unification bouts, this is actually a bout that we see her struggling with. She may have the edge in terms of physical strength but in reality the speed, stamina, work rate and footwork of Suzuki will prove to be the difference over the 10 rounds.
We see Iwakawa having moments early on, but being out pointed at the end by Suzuki's more sustained and busy aggression.
For fans wanting to watch this one, it will be streamed live on BOXING REAL.
Prediction - UD10 Suzuki
The Atomweight division is certainly not a division that gets much attention, despite featuring a number of excellent match ups in recent years. It is, after all, a female only weight class and is the smaller weight class in professional boxing, with a weight limit of 102lbs. Despite the fact it's often over-looked it does, typically, give us high intensity action with a lot of leather thrown.
Not too long ago Japanese national Atomweight champion Eri Matsuda vacated her title, and we'll see that vacancy being filled on July 25th, in the first Japanese female title bout of the restart. Not just will we have a new champion being crowned, but we will also be getting a rematch as Kaori Nagai (4-2-3, 2) and Momoko Kanda (10-12-2, 4) clash for the second following a bout last September.
In their first bout Nagai took the victory, claiming her biggest win, with a 6 round split decision. That was a massive win for Nagai and saw her becoming the #1 contender for the Japanese title. Prior to that win there was almost nothing of note on her record. She had failed to win her first 3 bouts, and was 1-2-3 after 6 contests, but the win over Kanda saw him secure a third straight win and she will be coming into the bout with moment on her side.
As for Kanda her record might not be impressive but her career is far from a wash out. The 24 fight veteran has been in with a genuine who's who of the lower weights. She has fought the likes of Ibeth Zamora Silva, Masae Akitaya, Joselyn Arroyo Ruiz, Ayaka Miyao, Kumiko Seeser Ikehara, Yuko Kuroki and Mika Iwakawa among others. Although she has picked up losses she has never been stopped and has always been there to win. She's tough and comes to fight but lacks that single standout trait needed to get wins against the higher level fighters.
At 33 years old we get the feeling that Kanda needs a win here, and will be hungry for that victory. This is likely to be her last title shot, and another loss will see her left in the dark. She has won titles in the past, but we suspect she'll want this one too, to become the third Japanese female Atomeweight champion. She'll also be after revenge. We see those being driving forces for a great performance from Kanda, who think will take a very close, and very hotly contested decision. Nagai will be there to win, she'll give it everything, in what will be a sloppy but high octane war but we favour the driving forces behind Kanda to be the difference here.
Prediction - SD6 Kanda
On February 8th Costa Rican fighter Yokasta Valle (19-2, 8) will be making her first defense of the IBF female Minimumweight title, ash she goes up against Filipino challenger Carleans Rivas (8-6-4). This will not only be Valle's first defense but also Rivas' first world title challenge, after having fought numerous times for regional titles.
Although not a global name by any means Valle is a talented fighter, The 27 year from San Jose has shown a willingness to travel and to take on the best. This has seen her lose on the road to the likes of Naoko Fujioka and Tina Rupprecht, running Rupprecht very close in Germany, and actually winning this title in Spain last August. The belt she currently holds is her second, after having previously held the IBF's version of the 102lb title in 2016, and she has proven to be a tough fighter to beat.
In the ring Valle is small, even for a female fighter at 102lbs or 105lbs, but she uses her diminutive size well. She makes herself seem smaller, darts in an out well, and is very aggressive. She's not the most powerful puncher out there but she throws a lot of leather, has a busy lead hand and throws in bunches, often getting flurries off before an opponent can respond. It's her activity and aggression that make her a nightmare to fight and not many fighters will have the work rate to go with her, or the power to make her think twice about letting shots go.
The 31 year old Rivas has really struggled when she has fought above Filipino level, and in fact even at domestic level she has been beaten by the likes of Jessebelle Pagaduan and Lady Love Sampiton. Above domestic level she has lost to the likes of Tamao Ozaw, Chaoz Minowa, Tenkai Tsunami and Yumeni Ikemoto. Sadly for her she hasn't been able to win when she's stepped up and she's also rarely even been competitive at regional level. She is also 0-4 outside of the Philippines.
Whilst she's not totally terrible she isn't particularly good either. She lacks power, throws a nice jab but a very slow and loopy right hand and often puts herself off balance. There's a fighter that could have been competitive at regional level if her team had managed to polish her rather clear visible flaws, but instead those issues are still clearly there and clearly limit her potential to go far in the sport.
Although we don't see Valle as an emerging superstar of female boxing, she is a talent and we expect her to make this first defense look very, very easily. We would be massively surprised by anything but a dominant win by the Costa Rican champion.
Prediction - TKO8 Valle.
Back in September Japanese fight fans in Sakai saw local fighter Tomoko Okuda (5-2-2, 1) earn a controversial draw against Kanako Taniyama (2-0-1, 1) in a bout for the Japanese and OPBF female Bantamweight titles. It seemed that Taniyama, the busier, more aggressive, fighter had done enough to earn the win. The judges thought otherwise and gave the local fighter the benefit of the doubt, well at least two of them did with both of those judges scoring the bout even over-ruling a 78-74 card for Taniyama.
On January 28th they go again, this time with Taniyama having home advantage with the bout taking place at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo.
The first bout, although controversial, was interesting through out. Okuda looked to box on the outside, keeping the bout at range and counter the aggression of Taniyama. Taniyama on the other hand wanted to make it a fight, pressing in bursts, and forcing the pace through out. Although Taniyama was the aggressor she did take a lot of clean punches herself, from the more technically correct Okuda. Those shots left Taniyama with a badly swollen left eye that she fought through. The final round, of what was an 8 rounder, was a mess as the two tiredly fell into each other during some wild exchanges.
We expect to see a similar dynamic here. Taniyama pressing, trying to drag Okuda into a fire fight. We would however be very surprised if Taniyama's eye swelled up like it did in their first bout, and we would also be shocked if the judges in Tokyo gave Okuda the same benefit they ones in Sakai did.
Instead we expect Taniyama's aggression, heart and determination to impress judges, and help her take the decision.
One interesting difference between this bout and their first, other than the venue, is the length. Their draw came in an 8 rounder, and this is only 6. So the mess of the final round, where there was a lot of clinching between wild exchanges, isn't likely to be seen here. It's also worth noting that after 4 rounds last time out the two were level on all 4 cards, meaning a hot start here could be key in taking the Japanese female Bantamweight title.
Still in saying that, we do still favour a Taniyama decision.
Prediction - UD6 Taniyama
The first world title bout to take place in Japan this year is a female one between two former world champions, who can't afford another loss at this stage of their career, if they are to remain relevant as top contenders. Both are heading towards and neither is in their prime, as injuries and age catch up with them. Despite that we are expecting a genuine fantastic fight as Etsuko Tada (19-3-2, 6) and Ayaka Miyao (23-8-1, 6) meet for the WBO female Minimumweight title.
Of the two it's Tada who is the older fighter. The Shinsei promoted 38 year old is a former WBA, IBF and WBO female Minimumweight champion who has fought at world level for a decade or so. She won her first world title in 2009, following an excellent amateur career, and has faced a genuine who's who of female boxing in the lower weights. She took her first title from ChoRong Son and went on to defend it against the likes of Ibeth Zamora Silva, Maria Salinas, Naoko Shibata and Yuko Kuroki before being dethroned by Anabel Ortiz. She would claim the IBF title 2 years later, beating Kareli Lopez, before losing in her first defense to Cai Zong Ju, then claim the WBO title in 2018 beating Kayoko Ebata.
In her prime Tada was fast, aggressive, a solid puncher, highly skilled, tough and a nightmare for anyone. As she's aged he speed has slowed, her combinations don't flow as they once did and she struggles to apply the same pressure she did when she was younger. She's still an excellent fighter, but often needs the right sort of opponent to shine against. Against a mover she struggles, and she's much better against a fighter who stands their ground. Despite that can chase, just not in the way she once could.
At 36 years old Miyao is no youngster herself, and she's no novice either, having made her professional debut in 2004, before the JBC even recognised female boxing. Her early career was tough, and she was 4-4-1 after her first 9 bouts. Since then however she has gone 19-4 and become a major figure in the Atomweight division, where she is a former WBA and WBA interim champion, who also fought in a unification bout with the then WBC champion Momo Koseki. During her long career she has beaten the likes of Mari Ando, Masae Akitaya, Gretchen Abaniel, and Nao Ikeyama.
At her best Miyao was a lighting quick fighter who could fire off lightning quick shots, and move around the ring with very quick footwork. She's been slowing down in recent years, but is still quick, skilled and hard to pressure. Notably she is moving up from Atomweight, 102lbs, to Minimumweight, 105lbs. It's going to be interesting to see how she copes with the extra weight, and the extra weight of her opponent. One other thing to note is that Miyao has previously suffered a nasty knee injury. She has fought twice since then, but it does leave some question marks about her body.
Here we expect to see Tada pressing, coming forward and Miyao boxing and moving on the back foot, using her feet to try and stay away from Tada's pressure. From there it really depends on who controls the distance as to who wins. We suspect that Miyao will have the early success with her foot work, but Tada will come on strong and begin to take control in the second half. This will not make it easy to score, but will make it very, very competitive, and very close.
Prediction - Draw (Split)
The Japanese female title scene is a very mixed one. Some of the title fights are brilliant, well matched bouts between two fighters on their way up the ranks. Other times it appears the JBC just want to full a vacancy, and anyone will do. On January 27th we get a bout that firmly fits in the latter category as Yumiko Shimooka (4-7, 1) and Yumi Narita (3-4-3, 1) battle for the Japanese female Minimumweight title.
Coming in each fighter has won just 1 of their last 6 bouts, and for both women they without a win in their last 3. These aren't the best female fighters in Japan at 105lbs but with a vacancy that needs filling they are facing off for the belt.
The 38 year old Shimooka made her debut in 2014, and immediately struggled. She was stopped on debut, and despite winning 3 of her following 4 bouts never really built any career momentum. She has now lost 5 of her last 6 and hasn't fought since a decision loss to Mont Blanc Miki in November 2018. You need to go all the way back to December 2017 for her last win, which came in an upset against Umi Ishikawa.
Watching Shimooka you can see why she's lost so many bouts. She's crude, lazy, wide open, slow and not particularly busy. She telegraphs her punches and stumbles forward, often eating more than she throws as a result, and what she does throw is so horribly off balance.
Aged 30 Narita is the younger fighter, and the more active, with 2 fights last year. Incidentally she lost both of them by split decision, including a title fight to Chie Higano and a close loss to Sana Hazuki. Although she's win-less in 3 she was competitive in all 3 of those bouts and has interestingly drawn 3 of her last 6. One thing to realise when it comes to Narita is, win, lose or draw, she has generally been in close bouts.
Sadly however her limitations are very visible, much like Shimooka. She lacks power, she lacks variety and although she does have a busy jab, it lacks snap. It's more thrown as a stay away punch then a real scoring shot. Sadly when fighters walk through that jab she no real answer and often holds, leading to some messy action. Watching her she really doesn't appear to have anything at all on her back hand.
With the limitations of both should make this competitive but we can't help thinking that Narita, the younger, fresher, more active fighter, will do enough, just, to take this. Neither is particularly good but the jab of Narita, and her younger legs, are likely to prove the difference maker in a fight we expect to be very, very messy.
Prediction - SD6 Narita
The first world title fight to feature an Asian fight for the new year takes place this coming Saturday in Mexico as Chaoz Minowa (6-2, 5) takes on WBC "interim" female Light Flyweight champion Kenia Enriquez (22-1, 9) in Jalisco. For the Mexican this will be her 4th defense of the title she won back in May 2017 whilst Minowa will be looking to claim a world title at the third time of asking, and do so after more than a year away from the ring.
Although female boxing isn't huge in the English speaking world, despite growing notable in recent years, it has been popular in Latin American for years with numerous Mexican and Argentinian stars. The 26 year old Enriquez looks to be on her way to becoming another female star of the sport. She has bounced back excellently from her sole defeat, to Melissa McMorrow way back in February 2015, and is riding a 9 fight winning run at the moment. Whilst Enriquez hasn't yet beaten a who's who of the female scene she has scored notable wins over Katia Gutierrez, Maria Salina and Jessica Nery Plata and has become one of the clear faces of the female scene at 108lbs.
Watching Enriquez in action is different to watch many Latino female boxers. She doesn't look to set a hectic pace. Instad she's actually quite deliberate, but that's not an insult. She throws crisp, clean straight shots, works off her jab and is very accurate. She slips shots well and puts together heavy shots. She's not a concussive puncher, but she's someone with the thudding power that fighters feel every single time she connects. From a technical stand point she is very good, though perhaps a little on the slow side.
In 2016 Ayako Minowa turned professional, adopting the Chaoz Minowa fighting name. She was full of confidence and seemed like the sort of fighter that had success ear marked for her. She had been a fantastic amateur, had heavy hands, through combinations, looked tough and like a real handful. Just 3 months after her debut she had claimed the OPBF female Flyweight title and had spoke about winning titles in numerous weight classes. Sadly when her competition stepped up in 2018, when she took on Tenkai Tsunami she came up short, being broken down by the rugged Tsunami. A second world title fight that same year saw her fight valiantly but lose a clear decision to Ibeth Zamora Silva. Now aged 32, and with more than a year away from the ring, it's now or never for Minowa.
At the early stages of her career Minowa often fought like she was going to rip through opponents. That changed somewhat later in her career, and against Zamora she boxed smartly, though had her legs taken away through the fight and really slowed down in the second half of the fight. Whilst some of that slow down can be attributed to the altitude credit also needs to be given to Zamora for forcing a high tempo and going to the body. Here we're expecting to see Minowa fight smartly again, and with less problems from altitude she could well find her gas tank last better, especially given that Enriquez doesn't set a tempo like Zamora.
If Minowa wasn't coming in after such lengthy break we'd give her a decent shot, she has got the skills in her locker to give Enriquez issues. Sadly however the lengthy absence from the ring is a major issue, and we see that being a problem here for the challenger. That, combined with the effectiveness of Enriquez, and the Mexican crowd behind the champion doesn't bode well for Minowa.
We see the challenger having moments, she's too good not to, but we also see her coming up short, and losing a close but clear decision to the local favourite. We suspect Minowa will be in the lead early, but when Enriquez gets into the groove she'll start racking up the points and taking the decision.
Prediction - UD10 Enriquez
The final female world title bout of the decade will see Miyo Yoshida (13-1) defending her WBO female Super Flyweight world title as she takes on Chinese youngster Li Ping Shi (5-2, 2), as part of a super stacked card at the Ota City Gymnasium in Tokyo. For Yoshida this will be her first defense, after winning the title in June, whilst the 21 year old Shi will be getting her first crack at a world title, and look toe extend her current 3 fight winning run.
The 31 year old Yoshida has made a name for herself over the last couple of years, with her rise from relative obscurity to Japanese, then OPBF and now world champion, all in the space of just over 2 years. She has done so as a single mother, which the Japanese press love to remind us, and has really shown she much improvement from her early days as a boxer. She has stepped up the levels and improved every step of the way, avenging her sole defeat along the way and beating the likes of Tomomi Takano, Yoshie Wakasa and, most recently, Casey Morton.
Although completely devoid of power Yoshida is a solid boxer-mover. She likes to establish range, using her speed and movement to get in and out and ties up well on the inside. Although not a powerful puncher she is surprisingly strong in the clinch, and has pushed around the likes of Wakasa with no issue. What she does really well is time her opponents, and although he shots don't have much weight behind them they do look damaging due to how well she lands her counter shots.
Whilst Yoshida has proven her self at every level whilst climbing through the ranks the same cannot be said of Shi, who is a relative unknown, even in Asian boxing circles. She has been selected as an easy first defense, though with some momentum behind her, including a good win over Yuko Henzan last time out, the challenger will not be there to make up the numbers, and will be going in with some genuine self belief. She has had 3 wins coming into this and despite her youth she does look like a solid, confident and aggressive fighter. Like Yoshida she lacks power, but she comes to fight, and is very much the woman who is going to be pressing the action with her pressure.
Whilst there is plenty of footage of Yoshida out there, including quite a lot on Boxing Raise, the same cannot be said of Shi, though we did manage to get a copy of her 2018 bout against Hyun Hee Gil to get something of a read on her. That footage suggests that she could be a very interesting test for Yoshida, and not the gimme defense that her record suggests. She managed to regularly rush Gil, making the Korean incredibly uncomfortable through out. It wasn't a consistent rush, but it was a regular tactic that left Gil off balance and unable to really respond. A tactic that could unsettle the timing and counters of Yoshida.
We suspect that Yoshida will have to work incredibly hard to take home the win here, though we do expect her to do enough to squeak the decision. Shi will come to win, she will rush, attack and be happy to take one to land one. She's not a big puncher, but the challenger has the aggressiveness to make up for it, and her hooks are thrown with bad intent. Yoshida might be the better boxer, but she will have to take some big shots en route to a win here, and may even be hurt early on by the huge over hard rights that Shi unleashes.
Prediction - Yoshida UD10
It's fair to suggest that 2019 is going to go out in style, and to end the decade Watanabe gym will be promotin a show with a staggering 6 title bouts on it. Of those 6 bouts 3 are world title bouts, including a female title bout, two are regional title bouts and one is a female Japanese title bout.
Of course the least notable of those bouts is the female domestic title bout. Whilst the least significant it is actually a well-matched bout that deserves more than just a passing glance from fans more interested in the bigger bouts. In one corner will be 19 year old hopeful Yume Hirayama (4-0), whilst the other will house Marina Sayama (4-1-1, 2), they are the top two ranked Japanese domestic female Flyweights and they are both hunting their first title. They are also meeting for the second time, after first fighting back in 2017.
Back in 2017, when the women first fought, Hirayama took a decision win over Sayama. It was Hirayama's debut and she was the clear winner. Since then Hiayama has slowly carved out a a small but notable winning run, racking up victories against the then unbeaten Yui Akai and defeating Sachiko Kondo, who was recently the opponent of Tomomi Takano in her Japanese ring return. Although lacking in power she's an energetic fighter, bouncing around the ring with ease, boxing wonderfully out of a southpaw stance and controlling range well. Not only is she smart with her feet but she has enough sting on her shots to stop opponents in their tracks typically, especially with her sharp left hand.
At the age of 32 Sayama is looking to prove herself in a second sport, after having had a career as a professional football player, or soccer player for our American readers. She turned to boxing after she turned 29 and was probably a bit too old to make a major mark on the sport, though she did have the fitness to give it a good run. She won her first 2 bouts before losing to Hirayama in December 2017, then had a draw with Sachiko Kondo. Since the draw she has beaten Kondo in a rematch and stopped Korean for Chan Mi Lim, though sadly that Lim bout was over a year ago and she's been out of the ring since. Whilst Hirayama fights like a smart boxer with a bit of amateur experience, Sayama looks like someone who took to the sport late, but has done well to craft a style that works to her strengths. She's not as crisp, or as clean or as natural as Hirayama, but she does look very powerful, and her right hand is very much a big punch for her, though there is little else in her arsenal. It's also worth noting that Sayama had been dropped in the past, and we do wonder about her chin and overall durability.
Whilst Sayama is clearly the stronger, more physically mature and powerful fighter, we expect to see Hirayama using her footwork, speed and crisper punching to neutralise the advantages of Hirayama and take the decision win. We don't see her asking real questions of Sayama's toughness, but we do see her coming out on top whilst relying on her boxing skills.
Prediction - UD6 Hirayama
On December 14th Tenkai Tsunami (26-12-1, 15) will return to the Light Flyweight division as she seeks her second defense of the WBO female Light Flyweight title. In the opposite corner to the champion will be 2-time world title challenger Jessebelle Pagaduan (12-1-1, 5), from the Philippines, in what looks like a very interesting match up on paper.
The champion, who is a proper veteran, has been a professional since 2005 and this will be her 40th professional bout. On paper her record does look blotchy to say the least, but she has been in 12 world title bouts and faced a genuine who's who of female boxing during her long career. During that she has faced the likes of Ayaka Miyao, Kayoko Ebata, Naoko Yamaguchi, Janeth Perez, Mariana Juarez, Zulina Munoz, Jessica Chavez and Naoko Fujioka. Given that level of competition there is no wonder she has picked up losses, with all of them coming by decision and the majority coming in her opponents back yard.
Although not an elite level fighter Tsunami is clearly world class and is a 2-weight world champion, having won the WBA Super Flyweight title more than a decade ago before dropping in weight to win her current title last year. She's tough, sets a good work rate and hits solidly, without being a concussive puncher. To beat her an opponent needs to keep her off balance, using quick feet and making her chase them. That however is easier said than done and few have the stamina, toughness and physicality to do so over 10 rounds.
Pagaduan has twice challenged for world titles in Japan, and twice been rather unfortunate. Her first world title fight came back in 2014 when she came up against the excellent Nao Ikeyama, who was simply too good for Pagaduan and came far too early in Pagaduan's career. Her second ended after a round with a technical draw against Kumiko Seeser Ikehara. Since then she has won 5 in a row, though all 5 wins have come against very limited opposition.
Footage of Pagaduan isn't too great, though what is available shows an aggressive, speedy yet small fighter. She has the speed and aggression to be in some exciting fighters, and if she can get back down to 102lbs she could be a really fun fighter down there with the other small fighters. Sadly at Light Flyweight, and against a strong Light Flyweight like Tsunami, her size is going to be a real issue and she'll be bullied around.
We suspect that Pagaduan will come to will and will start fast, with a lot of early success thanks to her speed. That however will change as the bout goes on, and the weight, strength and power of Tsunami will wear her down, breaking her spirit and stopping her late on.
Prediction - TKO9 Tsunami
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.