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
On January 30th we’ll see the IBF female Minimumweight champion Yokasta Valle (20-2, 9) defending her title against Japanese challenger Sana Hazuki (8-4-1, 2) in Costa Rica, the first world title fight to feature a Japanese fighter this year. The bout isn’t a huge one, but it is an interesting one, in a division where there are some very good female match ups to be made, and the winner here will find themselves well in the mix for bigger figures. In fact prior to this bout being made there was supposed to be a much, much bigger bout lined up for Valle, but more about that in a few moments. Sadly however this bout has been put together on relatively short notice, and it could end up being a case that neither fighter is quite 100% for this clash. Despite that we do expect an interesting contest.
As mentioned Valle was supposed to be in a much bigger bout. Originally she had planned for a mid-January bout against German fighter Tina Rupprecht, to unify the IBF, WBC, IBO and Ring Magazine titles. That bout was sadly cancelled earlier in January, and the IBF ordered a mandatory between the champion and Hazuki as a result.
The now 28 year old Valle has been a professional since 2014, and has really proven herself as a talented fighter in recent years. That was despite a slow start to her professional career in which she fought a lot of low level bouts early on. Despite the slow start to her professional career she did claim the IBF Atomweight title in December 2016, beating Ana Victoria Polo to become the inaugural champion. Sadly she didn’t actually defend that title, instead looking to face bigger names, and in 2017 that led her to facing Naoko Fujioka in Japan, and suffer her first loss. Just 6 months after losing to Fujioka she travelled to Germany and lost to Tina Rupprecht. Within just a few months Valle had gone from 3-0 to 13-2, but had fought two highly talented fighters and proven her ability.
Since the back to back losses Valle has claimed the IBF female Minimumweight title, beating the hard hitting Jaoana Pastrana in Spain in 2018, and defended it once, stopping Carleans Rivas in 2020.
In the ring Valle is an aggressive fighter, who throws a lot of leather and believes in herself. She’s tough, energetic, and has more than a respectable amount of pop in her punches. She throws a very nice, crisp jab and a clean, straight, right hand. Given her power, work rate, big over hand right and speed and movement she’s not an easy fighter to beat, and she really does know her way around the ring. Unlike some female fighters she’s not all out aggressive and is more of a boxer-fighter than some of the swarmers we see out there in the lower weights.
The Japanese challenger, who also debuted in 2014, is now 36 and is likely on the back end of her career. Despite that she’s not got a great deal of wear and tear and will be getting her first world title in just her 14th professional contest. Despite not having much wear and tear she’s also not proven herself as a viable world title contender, with her most notable win coming over the then 5-0 Eruka Hiromoto in 2019, a win that netted her the OPBF female Minimumweight title. That win aside has little else of note on her record in terms of success. In fact the other notable results on her record are losses to Eri Matsuda and Nanae Suzuki, and a draw to Suzuki.
Despite her less than stellar results it’s hard to fault Hazuki’s work rate. In the ring she’s all effort, all energy and always coming forward letting her hands go. There’s a lack of quality and crispness to her work, but few can fault her tireless engine, with to win and all out fighting mentality. Sadly though she lacks the nuance to make the style work and the power needed to get her opponents respect. A lot of her shots are slapping shots, and there’s a really trudginess to her pressure. She’s a fun fighter to watch, but someone who’s deficient in too many areas to really compete at world level.
Although Hazuki is an all aggression fighter we don’t really see that aggression working too well against Valle, who we suspect will use her feet well, set up the counters and land big, heavy, clean shots. Hazuki will come forward all night, but eventually an accumulation of clean head shots, and the gulf in skills, will prove to be the difference, and we suspect Hazuki will end up taking a lot of leather until the referee steps in.
Prediction - TKO 8 Valle
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.
In August American fans saw Joshua Franco and Oscar Negrete end their trilogy with their second draw. The two men had next to nothing to separate them over a thrilling 3 fight series, with Franco taking a split decision in the only bout to end with a winner. This coming Thursdays Japanese fans get the end to a similar trilogy, as Saemi Hanagata (15-7-4, 7) and Nao Ikeyama (18-5-4, 5) battle for the third time. Their first two bout have both been split decision draws and both will be hoping to take a victory over their nemesis in what will likely be the final clash between the two.
Interestingly the dynamic entering this third bout is different to their earlier bouts. In their first 2 bouts it was Ikeyama entering as a champion, defending the WBO Atomweight title, with Hanagata being the hungry challenger. This time the tables are turned, with Hanagata entering as the IBF Atomweight queen and the soon to be 50 year old Ikeyama fighting as the challenge. Whether that makes a difference is yet to be seen, though it is an interesting shift in the narrative as we enter the third chapter of rivalry.
Ikeyama is one of the more interesting stories in female boxing, and proof that if you keep trying, keep improving, and don't quit you can achieve notable success. She turned professional way back in 2003, at the very advanced age of 34.
Ikeyama's debut was so long ago the JBC hadn't even began to recognise female boxing in the early stages of her career she would win the WIBA Minimumweight title and the JWBC title, but was still essentially fighting without the JBC backing until 2008. When the JBC recognised female boxing Ikeyama would get a shot at the WBC Atomweight title, facing Momo Koseki in 2009, and lose a clear decision. At that point she was 39 and after just 3 more fights it seemed like her career was over, following a win over Mika Oda in December 2010.
Amazingly Ikeyama resurfaced 3 years after her win over Oda. This come back lead to her biggest success, with a 2014 win over Jessebelle Pagaduan netting her the WBO Atomweight title, at the age of 44! She would would defend the title 6 times, score notable wins over Jujeath Nagaowa and Ayaka Miyaao, as well as two defenses against Hanagata, both coming by way of draws, before losing the belt in 2018 to Mika Iwakawa. She would hint at retirement following her title loss, but then continue on and lose in a third bout with Miyao. Again talk of retirement was ended when Ikeyama returned and earned a draw with Yuko Kuroki, in what was really credible performance and one that showed there was still life left in Ikeyama's career
In the ring Ikeyama is a bundle of energy, despite her age. She's ultra busy in the ring, throws a lot of leather, and whilst she's not light on her feet or a big puncher, she's still a nightmare to fight. Here fitness levels are incredible and she can take a good shot. In recent years she has come un-done against faster, smart fighters, but few will look to go punch for punch with her if they hope to win. It was the movement from Miyao that played a huge factor in their third bout and showed the tactics to beat Ikeyama at this stage.
At 34 years old Hanagata is a relative spring chicken, though she too is a veteran having debuted more than 11 years ago. She has adopted the surname of promoter Susumu Hanagata, and has been one of the biggest success stories of the Hanagata Gym, along with recent Japanese champion Yuta Saito and former world title challenger Go Odaira. She lost on her debut and remained at a lot lower level for around the first 2 years of her career, losing in her first step up against Jujeath Nagaowa. She would get a second step up in class in 2012 and earn a draw against Masae Akitaya before getting a world title fight with the then WBC Momo Koseki, losing a competitive decision.
Having proven she could have with better fighters Hanagata's team started to match her more aggressively. That back fired early, with a loss to future world champion Kumiko Seeser Ikehara, and a win and draw against Yuko Kuroki, but in 2014 she would claim her first title, the OPBF female Minimumweight title. Her reign was short lived, losing the belt just 6 months after winning it. Despite the loss she would move up in weight and get her second world title shot, losing a close a decision to Naoko Shibata. Since the loss to Shibata we've seen Hanagata go on a bit of a tear, whilst dropping back down in weight. She would reclaim the OPBF female Minimumweight title, have her two ultra close bouts with Ikeyama and then, last September, claim the IBF world title, winning the big one in her 5th world title bout.
We've not seen Hanagata in the ring since her title winning performance, so whether she still has that hunger is a big question, though it's clear she will want to pick up a win against Ikeyama after their first 2 bouts were so close and hotly contested. At her best she's a rugged punching machine, with a real will to win. She walks through shots with her pressure and looks to work her hard shots on the inside. Although not an out and out puncher she does have heavy hands, as we saw when she dropped Yuko Kuroki last time out.
As with their first two bout we're expecting a thrill a minute bout. It's not going to be the prettiest of the smoothest fight we'll ever see, but it is going to be a thrilling bout, with both looking to control the pace, both throwing a lot and both engaging in close combat. The big questions are whether Hanagata still has the fire she had before winning the title and whether Ikeyama can still go with her 50th birthday coming up just days after the fight.
We think Hanagata's "youth" will play a part here and will be the difference. Ikeyama has such an amazing gas tank, but it will have to break at some point and we expect that to be here. She's not looked her best recently and is 0-2-2 over the last 2 years, though has fought at a high level. Hanagata on the other hand will not to throw away the biggest achievement of her career and will be desperate to keep the belt, doing just enough, and being that touch busier, to retain the title.
Prediction - SD10 Hanagata
This coming Friday fight fans in Spain will Thai visitor Samson Tor Buamas (40-4, 22) face off with local champion Joana Pastrana (13-1, 4), for Pastrana's IBF female Minimumweight title. The Spanish fighter will be making her first defense, following her title win in June against Oezlem Sahin, whillst Samson will be looking to claim a “big 4” world title for the second time in her career, more than a decade after she last won bout for a big title.
The 27 year old Pastrana debuted in 2016, and began her career with 3 stoppage wins, all within the first 2 rounds. She then followed up with 4 decisions against novices before losing in her first step up in class, losing to Tina Rupprecht in 2016, when she actually suffered a broken hand. Since then she has racked up 6 wins, claiming the European female Minimumweight title, which she defended once, and now the IBF title.
The footage of Pastrana shows her to be a strong but clumsy fighter. Her foot work looks slow and calculated, rather than natural and fluid, her upper body movement is much better but still isn't genuinely world class. She does however look strong and powerful. She might have only scored 1 stoppage in her last 10 wins but she looks like she gets the respect of her opponents quite easily. Sadly for her though she's not very sharp, accurate or quick. Everything she does looks a bit awkward, almost as if she's converted to boxing from another combat sport.
At 35 Samson is past her best. At her very best she was a top female fighter, who literally fought her way out of prison to become a boxing world champion. Less than 2 years after her debut she defeated Ayaka Miyao to claim the WBC female Light Flyweight title, which she would defend 3 times include a very notable win over Momo Koseki and another against Kayoko Ebata. Since then however she has really failed to capture the attention of the boxing world. She's shown good skills,scoring only a single win of ant note when she beat Gretchen Abaniel. For the most part however she has faced limited novices, with the only exceptions being in losses to Nadia Raoui and Cai Zongju.
At her best Samson would have given fits to almost any female fighter in the lower weights. Now however she is well past her best. Her recent competition won't have done much harm physically, but will have failed to keep her sharp enough to really be competitive at the world level. Added to the low level of competitive is her inactivity, with just 2 bouts in the last 2 years, and we expected her to look slow, clumsy and out of sorts.
Despite the issues that Samson has with age, competition and activity we feel she has a chance to show how flawed Pastrana is. Sadly though we don't see her doing it often enough to take the win. Instead we suspect that the home fighter will take the decision, but not shine like a champion would want to in her fist defense.
Over the last few weeks we've seen a lot of talk about a potential third bout between Gennady Golovkin and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, after the two men competed in two razor thin bouts. Those two bouts have seen Canelo take a 1-0-1 lead over the Kazakh but the reality that neither man really out did the other during their two fights. This coming Saturday we get to see the end of a very similar trilogy, between two fighters who have had two razor thin bouts, with one resulting in a draw and one being a really narrow win.
The trilogy in question is a trilogy between Yuko Kuroki (18-5-1, 8) and Saemi Hanagata (14-7-4, 7), who fight for the IBF Atomweight title. Their first bout took place in June 2013, with Hanagata taking a hotly contested unanimous decision before the two fought to a draw just 6 months later, with the two women fighting for the OPBF female Minimumweight title.
Since their bouts both fighters have established themselves as genuine class fighters. Kuroki has gone to win the WBC Female Minimumweight title, which she won in 2014 and defended 5 times until losing it to Momo Koseki in late 2017. Hanagata on the other hand has had 3 world title challenges, losing the first by majority decision before twice fighting to split decision draws. Both are world class fighters, both have history with each other and both will be looking to score a win when they face off this coming weekend. The big question however, is what are we expecting?
Of the two it's Kuroki who arguably has more to prove. She's going in having failed to win either of the previous bouts between these two fighters and having been a world champion already. She's the younger woman, the more established fighter and the one who is moving down in weight.
In the ring Kuroki is a pretty technical but busy fighter. She's quick, busy and applies pressure at a tempo of her choosing. She's not the most accurate but is happy to throw a number of shots to land one, whilst handcuffing her opponent. She has good movement, nice quick hands work and very intelligent foot work. Her lack of power is a glaring flaw, but she is technically a good very sharp and sharp shots will get the respect of her opponents, even if she does struggle to score stoppages. Where she perhaps struggles the most is when an opponent can cut the ring off and go to work on the inside, and that will be something she'll look to avoid here against the aggressive Hanagata.
At 33 years old, and in her 5th career world title bout, Hanagata will probably know it's now or never, however she will know that could have had a world title with just a small bit of luck. She was very unlucky against Naoko Shibata in 2015 and against Naok Ikeyama, in 2016 and 2017. She is a world class fighter and an absolute nightmare to fight. Sadly though she is a fighter who has had next to no fortune.
In the ring Hanagata is a fearsome fighter, who fights with a pressure fighter style, getting in her opponents face and really going to work with heavy, hard shots thrown in volume. Despite only having 7 stoppages in 25 bouts she hits hard enough to get the respect of everyone she fights. Her biggest issue is her technical ability, and despite being a busy pressure fighter she's not the most accurate and instead can be made to look wasteful, ineffective and crude. She cuts the ring off well, but can be made to miss up close.
Where expecting to see Hanagata get on the front foot and Kuroki to box and move. It's a fight that is stylistically perfect, with pressure against movement. Over 10 rounds Hanagata's pressure does tend to get to fighters, but Kuroki is a real talent the 27 year old has a great engine. We're expecting some fantastic exchange between the two. We however tip the younger, faster, more technically capable fighter here. We suspect she will be pushed all the way, but will come out on top with a razor decision, the equal the series 1-1-1.
This coming Saturday fight fans in Argentina will see local favourite Debora Anahi Dionicius (26-0, 6) defending her IBF female Super Flyweight title against Japanese challenger Terumi Nuki (9-2, 4). For the champion the bout will be her 11th defense whilst the Japanese fighter will be hoping to claim a world title in her second title challenger, and score a rare Japanese win in Latin America.
The unbeaten champion is regarded as one of the elite female fighters at 115lbs. Not only does she have one of the longest unbeaten records of any active female out there right now but also one of the longest reigns. She won the title way back in November 2012 and has been busy as a champion, fighting both frequent defenses and non-title bouts and staying very busy. Whilst her activity has been very impressive she hasn't often faced notable challengers, with her best wins coming against the likes of Simona Galassi, Neisi Torres and Olga Julio.
Footage of the champion shows a busy fighter, who uses uses her jab well, has good timing on her power shots and can set the pace early on thanks to her sharp and accurate jab. She might not have much in terms of power but she great stamina and seems to come on stronger the later fights go. Sge often pushes fighters back in the later stages as they feel the pace and the accumulation of jabs and body shots. The way she connects with combination is also very impressive and she seems to feed really well off the fans, who really do get behind their fighters in Argentina.
Whilst Dionicius is a long reigning champion Nuki is a fighter taking part in her second world title bout. Prior to her first shot at world level she had claimed the OPBF female Super Flyweight title, though that win aside there was nothing of any real note on her record. In her sole world title fight she was widely beaten by WBC female Bantamweight champion Mariana Juarez, but did give Juarez some questions and took a couple of rounds from the Mexican. Not only did she take some rounds off Juarez but proved to be tough, and have a good work rate.
Sadly for Nuki she is very limited. She's slow of foot, defensively open and although she has an impressive will to win she isn't skilled enough to really compete in a boxing contest at world level. In a fight, a true brawl, she could potentially holder her own but in a boxing contest she lacks the nuances to hold her own at the top level.
We expect Nuki to have her moments here, but the reality is that Dionicius will out box her and take a clear and wide decision win over the Japanese challenger. The champion will be too busy, too skilled and too quick for the challenger here.
Last year Japanese fighter Yunoka Furukawa (9-1-2, 6) claimed the WBA Atomweight title, stopping Satomi Nishimura. That win saw the Watanabe fighter get some attention in Japanese boxing, but really she is seen as being a bit of an unknown. This coming Friday she looks to break out further and claim her second world title, as she takes on unbeaten Argentinian Leonela Paola Yudica (12-0-3), the current IBF female Flyweight champion.
In her title win Furukawa looked like an aggressive and heavy handed monster. Since then she has made one defense of her title, narrowly beating Mika Ishikawa with a majority decision. That bout seemed to show that Furukawa wasn't a monster puncher, which she had seemed, but also suggested that the 102lb Atomweight division was too low for her, and that she really needed to leave the division and head north. Something she is doing this weekend.
As her best Furukawa is an aggressive fighter, with heavy hands. She's not the monster puncher she once seemed, but she's an exciting young fighter who has the potential to become one of Japanese boxing's most notable female stars. She is however a long way from that will need to develop more than just her power to reach those heady heights.
Although talented Furukawa has shown issues with her stamina, and has looked rather crude and limited at times. It does seem like a she's a fighter can be out boxed, and that her aggression can be used against her very easily. She appears to take a good shot, but leaves herself open to shots, and looks likely to be a fighter who will always have to take some leather during her bouts.
Coming into the bout as the unbeaten champion Yudica will be very confident, and will be cheered on by her local fans. Aged 29 the champion is in her physical prime, is a highly skilled and fleet fighter. She lacks power, thought that is partly down to her style, but has the skills, speed and stamina to be a real handful. Especially if she can establish her pace and be able to stay at range.
As the champion Yudica will know that she all the advantages, and the biggest of those is her style. Her speed, and accuracy should be a stylistic nightmare for Furukawa and her poor defense. Saying that however the champion will have to keep her defenses on point to avoid the power of Furukawa, and to stay in control of the contest. If Yudica is drawn into a brawl it could be a very tough bout for the champion.
If Furukawa can cut the range she can make this very interesting, and potentially a war, but we suspect that Yudica's back foot boxing will make the Japanese challenger look like a made to order opponent, and one for her to look good against.
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.
On March 4th we have a hectic day with a Japanese title fight in Tokyo and then a world title fight, featuring a Japanese fighter, in action in Jalisco. For Japanese fight fans it's going to be a long 24 hours, but will it be worth staying up for, and will their fighter manage to come out on top in the world title bout?
The world title bout in question will see IBF female Light Flyweight champion Naoko Shibata (16-3-1, 5) travelling to Mexico to take on Alondra Garcia (16-3-1, 1), the woman she originally beat for the title back in November 2013. In their first bout it was a then unbeaten Garcia getting on a plan to face Shibata for the vacant title, in what many though was going to be Shibata's final world title shot. This time around however the Japanese champion will be on the road whilst seeking her 6th defense of the title whilst Garcia will be fighting to get her career back on track after a number of recent set backs.
At her best Shibata is a real nightmare to fight. She's tough, hard working, well experienced and seems to get better as fight go on. She's certainly not the most skilled fighter in the sport but with her stamina and determination she has become of the toughest fighters to actually beat. In fact it's around 4 years since her last loss, to Ibeth Zamora Silva, and her only other losses have come to world class fighters in the form of Etsuko Tada and Naoko Fujioka. Whilst it's true that Shibata has been run close in recent bouts, narrowly over-coming Saemi Hanagata and Maria Salinas, as well as fighting to a draw with Salina, she has managed to grit her teeth and continue to retain her title.
Although a veteran with an 8 year career, 20 bouts and 7 contests at world level, this will actually be Shibata's first contest outside of Japan. More tellingly she has only fought 4 times outside of Tokyo, with this being her 5th contest outside of the Japanese capital. The travel to a new country here could well be a major problem for the 35 year old, who is showing signs of coming to the end of her career at the top.
As mentioned Garcia was unbeaten ahead of her first bout with Shibata, which was a clear loss on the cards. Since that defeat the Mexican has gone 7-2-1, losing to Victoria Argueta in a title bout at Minimumweight and Sabrina Maribel Perez in a Bantamweight title bout. More notable than those two defeats is a draw to the then debuting Eloisa Martinez. In the ring Garcia lacks power, and hasn't scored a stoppage since her second bout, when she scored a 2nd round TKO win over Norma Ojeda, despite that she is quick and comes to fight.
With the crowd behind her, we know that Garcia will get cheers every time she does anything. With that in mind we suspect we'll see Garcia pick moments to strike, and with the crowd cheering her work she'll get into the mind of the judges, who we don't imagine will make life easy for Shibata. Whilst we're not expecting a robbery, or a bout that leaves a nasty after taste like last year's Chavez Vs Fujioka bout, we do think Garcia will get the nod thanks on the score cards.
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.