One of many notable bouts this coming Sunday will see Japan's Tenkai Tsunami (25-12, 14) defending her WBO female Light Flyweight title against Filipino challenger Gretchen Abaniel (18-9, 6). For the champion the bout will be her first defense, following her title win in March against Chaoz Minowa, whilst Abaniel will be looking to finally win a big one and become a world champion, after having come up short in a number of title challenges.
The Japanese fighter is a true veteran, having made her debut back in 2005, and since then she has faced a real who's who whilst becoming a 2-weight champion. Her first reign, as the WBA female Super Flyweight champion, began in 2009 and saw he hold the title until 2012. She would then attempt to become a 2-time champion but failed in title bouts against the likes of Janeth Perez, Mariana Juarez, Zulina Munoz and Jessica Chavez. Given that level of competition there is little wonder why Tsunami began to collect losses but she always put up a good effort, fighting hard for the 10 rounds. Although she was gritty and determined she just kept coming up short to elite level opponents.
In March it seemed like Tsunami was getting her last shot as she took on Minowa for the WBO female Light Flyweight title. At the age of 30, and having had a hard career, it was unclear what Tsunami had left until she out worked and broke down the former amateur standout in 8 rounds, with Minowa being saved by her corner whilst looking completely exhausted by the time they saved her.
The 32 year old Abaniel has been a true servant to Filipino boxing since making her debut back in 2006. Since then she has regularly competed with world champions, fighting the likes of Cho Rong Son, Samson Tor Buamas, Katia Gutierrez, Teeraporn Pannimit, Ayaka Miyao, Kumiko Seeser Ikehara and Cai Zong Ju. Like Tsunami she has often come up short against the best opponents she's faced, but has regularly given good value as a valiant loser.
Abaniel is technically capable, though lacks power and physicality especially given that she's someone who has fought much of her career at Atomweight and Minimumweight. For this bout she's going up to be up at Light Flyweight, against someone who has been a world champion at Super Flyweight. Whilst she's technically very good we see the strength and power difference here being huge and we suspect it will be too much for Abaniel.
We're expecting to see Abaniel start quick, and have moments in the early rounds, but be worn down by the pressure and aggression of Tsunami, who we believe will stop the challenger in the second half of he bout.
This coming Saturday fight fans in China will be able to see IBF female Minimumweight champion Zong Ju Cai (9-1, 1) defending her title against Filipino foe Gretchen Abaniel (17-8, 6). The bout will be Cai's first as a champion whilst Abaniel will be looking to claim a major world title in her 5th, following reigns as a minor champion with WIBA level titles. The bout might not be anything massive to fans in the West, but to fight fans in China this is potentially a massive showdown and a chance for Cai to prove herself as a world class female.
In the ring Cai is a really skilled boxer-mover. She's not heavy handed and doesn't ever try to fight like a fighter with power. Instead she fights with energy, uses the ring and tries to always stay in control of the pace and action of the fight. Unlike many smaller fighters she doesn't fight like type of fighter who wants a high octane brawl, instead she wants to use her skill, potentially hiding a questionable energy tank.
With the Chinese crowd cheering her on it's going to be hard to beat Cai, but she isn't unbeatable. At times in her title win, which came back in January against Etsuko Tada, she seemed to flag late on and looked like she was running out of steam. If a fighter can force the pressure on her quickly then she could struggle later in the bout. If Cai can dictate the pace and tempo however, she will be very tricky to beat, and not many will have the skills to beat a comfortable Cai.
Aged 31 Abaniel is a true veteran, and one who has fought almost everywhere. She made her debut in China and has fought not only in the Philippines but also South Korea, Thailand, Mexico, Japan, Australia and Germany. Whilst she has had mixed success in the ring she has proven to be a world class fighter with only a single stoppage against her, back in 2011 to Katia Gutierrez, and competitive losses to a number of world class fighters like Ayaka Miyao. She's talented, experienced and tough, and a real handful for those on the verges of world class.
Although a talented fighter we can't help but think that Abaniel lacks the style to really compete with Cai. The two fought back in 2015 and Cai won with ease and we suspect that will happen again here. Abaniel will try, she always try, but we can't see her coming out on top here against the Chinese fighter, who is continually improving and is just coming into her prime.
Earlier this year we saw Japanese teenage Mako Yamada claim the WBO female Minimumweight title and create history by becoming the first female Japanese teenager to win a world title. Sadly however her reign was short lived and she retired from the sport prior to making a defence of the title. It was a disappointing way to see Yamada's career come to an end though it did free up the title for those who did want to fight for it.
Since Yamada's retirement however the title has remained vacant and it's only now that we are set to see a new champion crowned as Japan's little known Kumiko Seeser Ikehara (5-1-1, 3) battles against Filipino foe Gretchen Abaniel (15-5, 6).
Of the two it's Abaniel that is the more well known fighter, not just internationally but also by Japanese fans. The 28 year old "Chen Chen" has been a professional since late 2006 and fought several times for world titles, including a very controversial loss to Cho-Rong Son in 2008 and more recently a decision loss to WBA Atomweight champion Ayaka Miyao. Of those bouts it's the Miyao one that many fans will be interested in, especially considering that was her only other fight in Japan.
Against Miyao we saw Abaniel give a good account of herself early on though by the end she was looking exhausted. We think that whilst that was partly due to Miyao's insane work rate it was also partially down to issue making 102lbs. For this fight she'll be allowed another 3 lbs and that, and probably should, help her with stamina, work rate, durability and power.
As for Ikehara we really need to admit she's a bit of a mystery to us. Aged 29 she hasn't faced much competition so far though she does have a single win of note, a decision over Saemi Hanagata. Other than than the win on Hanagata the only other thing of note about her record is a loss and a technical draw to Mika Iwakawa.
Having been a professional for little over 2 years we can accept that Ikehara hasn't stepped up as a though we cant really understand what she's doing taking a leap up from her previous opponents to a fight with the experienced Abaniel. With that in mind we can only assume that the title will go back to the Philippines with Abaniel who is tried and tested at the world level.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Having seen Momo Koseki recently defend her WBC Atomweight title against Nora Cardoza it now seems we have just one stumbling block before a possible all-Japanese WBA-WBC Atomweight title unification.
That stumbling block is Filipino Gretchen Abaniel (13-4, 4) who challenges Japan's WBA champion Ayaka Miyao (15-5-1, 1) for the WBA title on November 28th.
Abaniel, who comes in to this bout highly regarded and with the reputation of hitting harder than her record indicates, is a real banana skin for someone like Miyao.
Aged 28 and stood at 5'1" the Filipino challenger is younger, taller and rangier than the champion. As well as those physical advantages she has proven to be a credible world level fighter having previously shared a ring with Cho-Rong Son, Samson Tor Buamas, Katia Gutierrez and Teeraporn Pannimit.
Whilst Abaniel is 0-3 is world title fights recognised by "the big four" she has previously won a secondary title, the WIBA Minimumweight title, suggesting she has the ability to be a world champion in the future and in all honesty "on her day" she could possibly beat anyone at 102lbs.
Japan's Ayaka Miyao is, at 30 years old, probably coming into the later years of her prime physically. Whilst some female fighters have managed to find success in their later years, such as Naoko Fujioka who is almost 40 yet looks to still be improving, it's fair to say most are beginning to slow by their 30's, especially in in the smaller divisions.
Although not a big puncher Miyao has proven to be tough, talented and a fighter who has improved massively since she began her career. Saying that it is worth noting that Miyao began her career 4-4-1 before going 11-1 in her following 12 as she went from talented but inexperienced fighter to world champion.
Those 12 fights that Miyao has fought in since her poor start have included 8 straight victories. These have seen her claiming the WBA Atomweight title and subsequently defending it twice and she's become another notable member of the Ohashi stable which also over-sees the careers of Naoya Inoue and Akira Yaegashi.
For us this bout comes down to two things. Can Miyao get the respect of Abaniel with her light punching? If she can't, does she have the skills to out boxing Abaniel?
We feel that Miyao won't be able to get Abaniel's respect but will have the skills to win enough rounds to win a decision. It won't be decisive and dominant but the right woman will win for use. Thankfully for Abaniel we don't think this will be her last chance.
Of course no matter who wins we would love to see the winner fighting Koseki in a major unification bout. It would, of course, be bigger if it was an All-Japanese bout though even if it wasn't it would still be a major bout and the most important in the Atomweight division's history.
Note-This bout is the headline contest from Ohashi gym's "47th Battle Phoenix" which also features a contest between Kayoko Ebata and Nancy Franco.
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.