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.
It's seemingly ladies week in Japanese boxing with 3 female world title fights in just 3 days, the final of which is an IBF female Light Flyweight title defense by Japanese veteran Naoko Shibata (14-3, 4), who faces Mexican southpaw Maria Salinas (11-4-2, 4). The bout will be Shibata's 4th defense whilst Salinas is challenging for a world title for the second time, incidentally her first world title bout was also in Japan where she was out pointed by Etsuko Tada.
Aged 34 Shibata is one of the “elder-stateswomen” of Japanese boxing. Like a fine wine however Shibata has gotten better with age and has turned a faltering 9-3 record into her current 14-3 record, winning a world title in her third attempt, out pointing Alondra Garcia in November 2013, and keeping that title one way or another.
It's fair to say that Shibata hasn't been a sensational fighter, though wins over Garcia, Guadalupe Martinez, Ana Arrazola and Saemi Hanagata are certainly wins that deserve respect. Those wins have shown Shibata to be a fighter who has improved with the title around her waist. She has shown her heart and determination, her improving skills and her will to win, gutting out some real problems, especially against Hanagata, to retain her title.
Although not the best, or hardest hitting, or most skilful fighter out there Shibata is a good, solid all rounder who, as mentioned, has that real will to win. In fact it sometimes seems that she would be willing to go through anything to retain her title and continue being a world champion.
In Salinas we have a hungry young challenger. She's 26 and has been mixing with top tier competitive for the last 4 years. That run has seen her going 4-3-1 though has featured bouts with the likes of Esmeralda Moreno, Etsuko Tada, Jessica Nery Plata and Arely Valente. Although she's mostly lost to those top names she will have improved just by being in that type of company and she'll have improved so much from being the fighter that she once was,
In the ring Salinas isn't a puncher but is a good solid southpaw who has shown bravery on the road, especially in the loss to Tada. Sadly though she hasn't shown world class ability and her best achievement so far is becoming a 2-weight WBC Youth champion, claiming the title at 105lbs and 115lbs. Notably she has fought across all the lower weights, apart from Atomweight, and although she's growing it does seem like she could make anything from 105lbs to115lbs with no real issue.
Whilst Salinas has been up against some very capable fighters it does need to be said that sh has usually lost to the better ones. We suspect that will be the case again here with Shibata who we suspect will just refuse to lose in a bout that will be full of action but see the champion just out hustling the challenger over the scheduled 10 rounds.
On February 19th Japanese fans get to see two of their female world champions defending their titles. One of those bouts is a revolting mismatch for the WBC Atomweight title as the brilliant Momo Koseki defends her belt against Aisah Alico. Thankfully however the other bout is a much more interesting contest as IBF female Light Flyweight champion Naoko Shibata (13-3, 4) defends her belt for the 3rd time and battles against fellow Japanese fighter Saemi Hanagata (9-5-2, 4). We won't pretend this is an amazing match up however it's an intriguing one against a weak but improving champion and an under-rated challenger who is much better than her records suggests.
The 33 year old Shibata has been mixing with top fighters for much of her career. Early on she beat both Yuko Kuroki and Ayaka Miyao, both current world champion, and although she did collect some losses they all came to top tier fighter in the form of Naoko Fujioka, Etsuko Tada and Ibeth Zamora Silva.
Despite being in her 30's Shibata has gotten better as she's gotten older and right now she seems to be in her prime as she's developed not only her boxing but also her confidence. That's really all come together since she won the IBF world title back in November 2013 when she beat Alondra Garcia in a very competitive test. In her first defence she easily over-came the tough but limited Guadalupe Martinez and most recent she stopped Ana Arrazola in a genuinely outstanding result.
Aged 30 Hanagata will be fighting in her first world title bout however she is better than her record indicates and has faced top tied competition thus far. Among her former opponents are Momo Koseki, the current WBC Atomweight champion, Kumiko Seeser Ikehara, the WBA female Minimumweight champion and Yuko Kuroki, the current WBC Minimumweight champion.
As well as her tough match ups Hanagata is also a former OPBF Minimumweight champion and a fighter moving up in weight, shaking off the shackles of the 105lb division in the hope of becoming a better 3lbs north of where she has been competing so far. It could well be that that additional 3lbs allows Hanagata to hit harder or to fight at a higher pace.
Coming into the bout Shibata has to be the favourite. She has the edge in experience, level of experience and also the champions advantage which bring her into the bout full of confidence. Hanagata however will not be a walk over. She will feel this is her big opportunity, her chance to shine and her chance to become a world champion.
With that said we're expecting a battle of wills here with a lot of leather being exchanged. The differences between two women however are stylistic and Shibata is certainly the better pure boxer which we suspect will allow her to disrupt and and eventually out point Hanagata, who we think will start fast but fall away down the stretch to lose a very competitive decision.
(Image courtesy of http://boxmob.jp)
Although Japan has several high profile female fighters at the top of the sport it also has a number of top contenders and challengers who haven't yet managed to climb to the top of the mountain.
One such "nearly lady" has been the highly talented Light Flyweight Naoko Shibata (10-3, 3), a fighter who has twice come close to being a world champion. In fact had she been any closer in either of her losses she'd have almost certainly have tasted the belt.
On November 14th Shibata looks to make it third time lucky as she battles the unbeaten Mexican teenager Alondra Garcia (8-0, 1), a fighter stepping up massively to fight at the world level for the first time, in a fight for the IBF female Light Flyweight title.
When we say that Garcia is stepping up massively we aren't joking. To date Garcia has fought opponents with a combined record of 0-8. Yes 0 victories against 8 losses. All of her fights to date have taken place in Mexico, in fact only two have taken place outside of Jalisco and it's fair to say she has yet to face a fighter of any note, at all.
Although promising and seemingly talented Garcia is going from fighting local fighters at a very low level to suddenly fighting on the world stage against a top tier fighter. This leap is huge for Garcia.
When we said that Shibata had come close twice we really weren't joking. In September 2012 Shibata was beaten by Etsuka Tada in a WBA world title fight by scores of 96-94, 96-94 and 96-95. Just a fight later Shibata was beaten by Ibeth Zamora Silva in a WBC world title fight by split decision with scores of 96-94, 96-94 and 94-96.
Aged 32 Shibata is some 14 years older than Garcia and will know that her chances are running out. Being a close loser is still being a loser at the end of the day and if Shibata fails to score a victory here she may forever be known as "the nearly lady". The woman who can always get close but can never get over the edge.
Saying that however it'd be a shock if Shibata, an experienced and battled hardened fighter, cannot over-come the inexperienced Garcia here. We expected Garcia to have some success early on, but by the middle rounds she'll be getting broken down by Shibata's great work rate and relentless pressure. By the later rounds we imagine Garcia will be breaking at the seems and may not actually manage to see the final bell as Shibata finally wins the big one.
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.