Earlier this year we saw Costa Rican fighter Yokasta Valle (25-2, 9), the IBF Atomweight champion, score her most widely seen win to date, scoring a very clear and decisive win over Lorraine Villalobos on DAZN. That win saw her impress everyone, and put her hat in the mix to be consider a top 10 pound for pound female fighter, with the performance showcasing her speed, skills, movement and the natural fluidity she has to her in ring style. This coming Thursday we'll see her return to the ring to defend her title in a unification bout against WBO champion Thi Thu Nhi Nguyen (5-0, 1), from Vietnam.
Valle really is a sensationally talented fighter who appears to be able to do it all. She might not be the explosive puncher that Seniesa Estrada, but she certainly hits harder than her record suggests and is such a clean, accurate puncher and is a smooth, natural boxer, with an excellent style. Whilst she does have two losses on her record, it is worth noting that she's gone on an excellent run since them. They occurred in late 2017, to Naoko Fujioka, and mid 2018, to Tina Rupprecht, both in her opponents back yard. In both of those fights she made a great account of herself, and showed there was a real talent there, which has been nurtured really well as she's become the face of Costa Rican boxing.
As for Nguyen , the Vietnamese fighter is the first ever world champion from Vietnam, but also someone who has had more than her fair share of good luck. In just 5 fights she has raced to a world title, but her rise has included questionable wins over the very limited Kanyarat Yoohanngo and the talented Etsuko Tada, who she beat for the WBO world title last October. In both of those bouts, which took place away from Vietnam, she was afford some very nice judging. In the ring she's certainly not bad, but nothing about her screams word class. Instead she's been fortunate, with Cocky Buffalo protecting her some what. She's fast, and she's skilled, and gutsy, but lacks power and lacks that know how and experience needed to legitimately compete at the highest level.
Coming in to this we expect to see Nguyen not having favourable judges in her corner, for once, and that will be a major issue against someone as versatile, rounded, and consistent as Valle. Valle will likely take a round or two to see what Nguyen really has to offer and is bringing to the table. She will respect her, as a fellow world champion, but after a few short rounds Valle will have scouted her foe, and begin to find her own range, timing and rhythm, and begin to land at will. Nguyen is quick, and she used that speed well against Tada at times, but Valle is not a late 30's fighter with slow feet. Instead she's a quick, sharp, well school fighter who will close the ring and find her range and do what she wants with the Vietnamese fighter.
Prediction - UD10 Valle
On September 1st we'll see WBO Atomweight champion Nanae Suzuki (11-4-1, 1) look to make her first defense, as she takes on former WBC champion Yuko Kuroki (19-7-2, 9) at Korakuen Hall. The bout might not have two of the top names involved in the bout, but it does promise to be a very exciting, high tempo contest, between two men who like to throw a lot and should gel when they get in the ring.
On paper the champion isn't anything special, but the 30 is a truly fantastic fighter to watch, with a style that involved intense pressure, a refusal to back off, and a mind that is very much focused on making every bout into a fight. She made her debut in 2016, losing 2 of her first 3, but since then she has gone 10-2-1, won the Japanese and WBO Atomweight titles, and we very unlucky in her most recent loss, a split decision to Mika Ikwakawa. Those recent bouts have proven her early struggles really are behind her. She has managed to prove herself as a high work rate fighter, an intense fighter, and the sort of fighter who will always be a nightmare, despite lacking power.
As mentioned Suzuki is a pressure fighter. She can struggle early in bouts, with her first 2 losses coming in 4 rounders, but as bouts get longer and longer she becomes more and more frustrating, and then eventually overwhelming. She's not particularly polished, or a smooth boxer, but she is just pure intensity and when her engine gets going there really is no stopping her. She pressures, she presses, and she throws, a lot. Notably she doesn't seem to be the type of fighter to be discouraged, despite being caught plenty of times, and walks through shots to land her own, and to drag opponents into her fight. Unfortunately she lacks fight changing power, but with her output she is still a nightmare.
As for Kuroki, the 31 year old southpaw once looked like the next queen of Japanese boxing, but now appears to be a fighter looking to just keep her career alive. She began her career in 2008, and lost 2 of her first 3 bouts before working her way to a world title fight in 2013, where she lost a wide decision to Etsuko Tada. She would however make the most of her second shot at a title, in 2014, when she defeated Mari Ando for the WBC title. She would defend that title 5 times, until being dethroned in 2017 by Momo Koseki, who subsequently retired having become a 2-weight world champion. Sadly since her loss to Koseki we've seen Kuroki going 2-2-1, with both of her wins being low key ones, and she now desperately needs a big win to keep her career alive.
In the ring Kuroki is a good already. She has good skills, she's light and relaxed in the ring and fights confidently. She has solid power, a rugged toughness to her, and although there are holes in her technically she is a very solid all rounder who finds holes in opponents and lands solid shots. She has a very nice southpaw jab, and a solid straight left hand, which are her key weapons. Sadly for Kuroki she can be out worked, and although she has a lot to like, she can be seen posing a little bit too much at times, and not letting her hands go quite enough, which is an issue at 102lbs and 105lbs, where fighters set high work rates and impress judges with activity.
Coming in to this one Kuroki is the more skilled fighter, and we expect to see her skills shine early on. We expect to see her foot work, her movement and her clean accurate punching impress early on. Sadly though as the rounds go on the work rate of Suzuki will begin to shine, she will simply out work and fight Kuroki as the challenger slows and tires. The early lead of Kuroki will be clawed away at in the the middle rounds with Suzuki edging the bout thanks to the final rounds.
Prediction - UD10 Suzuki
Arguably the best bout scheduled for September 1st at Korakuen Hall is an IBF Atomweight title fight, as champion Ayaka Miyao (25-9-2, 6) looks to make her first defense, and takes on former WBO champion Mika Iwakawa (10-6-1, 3) [岩川美花]. The bout is interesting not just because both are proven at world level at 102lbs, but also their styles, which are very different, should gel to provide us with a very interesting and engaging bout.
The 38 year old champion has been one of the major faces of female boxing in Japan over the last 10 years or so. During her career she has become a fixture at world level, with a lengthy WBA title reign being the highlight of her career. During her career she has been in with a genuine who's who of notable lower weight female fighters, including the likes of Nao Ikeyama, Tenkai Tsunami, Naoko Shibata, Momo Koseki, Etsuko Tada and most recently Eri Matsuda, who she beat for the IBF title in February. Whilst she hasn't always been able to beat the top fighters out there she has always had the tools to ask serious questions of them, and has regularly bounced back from set backs to prove there is still life in her now aging legs.
In terms of her style Miyao is very much a swarmer, who can box but is always happy to use her speed to get in and out whilst unloading flurries. She lacks power, but forces opponents to put their guard up with a high work rate, very quick hands, and intense combinations during her raids. She's not only got quick hands, but also quick feet, and when she's on the retreat she's hard to catch. Technically she does make a lot of mistakes, and often slaps with her shots rather than getting behind them, but with her speed, stamina, work rate and toughness she usually gets away with those mistakes. Sadly for her she has struggled in recent years having suffered a nasty injury against Nao Ikeyama in 2016, as well as a loss to Montserrat Alarcon and a brutal TKO loss to Etsuko Tada in 2020, but a win over Eri Matsuda in February showed there was still some life left in her career.
Whilst Miyao is a veteran at 38 she's actually the younger fighter here, with Iwakawa being 39 years old, though she's a fresh 39 with just 17 fights and 102 rounds to her name, since her debut in 2011. What's remarkable Iwakawa is the way she has slowly built her career. She started off with 3 wins, but quickly fell to 3-3-1 after 7 bouts and 6-5-1 after 12. Since then however she has had the best for of her career, winning the WBO Atomweight title in 2018, with a win over Nao Ikeyama, and defending it in 2020 against Nanae Suzuki, before losing it in a rematch to Suzuki this past February. Sadly she has been relatively inactive, with just 3 bouts since her title win, in July 2018, and she also didn't dight at all in 2021, and also had issues at a former gym, which has effectively derailed her over the last few years.
At her best Iwakawa is a pure boxer, and one of the best at the weight. She boxes well, uses the ring well and is very well schooled from a technical perspective. In a division that really has been dominated by fighters with high work rates, speed and a willingness to out land and out punch their opponents, Iwakawa stands out as something of an oddity, boxing on the move, making opponents miss, countering, and generally fighting a reserved style. It's a style that has lead her to success late in her career, but also a style that can show cracks when she's under intense pressure from someone who is willing to take one to land one. If she can maintain range she is very hard to beat, but that's a huge if.
Sadly for Iwakawa we can't imagine her having this fight her way. In fact whilst we do expect her to make a good start, boxing well to win the first few rounds, she end up falling behind to the pressure and work of Miyao who will, over the rounds, simply do too much to be denied. We expect to see Miyao down after 4 or 5 rounds, but a strong second half will turn things around whilst a tiring and worn out Iwakawa will offer little late on, as a result Miyao will have overcome the early deficit to take a hard fought decision win.
Prediction - UD10 Miyao
On September 1st we'll see OPBF Atomweight champion Eri Matsuda (4-1-1, 1) look to get back to winning ways as she puts her title on the line and takes on Kaori Nagai (6-4-3, 2) at Korakuen Hall. On paper this looks like a straight forward win for the highly skilled Matsuda, however things are certainly not as easy as they look on paper, and she will likely be asked serious questions by someone who is much better than her record suggests.
Matsuda, now aged 28, was touted for success from the moment she called time on her amateur career. Her record in the unpaid ranks was 21-12 (9), and whilst that's certainly not a spectacular record she showed the skills and tools in those amateur bouts to make a real mark on the professional scene. Her amateur skills showed almost immediately, as she beat Sana Hazuki on debut before taking the OPBF female Atomweight title in just her second professional bout. In her third bout she unified the OPBF title with the Japanese title, beating Nanae Suzuki, and in just 13 months as a professional she had raced to 4-0 (1). Sadly for Matsuda the pandemic really screwed with her career and she the entire of 2020 on the side-lines before returning in early 2021, after 18 months out of the ring. On her return she put in a great effort but was held to a majority decision draw by IBF Atomweight champion Saemi Hanagata. Following that disappointment, she was out of the ring for another 11 months before suffering a majority decision loss to Ayaka Miyao this past February, in another IBF title fight. With those results it is now almost 3 years since Matsuda last scored a win and we do need to wonder what she's like mentally given those results against Hanagata and Miyao.
In the ring Matsuda is very much a fighter who boxes as an amateur. She keeps things long, uses great technical skills and boxes on the move. She has a solid jab and a great straight left hand, with good footwork and solid stamina. Fighting out of the southpaw stance she makes her style and size work well, but she does need to work really hard at times to get the space to work. Due to her style, which is very much based on movement and keeping on her toes, she rarely sits on shots and really doesn't have the power to hurt fighters, which is a major issue for her against top tier opponents, like Hanagata and Miyao. However against pretty much everyone else in the division, her skills will be enough to secure the rounds needed for a decision.
Nagai, who is now aged 32, has proven her value in the sport as a gate keeper of sorts, rather than a genuine threat at the upper echelons of the regional scene. She made her debut in 2015 and lost her first 2 bouts before going on a solid unbeaten run of 9 fights, with notable wins over Momoko Kanda, for the Japanese Atomweight title and Natsuki Tarui. Sadly that run ended in September 2021, when she lost a decision to Ayaka Miyao and since then she has also lost to Mizuki Chimoto, in a competitive bout for the OPBF Minimumweight title. Those recent losses, to Miyao and Chimoto, showed she wasn't world class, but she did take rounds from both fighters and did enough to prove her will to win and toughness, things needed to become a gatekeeper type of fighter.
In the ring Nagai is a busy fighter with a lot of movement, a busy jab and nice speed, in fact she almost matched the incredibly quick Miyao at times. Sadly though she doesn't sit on her shots at all, and although she has a busy jab there is little else in her offensive arsenal. Take the jab away from her and she really does offer very, very little other than a lot of movement and being something of an irritant, rather than a threat.
We expect Matsuda to somewhat cruise to a victory here, though Nagai may have the speed to catch Matsuda with the occasional shot here and there. Sadly the fact Matsuda is a southpaw is likely to negate the jab of Nagai and essentially leave her weapon-less. As a result we expect to see Matsuda simply out boxing, out skilling and out landing Nagai. Matsuda might have trouble landing in the first few rounds, due to the speed and movement of Nagai, but when she gets her timing down she will be landing regularly en route to a clear, wide and dominant win.
Prediction - UD8 Matsuda
On September 1st we'll see a new Japanese Atomweight champion being crowned as the unbeaten pairing of Sumire Yamanaka (5-0, 1) and Honoka Kano (4-0-2, 2) battle for the vacant title at Korakuen Hall. The bout is expected to be a major stepping stone in the career of both women, who are both eying up future success well above domestic level, however both will also know this is set to be the toughest bout of their career. A win would be huge for either woman, though both are young enough to take a loss, and bounce back stronger in the future, and defeat is certainly not the end for them.
The more well known of the two women involved in this bout is 20 year old hopeful Sumire Yamanaka, the younger sister of former world champion Ryuya Yamanaka. The diminutive Yamanaka has been ear marked for success by Shinsei Gym but has struggled a little bit in the professional ranks, despite her unbeaten record. Sadly for her, her lack of size, standing at less than 5', and lack of physicality has made life hard for her, and at just 20 there is significantly physical development for her to still go through. Despite that there is no doubting her hunger for success and she did look to find a bit of killer instinct in her most recent bout, which took place in Thailand. It seems fair to say that Yamanaka isn't the complete article, but even as a work in progress there is a lot to like about her. She's aggressive, gutsy and does have a nice mix of skills and weapons in her arsenal.
For us Yamanaka seems to be the type of fighter who is 3 or 4 years away from what she'll become, but is still a very notable female prospect in a division which has long been dominated by fighters from Asia.
As for Kano, the 27 year old she made her debut in 2019 and looked big and powerful in her first bout, before being held to a draw just a few months later. Through her career so far she has continued to look power, big, strong and like someone who has the physical attributes to compete well above the Atomweight division, and she will easily tower over Yamanaka in this fight. In the ring Kano is aggressive, she looks to cut the distance, use he physicality and bully opponents, whilst throwing and landing big, heavy shots. Given her aggression she is often willing to take on to land one, and is defensively poor, but is tough and strong enough to know she can take one to land one, especially at this level. Her biggest issue is her balance and footwork, with very sloppy footwork and the technical side of her game is lacking, but that's typical for a fighter with just 5 bouts to their name.
Whilst we feel that Yamanaka is very much a work in progress, and will look like she's being dwarfed by Kano, we do feel her aggression, and the style of the two women will play in her favour. If Kano was the type of fighter who kept things long, and used her size to box at range this would be a really, really tough for Yamanaka. Instead Kano will look to bring the fight, Yamanaka will respond, getting inside and working away with shorter, crisper shots up close. The power and strength of Kano could be the difference maker, but we feel that the inside work of Yamanaka will actually be the key to her taking a narrow decision win.
Prediction - UD6 Yamanaka
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
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 Sunday is a pretty big one for female boxing in Japan with two shows at the with two shows at the Sangyo Shinko Center, in Sakai. The second of those shows is headlined by a female world title bout whilst the other is an all female show, headlined by a Japanese Atomweight title fight between defending champion Kaori Nagai (5-2-3, 2) and unheralded challenger Natsuki Tarui (4-6-2).
Nagai, who is now 31, made her debut in December 2015, and did so in disappointing fashion, losing her first 2 bouts. In fact after 6 bouts she was 1-2-3, and few would have given her any chance to make a mark on the sport. Since then however she has turned her career around, reeling off 4 wins including her title win. Not only has she been picking up wins but she has taken an unbeaten record along the way and scored two wins over a former world title challenger, in the form of Momoka Kanada.
In the ring Nagai is fairly limited, if we're being honest, and there is no sign of her ever becoming a world champion. However, she's a fun woman to watch, letting off straight punches and trying to avoid the typical gruelling mauling action we've come to see a lot of in female boxing. She's someone who looks like she wants to fight at range, use her legs and firing off combinations at range. When it does come to action on the inside she can fight there, though often looks less comfortable there, and she often seems happier at mid-range than in the pocket. Sadly she lacks power, and there is a rushed look to a lot of her work, but she really has improved so much over the years and we suspect the title will galvanise her, and go on to make her a better fighter.
At 29 years old is the younger fighter, but despite that she's the more experienced, having made her debut in 2014. Just like Nagai she also struggled to get going with her career and lost her first 4 bouts, and was 1-5-1 after 7 bouts. Her only win during that early stretch of her career came against boxing model Riyako Goshi. She has, like Nagai, managed to turn things around and is 3-1-1 in her last 5, During that recent run she has given 3 fighters their first loss, and held the always fun to watch Mont Blanc Miki to a 6 round draw.
Interestingly Tarui is also a fighter who knows how to use her feet, and seems happier at mid-range, she's got quick hands, throws straight punches and seems like the sort of fighter who has got plenty of tools in her arsenal. Sadly though she also lacks power, big time, and she's physically lacking in strength and size and looks like she could be bullied around quite easily. She also doesn't really look that technically sound and loses her composure a lot. At her best she's genuinely very good, much better than her record suggests, but it's hard to know just how much of a fight will be her at her best. If she's on song for 6 rounds, at Japanese level, she could be a very tough fighter to beat.
Whilst this bout is an easy one to look over, especially given the weight and records of the two fighters, we genuinely are excited about it. The women match up really well, their styles should gel well, and we should get a very exciting, relatively clinch free, fight, with a lot of leather thrown by both fighters. We suspect the edge in speed for Tarui will be key to her gameplan, but by that same taken Nagai is probably the more physically imposing we it wouldn't be a surprise to see her use that to try and slow down Tarui if she needs to.
The two fighters match each other really well and this should make for a very close and exciting bout. We are expecting this to be a fun one, a hotly contested one and one where the judges will be torn. They will have a very tough time scoring it, but those watching will have a joy watching a high tempo, high action fight with every round being close.
Prediction - SD6 Nagai
Over the last few years female boxing has gone from strength to strength and no longer is female boxing only for the hardcore fight fans, who watch anything they can. Whilst it's not fully crossed over into the main stream, there are certain fighters who have connected with a wider audience than ever before, such as Katie Taylor, and we are seeing more and more hints towards getting all-female cards in the UK and the US.
Whilst it's great to see more countries embracing female boxing it's worth noting that a number of countries have been putting on notable female bouts for years, such as Mexico, Argentina and Japan. That looks to continue for the foreseeable future, including this coming Thursday, when Japanese fans at Korakuen Hall get an interesting IBF Atomweight title fight.
The first in question will pit defending champion Saemi Hanagata (16-7-4, 7) against novice Eri Matsuda (4-0, 1) in a really intriguing bout. For Hanagata the bout will be her second defense, following her title win in 2018 against Yuko Kuroki, whilst Matsuda will be getting her first crack at a world title. For Hanagata the bout is a chance to prove she is the Japanese queen of the division whilst Matsuda is looking to force a generational shift in the division, and prove the new women of Japanese boxing are just as good at the legends that put Japanese female boxing on the map over the last 15 years or so.
Fans who have followed Japanese female boxing will be familiar with Hanagata and her career. The 36 year old debuted way back in 2008 and has been bouncing around the world title picture since 2012, when she challenged the legendary Momo Koseki for the WBC Atomweight title. Whilst Hanagata managed to establish herself as a world class fighter rather early on, it wasn't long until she became a fighter with a reputation of not being able to get it done at the top level. By the end of 2017 she had gone 0-2-2 in world title bouts, and it seemed like she was never going to get over the line. She already won the OPBF title but couldn't get over the line at world level. Thankfully for Hanagata it was fifth time lucky in 2018 when she scored a split decision win over Yuko Kuroki for the IBF title, and a year later she recorded her first defense, defeating Nao Ikeyama. Now she's looking to continue her reign as a champion, and return to action 18 months after her last bout.
One of the things that made Hanagata such a popular fighter was her incredible desire to win. After failing to win in her first 4 world title bouts she had still desire and hunger to climb towards another shot. That wasn't just hunger for a shot though, it was hunger every time she stepped in the ring. It didn't matter who she was against she was a rampaging monster in between the ropes. She pressed forward almost constantly, she threw a lot of leather, and never stopped coming forward. Her desire to become a champion was just an extension of the desire shown in her in ring style and tenacity. She was an aggressive, pressure fighter who made for fan friendly bouts. For those with Boxing Raise we really suggest giving her bouts a watch, they are almost always thoroughly entertaining wars.
The 26 year old Matsuda debuted back in 2018 and was moved quickly through the ranks after a solid amateur career. In her debut Matsuda beat recent world title challenger Sana Hazuki before winning her first title, in just her second bout, as she beat Minayo Kei for the OPBF Atomweight title. Soon after that she unified the OPBF and Japanese titles, with a win over Nanae Suzuki, and would defend the Japanese title once, with a TKO win over Mont Blanc Miki.
Despite her lack of experience Matsuda has already got 27 professional rounds under her belt, shown she can do 8 rounds at a good pace and has faced a number of aggressive pressure fighters, and has shown the tools to go a long way, though obviously still has a lot of work to do. In the ring her style is very much an amateur style, with her focus being on straight punches, maintaining distance and a lot of footwork. It's a style that looks very taxing on the legs and really is a safety first one. Sadly, due to her movement, she doesn't really sit on her punches and seems feather fisted, but she's very skilled and her competition so far has been incredibly advanced for someone with so little experience. It has also been the perfect type of competition to prepare her for a fighter like Hanagata, with Hazuki, Suzuki and Miki all bringing a lot of heat to Matsuda, who had to maintain her focus and her composure.
Coming in to this it's worth noting that neither fighter fought in 2020. In fact both fighters last fought on September 12th 2019, on the same show at Korakuen Hall. Neither fighter is likely to look their sharpest from the opening bell and instead we expect to see both need a round or two to find their groove. That could prove vital here given how different their styles are.
If Hanagata settles first, and manages to force her fight from the opening round, we suspect she can take an early lead and force Matsuda to chase the fight. If that happens we're not sure Matsuda has it in her arsenal to turn the tide. However if Matsuda settles first, creates space, and tags Hanagata coming in we could easily imagine the younger, fresher, fighter racking up the early rounds then holding and spoiling late on to take a decision. It really is going to be key for both women to find their rhythm as soon as they can.
Coming in to this one we see it as a very, very well match bout, and the difference in styles, age and experience leave it as a compelling match up. We suspect that Matsuda will get off to a good start, and take the early lead, but as the rounds go by, and as Hanagata's pressure cranks up she'll come back into the bout. The real question is whether Matsuda can get a big enough lead to take the win, or whether Hanagata's pressure will be enough for her to take a narrow, and hotly contested, victory.
Prediction - Matsuda SD10
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.