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 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.
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
The Atomweight division is the most obscure division in professional boxing. Not only is it the lightest weight classes, at 102lbs, but it's a female only division and has pretty much been dominated by Japanese fighters since it was first created with fighters like Momo Koseki, Ayaka Miyao, Nao Ikeyama having long and notable reigns there. Whilst there is a growing number of people interested in both the lower weights and female boxing, there isn't much of an international interest in the Atomweights.
Despite the low profile the division has been providing some fantastic fights in recent years, and right now has one of the brightest hopes in female boxing. That is Eri Matsuda (3-0), who has adapted to the professional ranks with ease and already won her first 2 titles, the JBC and OPBF Atomweight titles. This coming Thursday she'll be looking to make her first defense of the Japanese belt as she takes on Mont Blanc Miki (4-2-1, 1).
Matsuda was a talented amateur before turning professional last year and instantly showing touches of genius out boxing the rugged and aggressive Sana Hazuki on debut. She then claimed the OPBF title just months later, out pointing Minayo Kei and then unified the OPBF and Japanese titles with a win over Nanae Suzuki. Unlike many female fighters Matsuda is an outside fighter, setting the tempo for the fight at range, behind her jab and her footwork. Unlike many female fighters she's not someone who looks to have an inside war and instead uses a more classic, pure boxing approach.
Whilst Matsuda is a real talent, and has shown it through her short career, there is less to talk about in regards to Miki. She is a 26 year old who made her debut a little over 2 years ago. As a professional she hasn't shone at all. She scored a win in her debut before being stopped in her second bout. Since then she has gone 3-1-1, with her second stoppage loss coming in March to the limited, but hard hitting, Chan Mi Lim. She has proven to vulnerable, light punching and really technically limited. She's popular but not particularly talented.
Whilst Matsuda hasn't shown much power yet she has enough on her shots to get respect of good fighters. Without trying to be harsh Miki has done little to show she's actually a good fighter, and we really wouldn't be surprised if Matsuda got her first stoppage here. Matsuda's clean accurate punching will be the key her, and we suspect that when she moves through the gears she will hurt Miki, and then force the referee to jump in.
Prediction - TKO4 Matsuda
Unification bouts in boxing are rare, whether they are bouts to unify world titles, or regional titles they are still rare. Even more so when they involve relative professional novices. With that in mind there's a bout on March 13th to get really excited about, especially if you follow the female boxing scene, as OPBF Atomweight champion Eri Matsuda (2-0) takes on JBC counter part Nanae Suzuki (8-2-1, 1), with the two women looking to join the most notable regional title with the Japanese title.
Of the two it's Matsuda who is the more interesting. She was a former amateur standout who has already impressed, beating a former Japanese title challenger on debut, taking a competitive win over Sana Hazuki, before schooling Minayo Kei over 8 rounds to claim the OPBF title. The 24 year old from Team 10 count is one of the smoothest female boxers on the planet, with really well rounded skills, a very sharp punches and lovely movement. She's a rangy southpaw who knows how to use the ring, though when she needs to bite down and fight she has shown she can do that too.
Despite being a professional novice Matsuda has already fought 14 rounds of professional boxing. She has proven her stamina over 8 rounds already and will not worry about the 8 round distance against Suzuki, have done 8 rounds at a good pace against Kei.
With 11 professional bouts under her belt Suzuki is the much more experienced fighter, and she has already been involved in 4 Japanese title fights, going unbeaten in those 4 bouts. Her first title back, back in December 2017, saw her fight to a draw with the previously mentioned Suzuki, though she would take the title in a rematch 3 months later. Since then she has defended the bout against Akari Arase and Sayaka Aoki. Despite having a couple of losses and a draw on her record already she has actually beaten every one she has fought, avenging losses to Aoki and Yumiko Shimoooka.
Watching Suzuki we see a relatively basic fighter. That's not to say she's bad, but she is basic, with a good work rate, a pretty solid looking right hand and aggressive mentality, coming forward behind her jab. Technically there is a lack of that crispness we see with Matsuda, but she has got a battlers mentality, coming forward and letting her hands go up close.
Suzuki has the type of style we see bothering Matsuda, a come forward style that involves working in the pocket. Thankfully for Matsude the limitations of Suzuki mean that she probably won't actually have too many issues here. If Suzuki was a bit quicker, a bit sharper and a bit lighter on her feet she could be a problem. Instead we see Suzuki being too sharp, too quick and establishing her range, tempo and jab en route to a wide 8 round decision win.
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.